Complexities in the South Asian media markets are many. While the media in India vehemently defends its freedom of speech, some of our neighbouring countries are not so fortunate.
Bangladesh may be a 22-year old democracy, but the two major political parties in the country are so poles apart that they cannot come to a consensus on any political issue. This puts tremendous political pressure on the industry in that country. As Matiur Rahman, Editor & Publisher, Prothom Alo, Bangladesh, shared, “We’ve had our media threatened, harassed, falsely charged and sometimes even murdered. In the last 10 years, there have been eight to 10 journalists who were killed.”
Despite these challenges, there are some prominent and resilient media houses in Bangladesh that have been playing key role in maintaining integrity of media and bringing the true picture to the people.
Another challenge has been to “safeguard freedom from the clutches” of the owners. “At Prothom Alo, I’m editor and publisher, the owner has not interfered at all. It’s a matter of great regret that most of my editor friends do not enjoy this privilege,” he Rahman said. In the past seven years, Bangladesh has seen the launch of many TV channels and media houses, but most are run by political figures to propagate their political agenda; thus, media is being used to pursue some people’s self interest and personal agenda. “That’s taking a toll on us,” he said.
Quoting from a Nielsen study, Rahman said that in 2007, TV’s reach was 74 per cent, while that of press was 27 per cent and other media had a reach of 20 per cent. The Nielsen 2011 readership figures reveal that the readership of Prothom Alo stood at 5.3 million, which Rahman hoped would show an upward trend in 2012. Speaking more on his publication, he shared that Prothom Alo is the first Bengali website and has readers from 190 countries. The epaper boasts of 400,000 readers from 153 countries.
“Readers are becoming more important to us than ever before. Earlier, only newspapers were our competitors, but today, digital is also competition, which makes it all the more important to know your readers thoroughly. Products should be modified to suit their needs,” Rahman stressed.
Yet another challenge is to make modern newspaper management more effective and efficient. There may be resistance, but the challenge is to move forward. He lamented the lack of training institutes in Bangladesh to produce the skilled manpower required for the media industry. “We have to equip ourselves and individually set up our own training departments for training reporters and editors. It’s true that the media industry is progressing in Bangladesh, but had there been common goals, it would have been faster,” he added.
Matiur Rahman was expressing his views at the 6th International News Media Association (INMA) South Asia conference, held in New Delhi on August 7 and 8, 2012.