Small newspapers play an important role small cities, towns, and semi-urban areas in India, and Surendranagar in Gujarat is no exception. This piece of research on identifying the problems, particularly the mushrooming of small newspapers in the town, and the response of the State Government, focuses on the functioning of the small newspapers as well as the control of the Government.
The main objectives of this study were to understand the reasons for the phenomenal growth of small newspapers and to study the modus operandi and personal agendas, if any, of the editors and publishers of these newspapers in order to understand the mechanism of the mushrooming of such newspapers. The findings of the study throw light on the loopholes in the Gujarat Government’s policy which have benefitted small newspapers.
Surendranagar is an important district headquarters city with a population of 17,55,873 and a literacy rate of 73.19 (2011) compared with 61.61 of 2001(Source: Directorate of Census Operations in Gujarat, 2011). There are four local dailies in the city - Janyug, Kadam, Jhalawaad Ni Aarsi and Yug Na Endhan besides 107 weeklies which are on the government advertisement panel. All dailies are eveningers. In all, 86 accreditation cards have been issued to journalists in Surendranagar. Most of these small papers survive on support of local as well as government advertisements.
The State Government’s advertisement policy chalked out in 2006 says that the newspaper should be in publication for the last three years. The dailies published continuously for three years (minimum 25 days in a month) and having a circulation of 10,000 copies; weeklies/fortnightlies published continuously for three years and having a circulation of 5,000 copies (minimum 46 issues during the past year for weeklies and 23 issues for fortnightlies); and monthly newspapers published continuously for three years having a circulation of 2,000 copies (minimum 11 issues during the past year) shall be eligible for government advertisements.
In 2007, the policy was liberalised. The dailies published continuously for two years (minimum 25 days in a month) and having a circulation of 5,000 copies; weeklies/fortnightlies published continuously for two years and having a circulation of 2,500 copies (minimum 46 issues during the past year for weeklies and 23 issues for fortnightlies); and monthly newspapers published continuously for two years (minimum 11 issues during the past year) and having a circulation of 1000 copies shall be eligible for government advertisements.
The proprietors/editors of small papers are in a comfort zone once their publications come onto the advertisement panel. The policy suggests that the ratio of government advertisements (tenders and classifieds) will be 60, 30 and 10 for big, medium, and small newspapers respectively. The small newspapers are comfortable as 10% of the advertisements are meant for them compulsorily. Apart from classifieds, they also get display advertisements from the government frequently and on special occasions (national festivals, special days, etc.). The advertisements to all small newspapers are distributed equally but when equality is not maintained, some balancing is done so that no small newspaper is deprived of advertisements.
The cost of publishing a weekly with a circulation of 5,500 copies is Rs. 2,06,400 a year. The sale price of a copy is 50 paise. The agent commission of 10 paise a copy works out to Rs. 26,400. Thus the total cost amounts to Rs. 2,32,800. The net loss incurred is (206400+26400-132000) Rs. 1,00,800 a year. On an average, the advertisement revenue from the government is of the order of Rs.30,000. Hence, a small newspaper loses Rs.70,800 annually.
Therefore, small publications by and large print fewer copies than the regulated number and still get their quota of government advertisements.
Cheap human resources and printing presses are easily available in Surendranagar. Also the process of registering newspapers with the Registrar of Newspapers (RNI) is not cumbersome.
A good number of small newspapers pursue their hidden agenda under the pretext of ethical journalism. For entering into the government panel for advertisements, small papers by and large follow unethical means such as showing lofty circulation figures and after empanelment they earn profits by publishing very few copies. Small newspapers have to show the certificate of chartered accountant as proof of circulation to get into the advertisement panel. Acquiring this certificate whether or not with manipulated numbers is not difficult. Neither the Information Department of the Government of Gujarat (Gandhinagar main office) nor the District Information Office is empowered to check the circulation and the CA certificate. The Government has to believe whatever has been certified. The Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) does not touch small newspapers and hence it does not come into the picture.
There veracity of the circulation figures shown by proprietors/editors of small newspapers can be interpreted logically by understanding the following facts:
There are 111 newspapers (four dailies and 107 weeklies) eligible for government advertisements. All of them do not have their own printing presses. Now let us say that in one printing press 10 weeklies are printed. (The number 10 is hypothetical but is near to reality taking into consideration the enormous number of weeklies flourishing). Now let us say one particular weekly has a circulation of 5,000 copies according to the CA certificate. For 10 weeklies, the number of copies published is 50,000. Therefore, for four weeks in a month, the number of copies published/circulated is 20,000. Hence, for 10 weeklies, the umber is 2,00,000. Thus, a press prints an average of 2,00,000 copies in a month. The maximum capacity of a printing press is between 10,000 and 12,000 copies an hour in case of Surendranagar. Therefore, an average of 20 hours are needed for printing 2,00,000 copies. The 20-hour capacity is high in a city like Surendranagar.
