Sri Lanka daily halts weekend edition amid economic crisis 

Newsprint shortage hits The Island  

March 25, 2022 03:59 pm | Updated 10:31 pm IST - COLOMBO:

The notice on the frontpage of “The Island” announcing suspension of its print edition for a day. Photo: Special Arrangement

The notice on the frontpage of “The Island” announcing suspension of its print edition for a day. Photo: Special Arrangement

Sri Lanka’s popular daily newspaperThe Island, which was published without interruption during the civil war, has now halted its print edition, owing to a shortage of newsprint amid the severe economic crisis facing the country.

“We regret to inform our readers that we have been compelled to suspend the publication of The Island print edition on Saturday,” a notice, published on the front page of the newspaper said on Friday, attributing the decision to the “prevailing newsprint shortage.” The newspaper apologised to its readers for taking such a measure which, it said, was “due to circumstances beyond our control.”

Explainer: Sri Lanka’s aggravating economic crisis

Sri Lanka is strugglling amid a crushing economic downturn, with all sectors of the import-reliant island nation badly hit. Earlier this week, the country’s Education Department postponed term examinations for millions of students, as they did not have sufficient paper. Authorities also said they could not complete printing textbooks for the new term amid persisting shortage of paper. And now, the country’s print media is the latest victim of the crippling economic crisis.

“We are not printing the Saturday edition alone, as a temporary measure. The situation is very grim,” The Island’s Editor Prabath Sahabandu told The Hindu. “Many Sri Lankan newspapers have been going slimmer lately. We are all forced to cut down our pages and give truncated news because it’s not just newsprint that we import, but also printing plates and ink. And everything is either in short supply or just not available,” he said.

Fewer pages, in turn, lead to lesser advertisement revenue for the publications, editors pointed out. With printing having become a challenge, they also fear that crucial coverage of the current crisis may not reach the public if the newsprint shortage continues.

Since its launch in 1981, The Island has shut its press only for the annual Sinhala-Tamil New Year holidays in April. “We never stopped printing even during the war. It was only during the lockdowns during the pandemic that we had to suspend the print edition because distribution was not possible,” Mr. Sahabandu said.  According to him, the government printer has indicated that they will run out of paper in two months. “They are worried about how gazettes and other vital official documents will be printed.”

Most Sri Lankan newspapers use newsprint from Norway, Australia, Indonesia, and Russia to print their pages. The country’s dollar crunch has led to imports of even essentials being delayed or stalled, due to the uncertainty in dollar payments. Meanwhile the Sri Lankan rupee has plummeted to nearly 285 (official buying rate) against a US dollar.

“When we placed an order for newsprint about three months ago, it was $ 750 a ton, and now it has gone up to $ 1070 per ton. About 70 % of our production costs are for newsprint. We are now forced to import newsprint from India, despite its poor quality,” said Kumar Nadesan, Managing Director at Express Newspapers (Ceylon)Limited, which publishes Tamil daily Virakesari.  

“It is becoming very difficult to sustain the news business in this situation.  We must pay our staff. We can’t ask them to work from home because of the power cuts across the country. In fact, we must give them some sort of a hardship allowance to cope with this crisis,” said Mr. Nadesan, who is also the Chairman of the Sri Lanka Press Institute.

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