After Nepal went into COVID-19 lockdown on 24 March, some of the country’s main newspaper groups stopped their print editions and went only-digital. But, with the likelihood that the lockdown will be extended beyond 7 April, some of them have restarted their hardcopy editions.
Ironically, this is happening at a time when the Nepali public has migrated even more to digital media for information on the coronavirus pandemic and for updates on the lockdown. Digital portals have reported a big spike in page views in the past two weeks.
Nepal’s radio and television stations have continued broadcasting with skeleton staff in their studios with most reporters working, and even broadcasting from home. Journalists with special press passes are allowed on the streets for reporting assignments.
Kantipur Media Group, Nepal’s largest, stopped printing its periodicals including Kantipur and The Kathmandu Post daily broadsheets on 28 March, citing the limited movement of people and concerns of readers. However, the two papers resumed their print editions a week later on 4 April, saying it took the decision because the government was allowing essential services due to the relatively low caseload.
Shiva Gaunle of the Centre for Investigative Journalism (CIJ) believes the resumption of hardcopy printing has more to do with competition between broadsheets, and the fear that stopping print would reduce their footprint.
“It is true digital media has even more reach during the lockdown, but the publishers seem to have decided that not having a printed newspaper has reduced their clout in Kathmandu’s corridors of power,” Gaunle says. “In that respect print is still king.”
Madhu Acharya of the media research group Sharecast Initiative agrees that despite the increasing reach of online portals and social media because of the rapid spread of data Internet through mobile phones, print still packs a punch — especially among politicians and decision-makers.
In a media survey earlier this year by Sharecast, many respondents said that although they were getting most of their information from the Internet, they were not reading newspapers and magazines mainly because they were not available. Acharya says this shows that the issue is not about print becoming obsolete in Nepal, but the problem of widespread distribution.