‘Litho’ newspapers blow to Journalism in Kashmir; who will set wrong notion right?

Ifan Quraishi

The trending wrong notions in Kashmir Media have made journalism a useless job for Mass Communication degree holders and professional full time journalists. Besides the growing trend of government employees cum journalists, it is now the burgeon rise of ‘Litho’ newspapers (name given locally).

The printer, publisher and Editors of these newspapers are mostly non professional, having not media background or degree. Ironically these newspapers belong to newspaper designers, office attendants of different media houses, newspaper hawkers and advertisement agents. This is a serious and neglected blow to the noble profession in Kashmir.

For years these newspapers are published in very small in number (maximum 100 copies) for attendance at Department of information to complete the eligibility period of Advertisement approval. After getting approval for receiving government advertisement, these newspapers continues the same mode of publication as ‘Litho’ (4 pages Black & White) for attendance purpose. These newspapers are never available at newspaper outlets or in market for public, hence having zero circulation and readership. Their prime purpose is to get government advertisement to earn sums without any investment.

Many newspaper layout designers in Srinagar offer interesting and cheap packages for these ‘Litho’ newspaper owners. You have to pay just 1200 INR (Indian National Rupees) for designing, printing, butter paper, Press plates and free copy past content for a weekly. For daily newspaper it is rupees 2000. These layout designers have established labs around press enclave where they design these newspapers in bulk.

If you want to have a newspaper in Kashmir, you don’t need any office accommodation, infrastructure or staff. The only you need to have just one good contact with a newspaper designer and your work is done. This is a serious breach of law, as according to RNI (Registrar of Newspaper of India), the office is must for the newspaper. These newspaper owners at the time of getting title code and title registration mention editorial or Publishing office address which never exists as newspaper offices on ground latter. Since decades this brazen violation of law is continuing unabated under the very nose of sate information department which has failed to have check on these newspapers.

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Ironically, the state information department lacks advertisement policy, which led to the loot of public exchequer. The government advertisements are given on favoritism to these litho newspapers in handsome centimeters without following any guidelines.

Every journalist in Kashmir is well aware about this illegal and secret trade of journalism in Kashmir but unfortunately the issue remains unreported always. My fellow journalists who everyday look for a new story idea may know better why they missed to file a day plan for such a serious issue. There is need of vigorous media campaign against this blow on journalism.

Within Kashmir media fraternity, it is well known fact that officials at Information department are in nexus with these ‘Litho’ newspaper owners to get commission for issuing enough advertisements centimeter wise. Not only this, in nexus with each other they are getting different government tenders published in these newspapers for contractors so that they can get it (work contract) easily as Litho newspapers are not available anywhere. Being hand in glow for this contract arrangement they are earning huge sums. The relatives of information department employees also own newspapers and are earning huge sums through government advertisements.

The primary objective of the Government in advertising is to secure the widest possible coverage of the intended content or message through newspapers and journals of current affairs as well as Science Art, Literature, Sports, Films, Cultural Affairs etc. The Directorate of Advertising & Visual Publicity (DAVP), Government of India guidelines says that Government advertisements are not intended to be financial assistance to newspapers/journals. Care must be taken to empanel newspapers/journals having readership from different sections of the society.

Having zero circulation and zero readerships, these newspapers publish ‘trash’ content managed by their layout designer via Ctrl X and Ctrl V (Copy Past). They are popularly known for carrying paid content of lesser known politicians, political parties, and unions. Hence in Kashmir media fraternity they hold a nick name of ‘Rang Saaz’ newspapers as they publish three to four column photo of any lesser know person with a beguiling caption or news item on front page.

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This unchecked menace has created a notion in press enclave of Srinagar that even a ‘Chai Wala’ (tea maker) claims to be an owner and Editor-in-Chief of a newspaper. Many believe that taking undue advantage of Kashmir conflict these newspapers grow unchecked in huge numbers.

According to a survey sponsored by Union Ministry of Home Affairs in Kashmir has said that scores of valley based newspapers have either no or little circulation and are ‘supported by dubious funding from secret sources.’ The survey conducted by the Institute for Research in India and International Studies in January 2010 revealed that the lack of transparency in funding mechanisms of local publications had created a phenomenon of ‘ghost’ or fictitious papers mostly supported by dubious funding. The survey provides a long list of newspapers with no circulation and others which only print 100-150 copies “mostly for the benefit of the Information Department” and those whose print-run is only up to 400 to 500 copies.

The report recommended that there needs to be a better interface through certain institutionalized regulatory mechanisms to evolve an effective media strategy to deal with any critical events that can potentially spiral into an agitation. “Government should try and create a level-playing field for the private players in media, establishing a fair and transparent audit system of newspapers circulation, to allow market forces to come into play and ensure fair distribution of government ads in the local newspapers and, also help remove the ‘secret’ hand of funding of both State and non-State actors,” the report recommended.

Ironically the professional journalists and Mass communication degree holders are hunting for job. There is a need of professional media system in valley to safeguard the career of professional media men and Mass communication entrants so that media entrepreneurship is encouraged.

Irfan Quraishi is a Bureau Chief at Kashmir for Day & Night News, a Chandigarh based national News Channel.