With the Covid-19 pandemic having severe impact on the media industry at large in Bangladesh, the future will be "digital-first", experts of the field said at a programme yesterday.
Management and Resources Development Initiative (MRDI) organised the virtual discussion to launch a report, titled, "Leadership or Stagnation: The Future of Media Viability in Bangladesh". It was conducted by MRDI in conjunction with Fojo Media Institute of Sweden. The report was authored by Ross Settles, adjunct professor at the Journalism and Media Studies Centre of Hong Kong University; and Tanim Ahmed, adjunct faculty at the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh.
"I do not think any [print] media can go back to their January 2020 circulation figures," said Matiur Rahman, editor of leading Bangla daily Prothom Alo, commenting on the impact of the pandemic on the media industry.
"A media should be run by its own money, not money from the government, not money from the corporate, otherwise no media will survive," said Matiur Rahman.
On the electronic media front, "There is a huge difference between the operational demand of television channels and the actual money available," said Syed Gousul Alam Shaon, managing partner and country head of advertising agency Grey Bangladesh.
"Channels are underselling themselves. As a result they do not have the money to run an organisation the way it should be run. Media as a business took a backseat to media as a political tool," he added.
"Most of the so-called corporatised media are the major victims of this pandemic, and this is because of the lack of investigative reporting, and lack of content diversification. All channels and newspapers have the same type of coverage," said Manjurul Ahsan Bulbul, Editor-in-chief of TV Today.
Rejoanul Haq Raja, head of news at Maasranga TV, said, "Free to air channels are not viable, and owners are thinking of getting out of this model. Cable operators are taking all the money. Channel owners are now interested in a paid subscription model. All operators have to form a digital network that will be payment-based."
"There should be strict rules and policies about ownership. Ownership should not be kept only by the company or by few people only," said Shahidul Haque, chairman, Department of communication and journalism, University of Chittagong .
All speakers stressed on the need to be digital first.
There is an "odd idea" that digital media means less operational costs, Gousul stated, adding that this is absolutely wrong.
"We all know we need to expand digitally, and in the new business landscape we need to learn how to protect our content from aggregators and how to monetise our content," said Syed Ashfaqul Haque, executive editor of The Daily Star.
For media organisations to survive and thrive it must adopt new practices, said Prof Jude William Genilo, dean of Media Studies and Journalism department of ULAB. "This does not only mean moving towards digital platforms. New journalism skills need to be taught to students."
Zafar Sobhan, editor of English daily Dhaka Tribune, spoke about the need to gather solid statistics about the media industry in order to find a way out of the pickle that the pandemic has left the industry in.
Speakers also cautioned against the impact of the government on free media.
"Friendly media -- that is media friendly with the government-- is thickening and free media is thinning out. The unions, journalist organisations are aligned to the power, not to free media. This is why readers are gradually turning away from the media," said Ashfaqul Haque.
"The government party is obstructing journalists from speaking the truth, and journalists are self-censoring. The government can also affect advertisements," said Faruq Faisel, regional director for Bangladesh and South Asia at international rights organisation Article 19.
The report said Bangladesh may be one of the most heavily served media markets in the world, adding that TV audiences can choose from over 30 domestic channels, including eight news-only ones, apart from dozens of international providers. Print media presents an even more crowded market with more than 700 publications registered with the government. However, both TV and print industry is heavily concentrated in Dhaka, it found.
The report also said all but the largest publishers in the country operate with little to no profit margin, often fully dependent on circulation revenue and government advertising.
The full report can be accessed at https://www.mrdibd.org/publications/Media_Viability_Study.pdf