A journalist needs to make a living too
Most of my friends are either journalists or media workers.
They have been working in the sector because they love the media; they want to serve the country by doing good journalism, and they have been doing so for a long time now.
Whenever I talk to a friend working in media these days, I don’t get a comfortable picture about them. I was talking to one such friend last week who works in a television channel.
“How have you been doing?” I asked. He replied: “Well, prices of everything go up and our salaries don’t increase. That’s how we have been doing.”
Almost anybody and everybody in our society talks about the media and the people who work there; everybody thinks most are corrupt and extort money through various means.
However, unfortunately, nobody talks about how they feed their families and bear the cost of house rent and school fees of their children with their low salaries. No one asks how they get their treatment when they become ill.
There’s a notion in our society that media men are meant to be poor; they will live their lives in poverty with extreme integrity. Then, they will acquire a deadly disease at the end of their lives and die of a lack of treatment. That’s the life of a media man.
On the other hand, we have been boasting about the flourishing media in Bangladesh.
On May 2, a day before International Press Freedom Day, our information minister stated: “10 years ago, there were only a handful of newspapers; now, there are too many to count.
There were only 10 TV channels; now, there are 33 and more are scheduled to start operation. There were one or two online news portals; now, there are a few thousand of them.”
This, he claimed, has led to the media flourishing, creating more job opportunities.
Yes, the media surely has grown in number. However, what aches my mind is to see the unspeakable financial condition of the people who work in the media outlets that have mushroomed over the last decade.
Just a few months ago, a television channel management issued a job-cut notice to about 50 journalists, because the management thought they wouldn’t be running any news operations on their channel. I know of another TV channel that doesn’t pay salaries to its journalists and has also asked the journalists to resign.
So, there are uncountable newspapers and online news portals. Are the people who are working in those corporations getting properly paid? Most of the newspapers, TV channels, and news portals across the country pay their employees a scanty amount of money -- that too on a very irregular basis.
If this is the underlying picture, what are we boasting of? Why are there so many TV channels? If they don’t have enough revenue, they naturally won’t be able to pay their employees every month.
What, then, led investors to invest in the television business? The TV channels, the newspapers, online news portals -- all depend on the advertisements that the businesses provide. Would the advertisers increase their ad budget just because the number of TV channels increased from 10 to 33?
The businesses that need to promote their products to their customers have their own budget and other limitations. They aren’t sitting on limitless money to be spent on advertisements.
It’s simple math that the investors are falling short of realizing. In the beginning, they invite the journalists to work for their outlets, with high promises. Hardly a year passes by, and they start slipping up in paying them properly.
Now, why do the media investors fail to pay their workers? Is it because they don’t have any business model to run their outlet? Is it because they don’t know what their products are? Or is it because they have just created the media outlet to support their other businesses?
Who cares to monitor how those few thousand online news portals have been running? Has anyone cared to ask why they launched those websites? Who are they serving with the news and entertainment?
There are so many sources of news and entertainment. Why would the audiences log on to their particular site? Why would the advertisers advertise on those sites? Where would the income come from for these sites?
I think this is a serious predicament for the media men who are being allured by the investors who have no business model to follow. The investors and business developers don’t know how the revenue will flow in or what the content will be.
The media men may think of a different passion, rather than suffering this financial ordeal.
Ekram Kabir is a story-teller. His other works can be found on ekramkabir.com.