Regional and local newspapers play a vital role for any government but none has benefited more than the incumbent PTI government. Let’s not go further but even during the 2018 general elections, when many media channels had boycotted the PTI, regional newspapers across the country supported the party and gave full coverage to Imran Khan.
At a time when large media houses were not even publishing single-column news of Imran Khan and the PTI, regional newspapers issued two page supplements without any sponsorship to promote them. Imran Khan was coming to power on the promise of change – dream of a ‘Naya Pakistan’ – and it was necessary to spread the message to the masses. This was done effectively by regional newspapers and local newspapers to help spread the vision of Imran Khan to our homes.
Eventually, the PTI swept to power by winning the 2018 general elections and Imran Khan was elected as prime minister. This was the result of his 22-year-old struggle which came to fruition but regional newspapers have a huge role to play in his success. These local newspapers supported Imran Khan throughout and now expect a change from the prime minister to come out of the economic crisis.
Newspapers cannot run without advertisements and these are not just a source of revenue but the livelihoods of media workers depend on them. Ever since the PTI came to power, it has revisited the policy of issuing advertisements. Fawad Chaudhry even hinted at finishing off the print media and local newspapers, a claim which was equally disturbing for the welfare of the industry.
He was ousted and replaced by Firdous Ashiq Awan as media adviser, raising hopes for thousands of workers that the situation may improve. She announced that the role of advertising agencies will be curtailed and newspapers will now receive their dues directly from the Press Information Department (PID). The government will keep a 15 percent share and issue the rest to newspapers. The decision was rather encouraging as advertisement agencies had created havoc. Unfortunately, this was never implemented and advertisements kept dwindling with every single day.
All eyes were on the prime minister minster as the situation kept worsening with every passing day. The government merged all forms of media and created a centralized system. All powers from publications of news pages to the issuance of advertisements were handed over to the all powerful Information Ministry. This came as a shock to local newspapers as now all advertisements, which had already dwindled to a large extent, will be issued by the federal government.
The ongoing pandemic has now impacted the newspaper industry as printing was affected and the closure of transportation and suspension of flights affected distribution. The one-quarter ratio for distribution of local news was waived, inflicting further damage to the beleaguered sector. This quota remains suspended despite the assurances of Information Minister Shibli Faraz and special assistant Asim Bajwa. The prime minister should devote attention and help the fledgling local newspaper industry as their survival now depends on it.