<%-- Page Title--%> Weekend Musings <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 115 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

July 25, 2003

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Are there too many Newspapers in Bangladesh?

Mahfuz Anam

How many newspapers are there in Bangladesh? Frankly, nobody really knows. There is of course the official figure. That is based on those who have taken government's permission. But how many of them are actually being published regularly, how many irregularly, and how many are just in name and are seldom, if ever, published are not really known. It will be a wonder if the government knows the whole story. If we go for the weeklies and monthlies the picture is even more blurred.

Personally I think it's a very good thing that we have so many newspapers. We can actually take pride that so many newspapers and weeklies are coming out in our country. In terms of daily newspapers published from any particular city Dhaka could easily top the world. Compared to the US where one or two newspapers per city is the norm ours look heavenly in terms of the varieties of views that we are open to. After the fall of Marcos Manila boasted of having more than 100 dailies regularly coming out from the city. After that I know of no other city that can match the journalistic scene of Dhaka.

So what is the secret? Why are there so many newspapers here? Equally surprising thing is that it is not stopping. Almost every few months there is one additional daily to look forward, and there are talks of some more in the offing. Former finance minister S.A.M.S. Kibria, talking to representatives of newspapers owners who had gone to him asking for an enhancement of government advertisement rates wondered aloud “the newspaper industry must be among the most profitable otherwise why should so many people invest in this sector.” On the face of it his logic was impeccable and one, to which, I am still to find an answer. Except for the cases of a few, the industry is not a money spinner. Yet there are so many players in it.

“Let thousand flowers bloom” is how we feel about the rising number of newspapers. I think it is a sign of our growing sense of freedom and also an indication of how we love to express our views. The more newspapers, more the different voices and more is the possibility that from our differences some common wisdom will emerge. This is what I think and would like to believe.

But diversity of views is not the only question associated with a newspaper. If journalists are to be paid the wage board salary and given a reasonable working conditions then every newspaper must earn a minimum profit or at least earn as much as its spends. For that to happen, every newspaper must be as strong in management as it is in its journalistic work. We think it can be said without much fear of contradiction that compared to the growth of our newspapers we haven't had a commensurate growth of newspaper management. In fact most of the newspapers have no proper management structure and are definitely far removed from the entire modern concepts and practices that exist elsewhere.

Part of the reason for this is that most of our newspapers continue to be small with limited circulation and limited profitability, if any at all. Those few papers that have become big did not bring about the necessary modern management structures that are necessary for their further growth. In fact their archaic management could be said to be the reason as to why they haven't grown further. The message here is that newspaper owners must modernise their management structure if they want their newspapers to grow.

More important than growth in the numbers of newspapers is the growth in their the quality. We are afraid that quality of most of our newspapers leaves much to be desired. Because there has been a proliferation of newspapers many people have entered this profession without the necessary qualifications. Here some of the employers are also guilty of not paying sufficient salary to attract the best talents from the market. It is true that newspapers cannot compete with the corporate world in attracting the recruits but if we are not ready to pay even the wage board salary then how can we expect to attract and keep talented and honest journalists in the profession. The whole thing therefore revolves around better management, better earning and higher pay and facilities for journalists. On the side of journalists they must become better qualified and far more meticulous in their job than at present.

We conclude with a word of caution. We think because there are so many newspapers and because not all of them are as rigorous about quality and ethics as the profession calls for, readers are beginning to question the overall situation and in some select cases, losing confidence in the media's positive role. We must remember that public confidence is our biggest and the only resource. If some of us lose it then indirectly it reflects on all of us. Yes, readers will no doubt distinguish between the good and the bad yet a smear on any one newspaper does rub off on all others. We see no harm in having so many newspapers. In fact we see it as a blessing, but only if we adhere to professionalism and ethics. Otherwise it may turn out to be a curse.


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