New Print Media Ad Policy: Why print media is resisting Govt’s strong-arm tactics

On July 23, 2020, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) released a memorandum announcing the Print Media Advertising Policy 2020. The policy pertains to the Bureau of Outreach and Communication (BOC), which is the arbiter for all paid outreach campaigns on any media on behalf of client Ministries/ Departments and organisations of Government of India.

The Government regularly undertakes promotional campaigns to disseminate information on public sector undertakings (PSUs) such as schemes, programmes and policies for the benefit of the public. The objective of these campaigns is singular, that is, to secure the widest possible coverage of the intended content or message. BOC maintains a list of approved publications for release of advertisements by empanelling acceptable publications.

Also read: MIB's New Print Media Ad Policy to focus on transparency & equity

Leading print players have taken umbrage with one aspect of the new policy. According to the memorandum released by the MIB, the rate structure for advertisements against advertisements released by BOC will be worked out as per recommendations of the Rate Structure Committee. The rates will be related to certified circulation of a publication.

Rate considerations will be made on the basis of circulation. The BOC requires print media players to furnish circulation figures up to 25,000 or above 25,000 after the approval of which empanelled publications will enter into a rate contract with BOC for a period of two years.

In India, circulation of publishers may vary from 2,000 to tens of millions and the rates published by the Rate Structure Committee are very low for the leading newspapers in India. Furthermore, when PSUs and Autonomous Bodies complained that some newspapers refused to publish their ads at BOC rates, on behalf of member publications, the Indian Newspaper Society responded, “INS sees no justification in PSUs and autonomous bodies engaged in commercial activities getting the benefits of DAVP rates, which are structured for social service and public education campaigns.”

MV Shreyams Kumar, Joint Managing Director, Mathrubhumi, observed, “We have been accepting lower rates so that the Government can communicate their schemes for the benefit of the public. However, Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) or other financial institutions are issuing commercial advertising that are not in public interest. In such a case, accepting the DAVP rates is very detrimental to the newspaper industry, because it is a very low rate.”

Adding further, he said, “There is an agenda to get newspapers to accept these rates because COVID-19 has created so much hardship in the overall market, not to mention that the entire print industry has been suffering for the past three years.”

The new Print Media Ad Policy was issued without any consultation with print publications in India, and print players are understandably miffed at the Government’s attempts to enforce these guidelines.

The new policy has increased the share of advertising (in terms of space) of regional players from 70 per cent to 80 per cent. According to Shital Vij, Chief Editor, Dainik Savera, “The Government guidelines appear to focus on under-represented languages and regional publications will get a boost with this policy. The move is also expected to facilitate faster payouts to media organisations for the ad content carried by them on behalf of various ministries.” He indicates that the policy could positively impact regional publications’ revenues by 20-30 per cent.

Satyajit Sengupta Chief Corporate Sales and Marketing Officer commented, "The new Print Advertisement Policy 2020 would support Regional newspapers. The policy is now based on space allocation instead of revenue allocation earlier and would therefore be beneficial to newspapers with genuine and higher circulation numbers. The percentage allocation for regional newspapers has been revised to 80% in terms of space, this was 50% earlier in terms of revenue. Also, the earlier bifurcation between Hindi and Regional publications has been removed. So, this should result in some boost for players with higher circulation"

He further says, "On the recommendation for release of PSU advertisements at BOC rates, we would abide by INS guidelines. We have been asked by INS not to publish PSU advertisements at DAVP/BOC rates."

However, Mathrubhumi’s Kumar maintained that the 80:20 bifurcation is not a relief to leading print publications. He remarked, “Only the number of columns advertised has increased. What about covering the cost? Newspapers have to bear the cost of newsprint, unlike television and radio, where inventory is there. If the Government issues a full-page ad, we will have to increase the number of pages, which is a cost. If the advertisement from the BOC won’t even cover that cost, then it is unviable economically.”


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