The news media must now stop publishing each and everything for free in the web. They must forge a new way in the ever-growing digital space to ensure their revenue, for making media strong and viable
Shamim A. Zahedy
While NOAB, the short for Newspaper Owners’ Association of Bangladesh, has sought government bailout for print newspapers in the face of novel coronavirus onslaught, the industry financiers must look beyond the short-term measures as the life in the post-virus era will not be the same again, at least for them.
The ‘club’ of print newspaper publishers in a meeting with the information minister, Hasan Mahmud, on 30 April, 2020 also asked for low interest bank loans for newspapers to withstand the financial shocks stemming from the coronavirus pandemic, upending the social order across the world.
The other immediate measures that the publishers have wanted from the government include quick payment of arrears of government supplements and advertisements published in newspapers and a stimulus package for newspaper hawkers, transport workers and agents.
The already troubled print newspaper industry in Bangladesh as elsewhere in the world on the back of declining readership and advertisement revenue has received a fresh blow from the global pandemic with Bangladesh’s print newspaper sales going down amid ‘fears’ over virus transmission by newspapers. Health experts however have stepped up to dispel the fear, saying there is no evidence of virus transmission through newspapers.
Before the Covid-19 smacked the world, Bangladesh’s total circulation size of dailies was not more than two million, which is not an encouraging fact for a nation of around 170 million people.
The industry also needs to look into the current scenario when it comes to tax burden it bears: the industry pays 15 per cent VAT (value added tax), 10 per cent government tax in special cases and four per cent AIT (advance income tax), which is in reality very difficult to claim refund, on its advertisement incomes.
The main raw material, newsprint, is taxed with 25 per cent duty on import, which is highly discouraging for a knowledge-based product. Other printing related materials such as ink are also taxed. The newspaper industry is also burdened with 35 percent corporate tax.
Earlier on 30 March 2020, leaders of NOAB, ATCO (the Association of Television Channel Owners), Editors’ Council and Editors’ Guild met the information minister to talk about media’s internal problems emerging from the current coronavirus crisis.
The media owners and editors sought bulk allocations as stimulus to tide over these trying times of freefall of revenue, thanks to the virus-induced global shutdown.
Yes, the mainstream news media that include print newspapers, televisions, radios and online news portals deserve the short-time support in these hard times as the government is constitutionally obliged to help the press grow and strong.
And it is now on the part of the government to act quickly to arrange soft loans for news media and cut all the taxes and VAT to zero for the next three years to weather the global economic recession. Of course, the news media need to be treated preferentially, as good governance, rule of law and as a whole democracy hinge on their existence. Only free and independent media are able to point out faults and wrongdoings of a democracy that they entitled to serve, not the party in power or its bureaucracy.
In the long-run, the mainstream news media must search for a new business model as they have already adapted to a new way of work: for online news portals they are doing hundred percent of their jobs from home; for print newspapers many are doing hundred percent of their editorial and production contents from home excepting printing job; and for television channels, many have resorted to mobile phone-based apps to reach out to newsmakers for news reports and analysis.
As far as revenue is concerned, perhaps the news media made the mistake at the beginning with the advent of internet: they considered only expanding their reach and distribution, not the revenue; they rather did charity for their news content on the web.
It is high time the news media stopped publishing each and everything for free in the web. They must forge a new way in the ever-growing digital space to ensure their revenue, for making media strong and viable.
Surely, every form of journalism has its own USP, or unique selling proposition, be it print, radio, television and the web. All the modes of journalism complement each other, forming a strong and robust ecosystem for news.
For Bangladesh’s newspapers and online-only media, they together must go for password-protected one unified platform based in cloud technology; for television stations they have to rethink their current distribution model, which gives them no money right now. And also for their video clips they can follow the Netflix model, sharing revenues based on hits or subscriptions.
The internet-based digital advertisements are not going to serve mainstream news media’s purposes: all advertisements are gobbled up by global giants such as Facebook, Google and YouTube.
And still because of wrong business model, news media are literally handing over their entire expensive news contents for free or in some cases in exchange for a paltry amount of money to the social media giants only to make Facebook, Google and YouTube strong. Bangladesh’s internet-based online-only media outlets even now do not have any business model whatsoever in terms of revenue earning.
Only individual facebookers and youtubers can benefit from their contents in social media, not organisations like news media, which heavily invest on news gathering and publishing by trained professionals.
In this age of ‘fake news’ and ‘deep fake video’, mainstream news media will stay relevant in terms of trustworthiness compared to posts relating to ‘rumour’ and ‘misinformation’ by individuals, who submit unverified and unedited contents.
Yet the social media do play roles, becoming integral parts of the news media eco-system. Take an example from the murder of Sohagi Jahan Tanu. The 19-year-old female student was found dead in the vicinity of Comilla Cantonment on the night of 20th March 2016. But the cruel murder nearly remained undetected in the scanners of Bangladeshi mainstream news media.
The mainstream media later managed to start covering the incident only after social media launched a scathing campaign to seek justice for the murder of the unfortunate girl from Comilla Victoria College.
Seen from this angle, the ‘rumour’ and ‘misinformation’ in the social media can also work as clues for all including mainstream news media.
The writer is the Executive Editor of The Independent. E-Mail : email@example.com
3 May, 2020 11:00:47 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 3 May, 2020 04:37:51 PM