Struggle for survival
Today, newspapers are fighting a bitter battle for survival as sources of revenue have been drastically reduced
Prime Minister Narendra Modi described the Goods and Services Tax (GST) as a good example of the victory of integrity and cooperative federalism, adding that achieving sustainability within a year of our new tax system is a huge success for the country. After the completion of one year of GST, the government will focus on making fewer tax rates relevant to different commodities and services in the second year.
It is believed that taking action in this direction, the government will be reviewing certain goods and services included in GST in the upcoming meeting of the Council on July 19. If this happens, the number of other products involved in this tax may reduce. We expect GST to be withdrawn on newsprint used by newspapers. Newspapers played an instrumental role in our country's Independence movement and became a massive weapon for fighting the atrocities of the British. The Press today is independent and vocal even though during the Independence struggle, it faced immense restrictions. Newspapers were a medium for the freedom fighters to engage with the masses at a time when they did not have any other means of communication compared to the various present-day communication channels.
During the Independence struggle, there was no one to listen to the people's views and minimise their miseries. In such a situation, the introduction of newspapers and journals provided courage to the people by publishing articles, news and stories of revolutionaries and patriots and, thereby, inculcated a deep sense of patriotism among the masses.
Since Independence in 1947, there was no tax on newsprint; but the current NDA government has imposed a 5 per cent GST on newsprint. This has subsequently led to a rise in newsprint prices by 5 per cent. The selling cost of newspapers is very low when compared to the production cost. Newspapers not only contribute views and articles on important national issues and government policies but also educate the people of the country. It is not advisable to impose GST on newsprint as it increases the cost of production. For the continuation of the expression of freedom and the Constitutional values, for more than six decades, there has been a provision of zero or very slight indirect tax on newspapers. In this regard, the Supreme Court also believes that any tax on newspapers is an attack on the dissemination of news, the spread of literacy and knowledge. Newspapers do not only build the nation but also play an important role in nation building. GST, thus, cannot be considered equitable in any way on the newsprint. Recently, the issuing of advertisements to newspapers has also been reduced by the government, thereby reducing the income earned by newspapers. GST on newsprint and less volume of advertising by government organisations have placed a troubling question mark on the existence of newspapers, especially for small and medium newspapers. This is the reason why many newspapers (whose number is in thousands) have been forced to shut down their operations.
GST on newsprint is causing a heavy burden on newspapers. The cost of newsprint is high. Normally, the production cost of a copy of a newspaper is somewhere between Rs 15-20, whereas the selling price of a copy of a newspaper is between Rs 2 and Rs 5. Therefore, the current GST on newsprint for newspapers should be withdrawn immediately from the scope of GST, as newspapers are the conscious keepers of the nation.
When the Modi government came to power in 2014, we had great expectations from this government, but unfortunately, when this government came, the DAVP, under the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, made a policy in 2016 as a result of which several small and the medium newspapers were out of the list for receiving government advertisements and were forced to bring down their shutters. Further, strict rules were made in which many newspapers were excluded from DAVP empanelment. On the other hand, the Press Council of India (PCI) placed many restrictions on the newspapers. Just last year, with the excuse of 'fake news', many newspapers were suspended by PCI. Now, day in and day out, a new advisory is being issued and if it is not followed, the newspaper is threatened with de-empanelment. Newspapers are fighting a battle for survival throughout India. Today, newspapers, the fourth pillar of democracy and a mouth-piece of freedom are in a state of siege. Most major newspapers have either shut down several editions or have been forced to cut their number of staff. Small and medium newspapers had already started doing this.
Due to the above, newspapers are either forced to hike the rate per copy or dispense with the staff, therefore, unemployment in the newspaper industry is also increasing by the day. With the implementation of the previous UPA-II government's Majithia Wage Board's recommendations, there was an additional burden on the newspapers, as the previous government accepted the report and forced the newspapers to increase salaries by 45 to 50 per cent. The salary of the employees working under Category IV had also increased by more than double or triple in comparison to the salary earned from other industries.
Today, under what circumstances one has to serve a newspaper has been explained in detail so that the Modi government can save us from drowning. Newspapers played a major role in the Modi government's rise to power and now when they are fighting their battle for existence, the government should also come out in their support and consider those fiery problems faced by newspaper organisations and assist in resolving them.
(The author is Editor, Daily Pratap. The views expressed are strictly personal)