A range of crisis affecting Bangladeshi mass media has been in discussions recently, especially, the issue of mass layoffs and unpaid arrear wages. My family has been involved with media for a long time. The Daily Ajker Kagoj heralded epochal change in Bangladeshi newspaper industry. And I can say from my own experience that top media organisations some time have to face severe crisis. In the case of Ajker Kagoj, when it was shut down in 2007, we made sure of clearing due payments to all employees.
Needless to say some media companies have neglected to practice such diligence, which is frankly deplorable. Any organisation has to shutdown if it fails to operate successfully, but it’s totally unacceptable to do so without clearing the dues of employees. And just like any other industry, the law has to be enforced to ensure the rights of the people working in the media.
Having said that, one must also note that crisis in our media world is not only limited to failures of organisational management. There are other reasons too; broader structural reasons that affect media in our country as much as elsewhere. Namely, the dominance of the internet and the rise of social media - technological change is often a great disruptor.
Social media now rules the game across the world. It has changed the landscape of news consumption. More people now get news from social media instead of news websites, which mean fewer readers as well as reduced web traffic for the media. That in return spells less advertising - the lifeline for all media. What makes this untenable is a quandary overlooked by readers and advertisers alike: the tough and expensive process of news gathering is still done by media organisations - but they are no longer getting fully compensated for it!
This gross imbalance can’t continue forever. It’s simply unethical of social media sites building their empires while media organisations take up the tough task of news gathering. If the state and society truly consider news media to be an integral part of democracy then it’s high time laws were put in place to ensure a fairer share of revenue between social media and news media. And indeed between all content creators and social media.
This is now a global crisis with similar proposals floated even in the developed world. Bangladesh can play a leading role in line with its ‘Digital Bangladesh’ campaign. But is the state at all sincere about the news industry? The print media is burdened with exorbitant tax, VAT and duty while the controversial Digital Security Act threatens the rights of news organisation and journalists. Since neither the government nor the parliament have taken steps to solve these long-standing issues, chances of more innovative or assertive solutions in favor of news media seems unlikely.
Whenever the issue of crisis in media, especially press freedom, are raised, government spokespersons recite the rising number of media organisations in the country. It’s needless to say mere increase of numbers is not the best measure of the health of the industry. The explosion of new outlets in every form of media - TV channels, dailies, online news outlets and radio - is true enough, and pose both great new opportunities for talented individuals and intensified competition for existing players.
Bangla Tribune started its journey amid this boom in the media industry. A group of young and energetic people were recruited to lead the initiative. We banked on the youth as they are not scared of any crisis. They have the fire in the belly to take on any challenge.
Bangla Tribune has stepped into its sixth year, which actually is not a very long time for any media. If I am asked what we have achieved in this short time, I would proudly say credibility. It has achieved the readers’ trust and nothing is more important for a news outlet. Amid the staggering number of new online news portals, Bangla Tribune stands tall as a site on which everyone has confidence.
Having the reader's trust is the cornerstone that will help us overcome all other challenges. In the coming days, our media industry will face new challenges, and Bangla Tribune will continue its march with the mission to turn crises into possibilities.
Kazi Anis Ahmed is the publisher of Bangla Tribune and Dhaka Tribune