Something about the creeping crisis in Indian media doesn’t smell right.
On the one hand, media barons, who should be steering clear of government if they value their freedom, are seeking tax holidays and customs duty cuts and higher rates for ads to tide over #Coronavirus—while merrily ignoring the Prime Minister’s call to not sack people or cut their income.
On the other hand, media houses are putting out videos of their printing and packing processes, and getting certificates from doctors and lawyers (and WHO) that newspapers are safe from contamination. And ensuring newspapers are declared as an “essential service” that should be given right of passage in the lockdown.
Everyone from Union ministers to chief ministers to corporate sharks have been photographed reading newspapers to ascertain their safety.
But what of the last man on the ground—and it is almost always a boy or a young man—the newspaper delivery wala?
Here’s Uday Kumar, 50, a polio-stricken man in Mysore, who has been delivering newspapers in one of the city’s better neighbourhoods for nearly 30 years now. He says circulation has fallen through the roof: from the 350 newspapers he and his son deliver every day to a little over 100.
Homes and apartments of even knowledgeable readers are still no-go areas due to the fear of the virus. One customer whom he has serviced for over two decades has said he no longer needs newspapers. Some treat delivery boys like “untouchables”, not even having the courtesy to hand the money by hand, leaving it on the wall to be picked up.
When he started his career, Uday Kumar earned a piddling Rs 35 per month, delivering about 75 papers. Before COVID struck, he earned about Rs 8,000 a month to run his family of four.
Will his customers pay their April bill in time?
Do media barons, who are seeking a bailout, have people like him in mind?