SHAMIM A. ZAHEDY, Dhaka
The Independent, one of the oldest English language dailies that have been in continuous operation in Bangladesh, marks today (26 March 2020) its 25th founding anniversary amid the novel coronavirus pandemic that has so far killed 20,334 people globally including five in Bangladesh.
Indeed, in a sombre mood, the newspaper, which in many ways pioneered innovations such as four-colour newspaper on imported newsprint and a pullout weekend magazine in Bangladesh’s print media industry, has stepped into the 26th year of its journey that began with a Big Bang on 26 March in 1995 coinciding with the nation’s Independence Day.
The very name of the newspaper indicates what it wanted to be as a daily newspaper and what editorial policy it would pursue. The valued readers are here to judge whether it has succeeded in this. With Bangladesh growing older, The Independent matures as well.
Some 175 countries and territories are grappling with the coronavirus pandemic, billed as the worst health crisis in 100 years, affecting some 440,145 people globally until now. With the number of infected people rising exponentially every second literally, the nations of the world put their heads together to fight the new disease that has no vaccine or therapeutics. The Independent firmly believes the humanity will surely emerge as victorious as it overcame plague, flu, cholera, smallpox, HIV/AIDS, ebola and the likes.
But the novel coronavirus or COVID-19, originated in China’s Wuhan city, also poses newer challenges to the global village with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres predicting recession is a near certainty and German Chancellor Angela Merkel saying her country is facing the worst crisis since WWII, while US President Donald Trump calling himself as ‘wartime president’ to lead America through this crisis.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in her address to the nation yesterday also called fight against coronavirus as a ‘war’ and defined it as a testing time for humanity.
But the professionals engaged in emergency services such as medical treatment, law enforcement and news media are exposed to a new threat they have faced never before. In wars and in other crisis situations, the emergency service providers are protected and spared: they at least know their foes, their friends.
Coming back to news media industry, as the highly-contagious novel coronavirus offers virtually no clue of avoiding it other than ensuring physical isolation and social distancing thus far, it is high time the newsrooms worked out a new way of doing their jobs to offer news and analysis to people for fair reading, viewing and listening.
Like others in the world, Bangladesh’s mainstream news media are already in troubled waters, facing unfair challenges from global digital platforms such as Google, Facebook and Youtube, which are getting advertisements from Bangladesh but paying no tax to Bangladesh government.
Annually, Google, Facebook and Youtube together reportedly pull more than Tk 1,000 crore (Tk10 billion) in revenue from Bangladesh and most of the amount is not sent through the country’s banking channel.
In a recent development, after failing to force the global social media giants to set up representative offices or appoint agents in line with VAT laws, the National Board of Revenue, Bangladesh’s apex authorities for tax administration, now plans to allow the digital platforms to secure direct VAT registration without opening local offices as part of its move to bring them under the tax net.
Times have changed over the decades. Bangladesh’s news media industry is at a crossroads, requiring urgent actions. The mainstream media outlets must look for a new business model to sustain themselves in the ever-growing digital space: they must take a pause before publishing each and everything for free in the web; they must ponder whether they should hand over their expensive and exclusive contents to Facebook, Twitter and Youtube to enrich the social media giants; they must go for ONE COMMON PLATFORM in the digital space to ensure their revenue.
Media outlets’ financial strength is the key to speaking the truth, the service it wants to deliver to people. Unless the media, especially news media, are not financially solvent, they will surely fall victims to political and corporate pressures.
However, on this auspicious occasion of its 25th founding anniversary, The Independent’s heartfelt thanks go to the readers, who form the integral part of the English language paper’s journey over the past years.
The Independent also feels privileged to serve its readers without whom the paper could not have existed altogether. The Independent hopes to serve the readers in years to come with the same zeal and commitment towards people’s well-being, democracy, gender equality, freedom of expression of people and eradication of corruption in an unbiased manner.
On this auspicious day, The Independent also recalls the contributions of Syed Mahboob Alam Chowdhuri, the founding editor, and Mahbubul Alam, who served the paper for long 17 years as its editor.
The paper also thanks its valued well-wishers, advertisers and patrons for immense supports over the years.
Last but not least, The Independent expresses thanks to the investors, who have put their faith in the paper’s commitments to serve the people.
The writer is the Executive Editor of The Independent.
First printed :
26 March, 2020 12:53:33 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 2 April, 2020 12:43:09 PM