The sun has broken out in Delhi for the past week or so and it has warmed up a bit. It feels like spring as both the print industry and the individuals who are a part of it, try to shake off the trauma of the pandemic. Most of us have survived and are full of hope and looking for the so-called green shoots of spring – for industry revival.
In the past 22 or 23 months, we have learned to moderate our optimism with realism and the reality that the pandemic may not be over, but the need of the industry to get up and walk and run is so great that it cannot wait. And some of the good news that this issue contains is that the Indian print industry (not just packaging) is back.
New machines are being installed (at least digital presses) and the commercial book printers are busy with textbooks as schools have opened at least in the major metros. However, the commercial printers in smaller cities and towns are still waiting for work – their machines are at a standstill for the past six months.
The newspaper industry is also back and taking part in the economic recovery. While circulations and advertising of the large dailies have not recovered fully and might not for a long time, there is an overall optimism as the economy and the face-to-face segments of retail, entertainment, travel, and events, restart.
The ongoing elections in several states are also helping dailies with their political advertising. And although the courts have requested the news media not to carry ‘paid news’ or ‘advertorials’ this edict is unfortunately likely to be ignored. Even many of the bigger news organizations continue to demonstrate a mixture of greed and ignorance with impunity.
The digital transformation of the larger news organizations is also being taken more seriously. The number of major dailies that are investing human and financial resources to make analytics and digital subscriptions work has increased markedly in the past two years. At the same time, we have reliably heard that some of the larger news organizations have streamlined their front office operations in an attempt to dispense with the inessential layers. Trimming the fat, was in some cases, long overdue.
Dailies in the smaller towns that depend on local ads and government libraries and patronage are also back in business. The few we have talked to, have not closed down and demonstrate the continued Indian fascination with small and local news publishing.
Gandhi and refashioning the history of the freedom movement
Despite a large section of the news media falling prey to unabashed praise of the central government and the ruling party, the most remarkable experience of the past two years is the resilience of journalists, editors, and publishers in continuing to speak out and contradict the counter-factual narratives of the government. This is not limited to the alternative or digital media platforms.
Innumerable news organizations across regions and languages have challenged the government on its lies about its mistaken proclamation of the end of the pandemic, on the oxygen shortages and Covid-19 deaths and burials on the river banks in April and May 2021. They continue to report the facts on the false imprisonment of journalists, on the protection of politicians who are party to heinous crimes and their coverups, and to the government’s use of the Israeli Pegasus hacking software against journalists and citizens in violation of the constitution, and then, stonewalling the Supreme Court.
An example of the news media speaking out is Shyam Saran’s forthright column in the Business Standard of 16 February 2022, ‘Amrit Mahotsav without Gandhi.’ Saran considers the attempt by the central government to celebrate the country’s seventy-fifth independence anniversary while belittling the role of Gandhi among other leaders of the freedom movement. “Gandhi’s message is both relevant and compelling today,” Saran writes. And, after citing several of Gandhi’s writings on the hankering after wealth and the destruction of nature, he ends his column by saying, “One hopes that in refashioning the history of India’s freedom struggle, this most precious of its legacies does not fall prey to the politics of the moment.”