Printing presses consume certain amount of energy in an hour. A look at the power bills show that the machines have not run as long as 20 hours a day. Besides, to print 2,00,000 copies, certain quantity of newsprint is needed. But the quantity of newsprint arriving in the city is much less than required to print the number of copies certified. Hence, there are exaggerated circulation figures. To print an average of 1,000 copies of a weekly, a ream of paper is needed. For 3,000 copies, three reams are required. Therefore, for 107 weeklies, 321 reams of paper is needed. Hence, in a month, 1,248 reams of paper is used and the number of copies printed should be 15,408. In a year, an average of 1,84,896 copies have to be published. Considering the arrival of printing paper in Surendranagar, in reality the average circulation should be less than 3,000.
Colour advertisements fetch more money. To get them from the government, half broadsheet (the colour portion) is processed in Ahmedabad and the black-and-white portion in Surendranagar. Then the two are joined. There are some small newspapers which are printed in the same printing press and have common pages with only the masthead being different. However, this practice has now been stopped or slowed down because of the computerised system.
The communication gap between different government offices and proprietors/editors gives a free hand to small newspapers in Surendranagar. The person who wants to start a newspaper applies to the section officer (Praant Adhikari) of his area. The officer scrutinises the application (police verification and other documents) and sends it to the Registrar of Newspapers in New Delhi. RNI approves the application and sends it back to the section officer after providing a registration number. The applicant gets an RNI number and starts a newspaper. The district office of Surendranagar is unaware of the small newspaper unless section officer proactively communicates the registration number to the district information office. In many cases the district office comes to know about a new newspaper only when it appears on the advertisement panel.
Trends in journalism
Many proprietors/editors/reporters have some side business or are associated with political parties or hold political positions. Of the ten editors, two are associated with a political party. Seven editors/owners are wholly devoted to journalism. Of the remaining three, one is a reporter in a weekly and also runs his own weekly; the second runs a weekly and also organises fairs/events intermittently; and the third had a business which has now been closed down.
All the dailies are eveningers. This is mainly because people in Surendranagar are not ready to work at night. Also the evening dailies can copy readymade news from big newspapers. There is also a barter system. Advertisements in small newspapers are also paid for in kind: eatables and consumer items. Many weeklies are one-man shows. When the editor/reporter/publisher does not get news, he copies it from big newspapers. One editor runs his daily while his relatives run eight weeklies. All are on the government advertisement panel and are more than 25 years old. Some editors also believe that “journalists should be illiterate because only illiterates get news with an open mind and it is good for press.”
Chlorine meant for use in water filtration leaked into a tank in Surendranar at 2:30 one morning. The editor of daily learned about this and called the Collector’s office. The Collector alerted the disaster management authority. The authority took timely action. The municipal chief officer concerned did not take the issue seriously and claimed that no such leakage had occurred and even asked the editor not to publish the news. The editor contended that nagarpalika had alerted the citizens with the sounding of a siren. Therefore, the leakage had actually occurred. The editor published the entire story and was not influenced by the administration.
All the four dailies under study have four pages each covering national, international, State, and local news. Local news is given more importance. If there is a supplement, the number of pages is increased accordingly. The weeklies have only local content. The weeklies which are in existence for many years (one of them Samay is being published for the past 60 years) contain news, analyses as well as features. The features range from short stories and health issues to celebrity news.
Naari Ka Udhdhar weekly has nothing much on women’s issues except for routine news and suicide by women despite its lofty title. Marad weekly does not have any bold news as its name suggests.Weeklies are filled with statements of people in public life or with news on private organisations. The standards of editing in the dailies and weeklies have nothing to rave about. Besides errors, there is no consistency in layout and design.
The editors feel that small papers are not getting their due through government advertisements. They also allege that they are being harassed when it comes to government accreditation. Some of them also claim that they are being mentally tortured by the police who have foisted false cases on them.
An editor who published news about corruption and misconduct of some authorities and local politicians was forced to close down his newspaper. He used to record statements and filed affidavits against corrupt officials and politicians. In 2005, he raised an issue of corruption involving an MLA. Soon, he was kidnapped. The copies of his newspaper were produced in the Legislative Assembly. After a ban was slapped on his weekly, the editor started a daily. However, he was allegedly harassed by the government by depriving him of advertisements. Owing to ill health and lack of financial support, he closed down the newspaper.
Sources and interviews
· Kadam (in publication for 25 years)
· Janyug (for 23 years)
· Yug Na Endhan (for 11 years)
All these are in the government advertisement panel
· Samay (in publication for 61 years)
· Suvas (for 26 years)
· Jhalawaad Ni Asmita (for 16 years)
· Navkar (for 16 years)
· Aaj Ka Parshuram (for 18 years)
All these are in the government advertisement panel
· Yuva Sangathan and Majaal (now closed)
· Surendranagar Times (for 44 years): not in government advertisement panel
Interviewed senior government officials
· Content analysis done in case of four dailies: Janyug, Kadam, Jhalawaad Ni Aarsi and Yug Na Endhan from September 2011 to October 2011.
· Content analysis with respect to weeklies such as:
o Samay (January 2011 to October 2011) - on panel
o Khepiyo (September 2011) - not on panel
o Samay Balwaan Hai (September 2011 to October 2011)- on panel
o Marad (September 2011) - on panel
Nari Ka Udhdhar (January 2011 to August 2011) - on panel