SILCHAR: COVID-19 has adversely affected Barak media, print and electronic. A booming industry is faced with unprecedented crisis in its 140 years of history. According to available records, ever since the publication of the first newspaper of this valley 'Silchar' in 1889 edited by Bidhu Bhushan Roy, a school teacher, it has been a well admired and well appreciated human efforts to enlighten and inform the readers of the events happening around. Till Independence of the country, under British Raj, the editors have to be cautious in editing the newspapers as nothing anti-colonial rule finds a place on the pages. Still, editors like Bidhu Bhusan Roy dared to criticize and face reprimand and shut down the newspaper.
But this could hardly dent the spirit of those who chose to edit and publish newspapers in the pre-independent era or colonial rule which began in this valley in 1832 and inflamed the passion of freedom lovers without going for direct criticism of the British. And the hoary tradition of journalism was glorified by the publication of 'Surma', 'Bhavishyat', 'Bartaman', 'Saptak' and 'Prachyavarta,' all weekly. After the British left, newspapers got the liberty it deserves and also support from the democratic government. From this valley, newspapers in Bengali, Hindi, English, Manipuri and Bishnupriya Manipuri have been published. Quite significantly, around 200 dailies, weeklies and biweeklies have hit the stands from the three districts of Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi till date from the day of 'Silchar'.
With strong readership base, both in urban and rural areas, it has been a booming media industry. It is a matter of pride that as on date, 9 dailies, 6 Bengali, Jugashankha, Samayik Prasanga, Prantajyoti, Gati, Nabavarta Prasanga and Abichar, 1 Hindi Prerana Bharati and 2 English Eastern Chronicle and North East Express blaze the trail, besides a number of weeklies including Challenger Varta in English, from the valley.
Unsaid but true, the newspaper industry has not the good time under lockdown. With that the hawkers have had the most trying time of their job. Declining circulation, cut in pages and coverage, low revenue generation from shrinking readership and advertisements of private companies, shut down of transport services, closure of shops and business interests, tea stalls and restaurants have all combined together to tell upon the media. Centre and state NRHM (National Rural Health Mission) advertisements do come to help the newspapers to keep going. Journalists and non journalist employees have also been hard hit as a sequel to the adversity. Of relief is that media houses in economically weak zones have not to bother about the Majithia Wage Boards' recommendations.
Another interesting but disturbing phenomenon that has emerged during the lockdown period about decline in readership in urban areas is the fear among a section of readers that newspapers might carry the killer virus. This fear exists more among rural people where, of course, newspapers can be reached but in trickles due to suspension of all kinds of transport services. Agents too are feeling the heat. On the whole, it is a catch 22 situation. Since March 22, the beginning of lockdown, not only Guwahati based but the national dailies and magazines are also out of the reach of readers of the valley.
Severe fund crunch is prompting media houses to fire journalists on grounds not known to those who are shut out. One media house in one go retrenched 14 journalists, another 7. Many are in shaky situation, facing uncertainty. Disturbing reports have come out about the national level dailies and magazines in social networking. Some of the leading newspapers and magazines of the country have resorted to a number of out of the way drives like salary cuts, stoppage of print edition, sacking digital employees, forced leave without pay among others. Only India Today Group has come out with a rebuttal about the news that it is preparing a list of employees for sacking and dubbed it as fake. The media houses of the valley apparently look going strong in this slump period, hoping for the return of normalcy.
Against this, the electronic and digital media of the valley is comparatively better off. They all are free to air channel with good viewership. Apart from watching regional and national news channels, the viewers want to see day to day events happening around their towns and villages. Off late, a good number of news portals have come up in the district headquarters of Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi. The most popular channel BTN followed by Ishan Bangla, Barak Varta (Hindi) and portals or digital services, way2barak, barak bulletin , Sky 18, ATN News Barak, STN News Karimganj, Simanta Barta and Vtv News are doing well with ever widening viewership. To sum up, it is less of best of time and also more of worst of time.