Sri Lanka’s popular daily The Island, which was published continuously during the Civil War , has now discontinued its print edition, due to a shortage of newsprint amid the severe economic crisis facing the country.
“We regret to inform our readers that we have been forced to suspend publication of the print edition of The Island on Saturday,” said a notice on the newspaper’s front page on Friday, attributing the decision to the “current shortage of newsprint”. The newspaper apologized to its readers for taking such action which it said was “due to circumstances beyond our control”.
Explainer: The worsening economic crisis in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is struggling in a crushing economic downturn, with all sectors of the import-dependent island nation hard hit. Earlier this week, the country’s education ministry postponed quarterly exams for millions of students because they didn’t have enough paper. Authorities also said they could not complete the printing of textbooks for the new term due to continued paper shortages. 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,” said The Island editor Prabath Sahabandu. The Hindu. “Many Sri Lankan newspapers have become thinner lately. We are all forced to trim our pages and give truncated news because it is not only newsprint that we import, but also printing plates and ink. And everything is either in short supply or simply unavailable,” he said.
Fewer pages, in turn, lead to less advertising revenue for publications, the publishers pointed out. With printing having become a challenge, they also fear that crucial coverage of the current crisis will not reach the public if newsprint shortages continue.
Since its launch in 1981, The Island closed its press only for the annual Sinhalese-Tamil New Year holiday in April. “We never stopped printing even during the war. It was only during the shutdowns during the pandemic that we had to suspend the print edition as distribution was not possible,” Mr. Sahabandu said. According to him, the government printer has indicated that there will be no more paper in two months. “They are worried about how gazettes and other essential 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 crisis has caused imports of even essential goods to be delayed or blocked due to the uncertainty of dollar payments. Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan rupee fell to nearly 285 (official buy rate) against a US dollar.
“When we placed an order for newsprint about three months ago, it was $750 a ton, and now it’s up to $1070 a ton. Around 70% of our production costs are related to newsprint. We are now forced to import newsprint from India, despite its poor quality,” said Kumar Nadesan, managing director of Express Newspapers (Ceylon) Limited, which publishes a Tamil daily. virakesari.
“It is becoming very difficult to maintain the news business in this situation. We have to pay our staff. We cannot ask them to work from home because of the power cuts across the country. In fact, we owe them give some kind of hardship allowance to deal with this kind of crisis,” said Nadesan, who is also president of the Sri Lanka Press Institute.