While it is assumed that proliferation of media outlets only ensures plurality of opinions, little thought was given to the quality of financial resources for media outlets until recently
Shamim A. Zahedy
When the news media industry in Bangladesh as elsewhere in the world is already in a tailspin in the face of falling advertisement revenue, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic is just rubbing salt into the wound.
The pandemic-induced lockdowns across the countries have shuttered businesses and halted physical movements of people, sparking off economic loss for every sector, not just the news media business.
As life of every person and business is changing in the post-virus era which will certainly be a ‘new normal’ for the world, the news media must now strive for the new way of primary investment, besides a new business model for steady revenue generation and a new way of work to cut operation costs.
Cutting down the operation costs has always been a continuous process for any business. But people’s new experience of work from home and extensive use of technologies will definitely change the newsroom operations, at least in the coming days.
The reason to find alternative finances is a simple one: in a global economic recession, services sector will become the first casualty. Amid falling investment or rather quality investment in mainstream news media, the Fourth Estate is set to see further slump in funding from traditional sources as the life in the post-virus era will not be the same again, at least for these sources.
The source of funding always sets the tone of the media which is supposed to be the voice of everyone. While it is assumed that proliferation of media outlets only ensures plurality of opinions, little thought was given to the quality of financial resources deployed for media outlets until recently.
In the local perspective, perhaps with a similar experience in other parts of the world, ‘wealthy persons’ used to invest on the press. The Rangpur Bartabaha, the first newspaper printed in 1847 in the geographical territory now known as Bangladesh, was published with the financial support from a zamindar, or land lord, in the northern district of Rangpur. Gurucharan Sharma Roy was the first editor of the paper.
What was the political and social alignment of the newspapers of early days in Bangladesh? Banglapedia aptly describes no newspapers are neutral and the nineteenth-century newspapers published from East Bengal, now Bangladesh, were no exception.
The weekly English language Dhaka News (first published in 1856) supported the indigo planters while the weekly Bangla language Dhaka Prakash (first published in 1861) initially supported the Brahma Society, a sect founded by Hindu reformer Rammohun Roy (1772-1833) in August 1828. But later the paper tilted towards conservative Hindus.
The Bangabandhu (1873 circa) was the mouthpiece of the Brahma Society while the Gramabarta Prakashika (1863) was against the zamindars and indigo planters and wrote against their repression. The Bengal Times (1871) was supporter of the British rulers.
The same funding model for newspapers or other news media outlets does exist in 2020s. The ‘wealthy persons’ have just been replaced by corporate or business conglomerates as financiers of the news media.
Apart from political lines, the commercial interests of financiers dominate the news treatment by the newsrooms.
Imagine, an eatery is fined by competent authorities such as a mobile court for selling adulterated foodstuff, but that is not news for ‘The Daily AAA’ or ‘111 Television’ or ‘Radio +++’ only because a mother corporate house owns both media outlets and the eatery. However, the same incident of the eatery that is fined is ‘big’ news for ‘The Daily BBB’ or ‘222 Television’ or ‘Radio —’, which are owned by a rival conglomerate. `
So, the diversity of media outlets is the key to revealing the truth: what is non-news for XYZ is news for ZYX or vice versa. But for newspaper readers, TV viewers and radio listeners, the situation is puzzling. They are not researchers and do not go through all the media outlets to come to a conclusion.
Here comes the good brand: whoever covers most opinions, accommodates most dissents will win the hearts. “Good journalism is a good business.”
The source of funding always determines the future of the journalistic venture, whether it will be a success or failure. The pressure within is hard to overcome as it is invisible.
It is now time for Bangladeshi news media to look beyond the conventional sources of funding to do fair journalism.
Crowdfunding, the new practice of funding a venture by raising money from a large number of people with a very small amount of contribution to offset the big investment risk, can be a good option.
Although crowdfunding’s financial contribution to journalism is still insignificant worldwide, it holds potential for quality investors, who are also newspaper or newssite readers, TV viewers and radio listeners. The people who care for quality journalism will put their tiny contributions.
Bangladesh, however, lacks any guideline or policy for crowdfunding investment.
Raising money from the capital market can be another option but the stock as an alternative source for mainstream news media has perhaps never been explored so far in Bangladesh.
What about foreign investment in Bangladesh’s mainstream news media? Is it prohibited?
Bangladesh’s central bank says: “Bangladesh offers generous opportunities for investment under its liberalised Industrial Policy and export-oriented, private sector-led growth strategy. All but four sectors (i.e. (1) arms and ammunition and other defence equipment and machinery, (2) forest plantation and mechanised extraction within the bounds of reserved forests, (3) production of nuclear energy, and (4) security printing and minting) are open to private investment in Bangladesh. The government’s role is that of a facilitator which helps create an enabling environment for expanding private investment, both domestic and foreign.”
On the other hand, Foreign Private Investment (Promotion and Protection) Act, 1980 says the government shall accord fair and equitable treatment to foreign private investment which shall enjoy full protection and security in Bangladesh.
Will foreign investment be able to inject fresh blood into the sector in future?
The writer is the Executive Editor of The Independent. E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
First printed :
15 May, 2020 12:51:27 PM / LAST MODIFIED: 16 May, 2020 12:20:17 PM