Thiruvananthapuram, Apr 3: The newspaper strike in Kerala is seeing no sign of being called off after the newspaper agents across the state shut down distribution literally causing a media freeze in the state. Newspaper agents have pulled out all stops protesting the unfair treatment meted out to them over the years by newspaper owners who have been benefitting solely from the large readership in the state.
Newspaper distribution has come to a standstill from Mar 20 in the state.
As per reports, one Malayalam newspaper based out of Kochi alone has incurred losses to the tune of Rs 6 crore after advertisers pulled off advertisements. A similar trend prevails for newspapers across the state that has had to face the brunt of striking agents.
Only those newspapers printed outside the state is able to distribute copies of their newspaper in Kerala households. They are running ads that have been previously decided upon by advertisers and space sellers in the newspapers. The agents claim that the cover price of the newspaper remains the same with extra supplements and pull-outs being introduced that pose as work load to these agents.
Thiruvananthapuram, being the Capital is the only district in the state that is showing a normalized distribution of newspapers. Alappuzha is seeing a 75 percent distribution of newspapers; while the rest of the districts enjoy only a nominal 30 percent of newspaper distribution.
The Agents association claims that the rumour on the withdrawal of strike in Malappuram district is a move by external forces to break the unity of the association.
Pinarayi Vijayan, General Secretary of CPM, has opined that the strike does not have the support or blessings of the CPM. This is seen as a tactical move to end the strike before the party congress scheduled to happen in Kozhikode from Apr 4-9. Sources claim that in lieu of the prevailing strike, the party congress will not get enough coverage in the media.
Two main newspapers in Malayalam (Mathrubhumi and Malayala Manorama) have been adversely affected due to the strike. On a normal day they sell around 35 lakh copies, which reach a whopping 140 lakh readers (on a measure of 4 readers per copy). Only 30 percentage of distribution is happening as of now, which amount to only around 10 lakh copies in all. This is one fact that the CPM party secretary understands completely and compelling him to put an end to the warring agents’ strike at the earliest.
Agents claim their demands are fair and minimal and can be solved by sitting across the table, but the companies seem to be yielding their power against them. The companies argue that the agents are hampering the public’s right to read the news. But when these agents are not creating roadblocks when the newspapers are looking at alternate ways to distibute them, the argument earlier that these agents are denying the public to know the news falls flat.
In the last 8 years, the truth of the matter is that advertisement rates have been jumped up but the price of the newspaper has not seen as hike. Since agents are only given a share of the price of the paper, their commission rate has also stagnated. Added to it, their workload has also seen a surge with the weight of the newspaper seeing an increase considering the number of pages and the various supplements being brought out.
The fact that the newspapers have hiked their ad tariff twice in the last eight years, cheating the agents of share that is rightfully theirs to enjoy also becomes a bone of contention against them. Added to it, the newspapers are also not ready to implement the latest wage board recommendations is also causing anger among agents.
Below is the list of demands of the agents:
1. Commission to be 50% of the price of the paper
2. Separate commission for supplements
3. Keep supplements inside the paper even before it gets to the agent
4. If agents are keeping the supplements inside the paper separate commission to be given
5. Send only the demanded copies of papers to the agent.