Television is the preferred source of news in the country while social media play secondary role, report says
The media, once leading political and social transformation, has failed to transform itself to the changes brought upon by a digital transition.
Moreover, advertisement revenue continues to shrink due to extreme competitions, including political, legal and licensing barriers, that have resulted in self-censorship. Such a situation has also limited the media’s ability to produce impactful journalism.
Panellists at a program on Thursday made the statements while discussing the current state of the Bangladeshi media.
At the event, a report, “Leadership or Stagnation: The Future of Media Viability in Bangladesh,” was unveiled, prepared by Management and Resources Development Initiative (MRDI) and Fojo Media Institute of Sweden jointly.
“Bangladesh has two distinct media audiences- one in Dhaka and urban centres while the other is in the rural areas across the country. Both turn to television as their preferred source of news. Online media play a secondary role for both, with social media site Facebook playing a more dominant role among rural users,” the study noted.
Newspapers continue to dominate as an important news source among middle aged and older urban audiences. Rural audiences are substantially less dependent on newspapers most likely due to lower literacy and poorer coverage of rural or regional issues, the report added.
While presenting the summary of the report, Ross Settles, adjunct professor of Hong Kong University, remarked that youths from rural areas of Bangladesh think Facebook is the whole internet.
“They do not even know about media literacy,” he claimed.
Hoping that Bangladesh has a future in digital media, Ross said the media economics industry structure is crowded but consolidated.
There are lots of television channels and local newspapers based in Dhaka and Chittagong, but the real cultural view of the locality needs to be screened, he opined.
He also said the regulatory environment in the country is complex and ambiguous, such as the Digital Security Act, which poses risks to news reporting.
Citing another MRDI study of 2019 on news literacy, he said 43.3% people do not have time to use news media.
In the 2019 National Survey of Bangladeshi Public Opinion, the percentage of people responding that the media “was doing a good job” declined by 26 percentage points from 89% in November 2015 to 63% in September 2019. Ross cited these figures while mentioning that the media experienced the deepest decline.
However, he remarked that the Bangladeshi media industry are viable but they need to find solutions to major issues like revenues.
Bangladesh can follow other governments who are a bit ahead in managing and regulating media, he added.
Hasibur Rahman Mukul, executive director of MRDI, said that the body will work on the plan and implementation of it for the next five years following the analysis of the report.
Lack of data interrupts plans
Zafar Sobhan, editor of Dhaka Tribune remarked that lack of data related to the newspaper market is now interrupting proper plans but combined efforts can help everyone.
He said: “At the end of day, we will talk about our spending and the ad market. We get only estimates about the market but those estimates can be substitutes. If the data flow is accurate, a good plan for a media industry can be regulated.”
“Everyone has little pieces of data which are hard to combine. As an editor if I am looking for some data which are useful to me, I cannot find those properly now, only the estimates,” Zafar added.
“If I could have a reliable estimate of the total size of the print journalism media market, such as the entire market of the English newspaper market or Bangla I will come to know the demand as well as prepare plans for the years ahead,” he stated.
The Dhaka Tribune editor urged stakeholders to formulate a realistic database of the print journalism industry market since newspapers are alive in this digital age through their subscriptions and said: “It will make the system more viable and realistic.”
“Advertising revenue from online is going to replace print advertising. As far as I am aware there is an extraordinary challenge here in Bangladesh; beyond that there is no viable path to sustainability for level of profit. So actual data are necessary,” Zafar Sobhan remarked.
Matiur Rahman, editor of Prothom Alo, acknowledged that the lack of data is harming the print industry.
Syed Ashfaqul Haque, executive editor of the Daily Star, said stable democracy is required for a free media, adding: “Still a lot more studies need to be done.”
Monjurul Ahsan Bulbul, editor in chief of TV Today, said that the ownership area would be one thing stakeholders need to discuss more.
Md Shahidul Haque, chairman of Department of Communication and Journalism at Chittagong University, said ownership should belong to journalists.
New Media is the future
Faruq Faisel, regional director of Article19 in Bangladesh and South Asia region, said the whole platform of the digital media system needs to be reformed and addressed.
Matiur Rahman, editor of the Daily Prothom Alo, said: “Media should run independently by using their own funds. There are many challenges and obstacles but journalism has to continue despite the challenges.”
“I accept that the future of the media industry lies with digital content. I think we have to move towards digital media initiatives, especially mobile journalism (mojo),” he added.
Among others, Country Representative of the Asia Foundation Kazi Faisal Bin Seraj, Program Manager Bangladesh of Fojo Media Anna Maris, Dean of Media Studies and Journalism at ULAB Jude W R Genilo, Advisor of Fojo Media Institute-Sweden Sofia Hultqvist, Channel 24 Executive Director Talat Mamun, Editor in Chief of Gazi TV and Sarabangla.net Syed Ishtiaq Reza, Deputy Executive Editor of the Business Standard Shakhawat Liton, Planning Editor of the Financial Express Asjadul Kibria, Editor of Doinik Purbokone M Ramizuddin Chowdhury, Head of News at Maasranga TV Rejwanul Haq Raja, Head of News at Ekattor TV Shakil Ahmed, Chief News Editor at Jamuna TV Fahim Ahmed and Editor of Gramer Kagoj Mobinul Islam Mobin attended the session.