Unrest sends Kashmir newspapers into financial tailspin

Srinagar, Nov 29 (IANS) Facing an acute financial crisis as their advertisement revenues have dried up due to unrest and a shutdown since early July, newspapers published in the Kashmir Valley are struggling to survive and remain in business.

Hit hard by decreasing advertising revenue, an English language daily, ‘Kashmir Observer’, has decided to go digital with a multimedia edition and widen its reach in the virtual world.

Its editor, Sajad Hyder, told IANS: “As Kashmir battles another bout of unrest, now in its fifth month, media houses in the valley are facing a financial crisis as advertisement flow from the market has virtually been zero.

“We’re now diverting a major chunk of our resources for digitisation to reduce the print costs.”

As businesses remained mostly shut for the last five months, both big and small business houses have drastically cut down on their costs, including advertisements.

“We find it difficult even to pay our staff. Investing in advertisements is a luxury we cannot afford unless our businesses recover,” said the owner of a hotel that has remained closed almost for the entire summer, the peak tourist season in the valley.

The government has also reduced its daily flow of advertisements for newspapers because everything was at a standstill after the July 8 killing of a militant commander that led to a public stir and violent protests and shutdowns spearheaded by separatist leaders.

Bashir Manzar, editor of the Kashmir Images daily, said there has been a little or no developmental work in the valley for the past five months and as such “the government had very little to publicise”.

“Most of the advertisements are about developmental works and naturally when everything was halted, we had no reason to demand more,” Manzar told IANS.

He, however, added that the government was holding back their previous dues, which “further complicated the crisis”.

Manzar has not yet thought of alternate revenue generation but admitted that “continuing with what is being done (relying only on print for revenue) cannot even let us survive”.

Hyder agreed and said remaining in circulation through just the print edition is a challenge local newspapers may not be able to meet for long.

“The main objective of going digital is to diversify channels to generate badly needed revenue.”

Devang Shah, executive director of Kashmir Observer Digital, said the edition would feature videos, people’s views, conversations, debates and analyses “that will go beyond the obvious and the apparent”.

The editor said this was being done to exploit the untapped market, both nationally and internationally, that craves for visual media from Kashmir.

What is true of Kashmir Observer holds good as well for other big and small vernacular and English language dailies and weekly newspapers.

English dailies with large circulations like Greater Kashmir, Rising Kashmir, Kashmir Monitor, Kashmir Images and Urdu dailies like Kashmir Uzma, Aftab, Srinagar Times and Chattan have so far not purged staff, but have cut down heavily on their print runs.

Tahir Mohiuddin, editor of Chattan, told IANS: “All newspapers in the valley are facing one of their worst crises at present. The state government advertisements to newspapers have also been cut to mere 10 per cent of what these used to be before the unrest.

“It is a crisis situation a publisher or the editor simply does not know how to get out of.”

(Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at sheikh.abdul@ians.in)

–IANS

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