Newspaper industry in crisis
Bangladesh's newspaper industry is going through a crisis because of laws that restrict freedom of speech and the precarious state of the economy, said speakers at a roundtable yesterday.
In the last one and a half years, the price of newsprint, which is the paper used to print newspapers, spiralled from $570 per tonne to $1,050.
Together with the devaluation of the exchange rate and the numerous taxes, the industry is in a bind, they said in a roundtable styled "Upcoming Budget: Problems and Crisis of Newspaper Industries" organised by the Newspaper Owners' Association of Bangladesh (NOAB).
The main income of the newspaper comes from the advertisements, which have decreased since the pandemic, said AK Azad, president of NOAB.
On top of that, the newspapers have a Tk 100 crore advertisement bill pending from the government.
The production cost of a Tk 10-newspaper is Tk 23, and of the Tk 10, the newspaper hawkers take Tk 4 and the publishers get Tk 6, according to Azad, also the publisher of Bangla daily Samakal.
The newspaper industry is different from the rest and its problems are longstanding, Azad said.
"We explained the VAT and tax issues to the NBR [National Board of Revenue] and they appeared to have understood the matter. But, nothing was implemented," he added.
Though the newspaper industry is a service-based industry, it did not get any special facility like a stimulus package to withstand the pandemic fallout, said Matiur Rahman, editor of Prothom Alo, in his keynote speech.
Moreover, the sector has to pay 30 percent corporate tax like any other non-listed company.
In the era of globalisation and digital media, the print newspaper industry is becoming weak, and the pandemic has compounded its woes.
The corporate tax for such weak industries should not exceed 10 percent while some profit-making industries pay only 10-15 percent corporate tax.
"Earlier, the production deficit was met with the income of advertisement -- this has become impossible now."
In the VAT and Supplementary Duty Act 2012, newsprint is listed as a VAT-free item. And yet, the industry had to pay a 15 percent VAT on the import of newsprint as the customs procedure code enlisted it in their list, Rahman said.
NOAB demanded a VAT-free facility or a maximum 5 percent VAT for newspapers.
Moreover, the import duty on newsprint is 5 percent. Along with the duty, 15 percent VAT and 5 percent advance income tax (AIT) make the landing cost of newsprint to be about 127 percent.
"Actually, the rising transportation cost makes it more than 130 percent," he said, while demanding the withdrawal of the import duty.
According to the income tax act, newspapers pay 4 percent tax at source on advertising revenue and 5 percent AIT.
"This comes to 9 percent tax. But the majority of the newspapers do not earn 9 percent in profit," Rahman added.
There are 26 laws related to the freedom of speech in the country and some of them need to be repealed, said Monjurul Ahsan Bulbul, former president of Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists.
"None of those laws was enacted to expand journalism and protect journalists," said Mahfuz Anam, editor and publisher of The Daily Star.
The main ingredient for journalism is freedom of speech and the laws curtail the freedom of journalists.
"Those who smuggle, adulterate products, do unsocial work in the name of businesses, how many laws do we have against them? If you have no freedom, with the newsprint, ink and the press, you will only be able to publish a PR [Public Relations] journal," Anam said.
Journalists should be united in finding a solution, said Md. Nizamul Huq, chairman of Bangladesh Press Council.
Along with all the demands, the mainstream journalists should speak about the 'vague journalists' who are trying to earn money from other sources using a registered newspaper, he added.
"It is alarming that the youths are engaging more with social media than the mainstream media including newspapers," said Anwar-ul Alam Chowdhury, president of the Bangladesh Chamber of Industries.
Tasmima Hossain, the editor of Ittefaq; Iftekharuzzaman, executive director of Transparency International Bangladesh; Mostofa Azad Chowdhury Babu, senior vice-president of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry; Asif Nazrul and Rashed Al Mahmud Titumir, professors at the University of Dhaka; Omar Faruque and M Abdullah, presidents of the two factions of Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists, also spoke.
Dewan Hanif Mahmud, the editor of Bonik Barta, moderated the event.