Radheshyam Adhikari, member of the National Assembly, says it is important for the government to lend a helping hand to the media when it is facing such an existential crisis.
“Today’s crisis in the media could hurt the government tomorrow, so we need to save the press and not ask who owns which media,” says Adhikari.
The Nepal Media Society which groups some owners and publishers, projects that revenue from advertising and subscriptions which totalled Rs12 billion last year will be one-tenth of that this year.
The drop in economic activity due to the lockdown in the past three months had wiped out the advertisement market, according to Ranjit Acharya of Prisma Advertising.
“The annual Rs8 billion turnover in the advertising sector is down by 80%,” he says. “Even if the lockdown is lifted, it will take at least another year or so for the economy to gain momentum again.”
Rishi Ram Tiwari at the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology says the government is “observing and analysing” the effects of the lockdown on the media, and will decide on a course of action soon.
In a surveillance state, Editorial
The impact of the drop in advertising revenue has hit across the board. At the digital news portal OnlineKhabar.com, editor Dharma Bhusal says ad revenue is down 60%. At Setopati.com Sudip Shrestha says the portal has been able to avoid job cuts so far but may have to if the crisis drags on. Nepalnews.com on 2 April, let go of 22 employees with 3-months’ pay.
Prateek Pradhan, editor of the portal Barakhari.com, says: “The crisis coincides with a time when the government is trying to curb media freedom by enacting various laws, thereby weakening its voice.”
At Dekhapadi.com, editor Rameshwor Bohara and correspondent Tufan Neupane have both stepped down. Bohara said, “I resigned because the newspaper couldn’t guarantee occupational and financial security during the crisis.”
The same week, there was another high-profile resignation, that of Hari Bahadur Thapa, who stepped out of Annapurna Post daily to protest management decision on employee layoffs. “I was not comfortable with the proposal,” he said.
Radio listenership has grown 75% during the crisis, according to a media survey by Sharecast Initiative, but there has also been a drop in advertising revenue by 70%, forcing many stations to put their employees on leave.
Gopal Guragain of Ujyalo Radio Network has begun salary reductions since April due to a 30% drop in advertisements.
“We have lost 80% of our revenue, and can do nothing but wait and watch,” says Shubhashankar Kandel of ABC tv channel and it is same story at Himalayan television.
Nepal Republic Media, publishers of Nagarik and Republica have laid off staff. Naya Patrika daily brought down print pages from 20 to 8, but has been placing at least three employees from each department on leave.
Gunaraj Luitel, editor of Nagarik, calls on media bosses to strategise and devise new means of survival. “After all, despite all the criticism of government, it is the media that keeps democracy alive,” Luitel says.
Indeed, some media companies have come up with creative ways to avoid layoffs. Baharkhari.com has stated that it will continue to employ its workforce despite the financial downturn, owing them whatever salary it is unable to pay now. NepalLive.com has formulated a rotation system in which groups of 10 employees work in turns.
Even media houses that have been able to retain their workforce are facing difficulties. Himalmedia, the publishers of this newspaper and Himal Khabarpatrika magazine were the first to stop printing hardcopy in early March, and have only online editions.
Kantipur Media Group, the country’s largest media house, also suspended the print editions of all its publications, including Kantipur and The Kathmandu Post, but resumed printing them with reduced pages on 8 April. Mahesh Swar of the Group says, “Even though we have been able to pay our employees, we are facing more problems every month. We are not sure about our strategy for the future.”
UPDATE 26 JUNE 1400: Kantipur Media Group announced to staff on Friday that it was ceasing publication of its weekly newmagazine Nepal, weekly taboild Saptahik and monthly women’s magazine Nari. The periodicals had stopped print production two months ago and were only coming out in digital.
Rajendra Dahal, editor of Shikshak monthly for teachers, says firing employees is not the solution. “Where we can, we have to reduce cost, tighten our belts and prepare to ride out this crisis. We must also find other ways to get audiences to support quality content.”
Nepal Media Society estimates that the press sector employs up to 200,000 people, and says that if there is no rescue package half of them will lose their jobs. Warns Shubhashankar Kandel of the Society: “For the media it is now a question of life or death. Half the companies will be forced to close if this crisis goes on.”