NEWSLINE

How relevant is the Bangladesh media?

Khawaza Main Uddin | Update:

Thousands of job-seekers and students gather at Shahbagh intersection around 8:00pm on 11 April. Photo: Suvra Kanti Das

That the newspaper circulation has fallen in Bangladesh in recent years is not any surprising information, although we refrain from publishing statistics of printed copies and television rating points (TRP).

One can immediately and logically blame internet technology and shrinking space for dissent for the situation but reality is that the people are asking the question: Why should we subscribe to and read newspapers every morning?

Simultaneously has declined television viewership despite the attraction of footage to many. It’s a similar question: why spend hours in front of a television set, the viewers quietly ask themselves.

The online media outlets too are struggling to capture sustained readership and generating revenue, notwithstanding the promises of the growth of net surfers.

In fact, the so-called mainstream media is facing a test of popularity as is the case in other parts of the world. However, it’s not any ‘one size fits all’ phenomenon.

The students’ demonstration for quota reforms in public services has been a proof of decreasing popular dependence on the media for spreading the message of the demonstrators. Understandably the students used the social media for organising their fellows as well as for coverage of their programmes within seconds.

For those who argue journalism is not an activism, it’s important to think twice if the ‘news as it is’ is reflected in the newspapers or television reports.

Moreover, journalistic activism is necessary to dig out, for example, public grievances that remain unfocussed, the way judicial activism tries to remedy such grievances, in a civilized society.

The decline of the Bangladesh media, in terms of influence in moulding public opinion and policymaking, may also be attributed to the state of freedom of expression. Ranked 146th among 180 countries in the Press Freedom Index 2018, the country is tainted by the worst media freedom in South Asia.

Whatever such ranking means to foreigners, the current atmosphere has left a negative impact on credibility and viability of the media - be it newspaper or television - in their domestic constituencies.

They have rather fallen on a deadly slope of the mountain of public trust: Since the media does not or cannot be critical of the establishment, most reports lack bite and trustworthiness; and since public expectations are not or cannot be met, the media outlets themselves are heading for inevitable consequences.

The people keep their confidence only in a few media entities, the ones that at least try to embarrass the powerful people for their misdeeds. Readership or viewership is a testament to acceptability.

However, more people rely on the social media, mostly Facebook, for getting news - breaking news, scoops, and even features. On social networking sites, our people often share information that is either too personal or too newsy.

Such practice shows our culture of knowing the personal wellbeing of our near and dear ones and of reading news as entertainment.

Public focus is largely shifted from the mainstream media to the social media when the former fails to listen to the voices of the masses, let alone providing platform to the common man to go public.

When an ‘accused’ is killed in a reported gunfight, people come to know from the informal media that the deceased has a human face - he is the son of a mother. Reports and opinion pieces are no longer property solely of newspapers and televisions!

As I, as journalist and as citizen, understand, more concerned about the ‘anarchic’ trends are three major segments - the media professionals themselves, the social elite who are covered more by the media and the state’s office bearers who want to dominate the media.

The rise of the social media has apparently instigated the rise of individuals who can act as newsmen and the persons covered.

Innumerable people, specifically in our context, have been so exhausted by the use of Facebook that they have hardly any interest and energy left in them to read the newspaper or watch television. They see a lot of news items available on the social networks, much before the newspapers publish them.

So, we the journalists as the key stakeholders have to face upfront the ultimate question: What will happen to information dissemination or expression of public resentment if all newspapers and television channels are closed when the social media is there?

Let’s assume a hypothetical scenario, where all formal media outlets are shut: Can the social media fill such vacuum immediately?

Here may come the next action - issuing moratorium on the social media and there will be a full stop in any criticism of the state machinery.

Even if that kind of restriction is not imposed, the people still look for news in the mainstream media. WHY?

Perhaps, a vibrant media is more in demand now than ever before and the onus is on us to reinvent ourselves for upholding the cause of the people and of course for the existence of the media itself.

* Khawaza Main Uddin is a journalist and he can be reached at khawaza@prothom-alo.info

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