The association of Indian broadcasters—across categories like news and general entertainment—has urged the Indian government to junk a suggestion of stopping all government ads for the next two years, stating that any such move will irreparably damage an already fragile media industry.

The genesis of the issue lies in a letter written by Congress president Sonia Gandhi to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in which she suggested a five-point action plan by which the government can generate additional financial resources to combat the fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic. In this letter, she has suggested a two-year ban on media advertisements—across print, digital, and television—by the government and all public sector undertakings (PSUs).

In a statement issued on Wednesday, the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) said that it was “deeply saddened” by Gandhi’s suggestion to the government.

“Like other sectors which have been economically impacted by the Covid-19 outbreak, the media and broadcasting industry cannot claim immunity,” the IBF statement said. “In these testing times, any decision by the government to curtail budgetary allocation to advertisements carried out by various channels in lieu of government advertising will sound the death knell for the sector and particularly so, for the regional and smaller channels whose overwhelming dependence on government ads cannot be both overstated and undermined.”

The apex industry body of broadcasters in India added that the country’s media sector was already reeling under the impact of the Coronavirus crisis as cinema halls had shut down, production of films and TV shows had come to a halt, live sporting events had been cancelled, and scheduled ads had been pulled back by advertisers. There was a delay in realisation of payments as well. Advertisement bookings were already down by 50%, the IBF said.

“Under such a scenario we will resist any such move by the government to undercut revenue for government advertising as many of our member channels will lose substantial revenues and will be compelled to shut down resulting in massive job losses. At this critical moment when the nation stands united to deal with the aftermath of the Covid-19 outbreak, we request all parties to give a thought for the media sector which is known for its neutrality and objectivity.”

On April 7, the News Broadcasters’ Association (NBA) had also opposed Gandhi’s suggestion. NBA’s president Rajat Sharma had pointed out that advertisement revenues of electronic media outlets were anyway under pressure due to a prevailing economic slowdown, which had been exacerbated by the Covid-19 outbreak. On top of this, news channels were spending heavily on providing safety measures for the reporters on the ground and production staff who continue to report to work.

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