A huge number of Prothom Alo readers turned up at the Readers Fest organised at the Bangla Academy premises on Friday to mark the 24th anniversary of the widely circulated Bangla daily newspaper.
At the question and answer session, readers came up with one query after another. Every one wanted a chance, with seven or eight readers standing up to question at the same time. It was quite a task to select which questioner could ask first and then the next. They had all come with the hope to speak. Some of them highlighted their hardships and some raised certain allegations.
Prothom Alo editor Matiur Rahman answered all questions of the valued readers one after another. Prothom Alo senior journalists also responded to the different questions.
While answering the readers, editor Matiur Rahman said, "The objective of Prothom Alo is to reveal the truth. Readers are with Prothom Alo for the truth. We publish the truth with integrity."
He sought the readers' cooperation to take Prothom Alo forward further and strengthen free journalism.
In the beginning of the session for readers, veteran actress Dilara Zaman, sitting among the audience, pointed to the senior journalists and said, "I am 80 and growing feeble. But is it possible to beat this group of 'youth' of 24 years with any questions? I salute you all from a distance!"
While addressing the Prothom Alo editor, Dhaka College student Tanjibul Abid placed a demand. A resident of Rangabali of Patuakhali, he alleged Rangabali only came up for news if there were floods. But there is so much going on there, both development works and irregularities. He claimed Rangabali being a new upazila, irregularities were taking place more than the positive work. There were irregularities in the education and construction sectors. He proposed that reports be made over these issues.
Assuring him of necessary steps, Prothom Alo editor Matiur Rahman said, "We will look into the matter and take steps so that we can publish the facts."
Answering another reader, Matiur Rahman said, "We wanted to publish an independent newspaper. At the same time, we wanted to publish a newspaper that will be self-reliant and will survive with its own revenue. It is very difficult in Bangladesh to stay independent and survive on one's own income. The main reason is our governments cannot accept independent journalism, don't accept it and don't want to accept it."
The editor said business matters are also taken into consideration for the survival of Prothom Alo. From the very beginning the goal was that Prothom Alo will be an independent newspaper, will survive on its own income. There is no hesitation to say that Prothom Alo is an honest, independent and non-partisan newspaper. The goal of Prothom Alo is to work for the welfare of the people.
He said, "We publish news with integrity. This is our strength. You are with us as we publish truth honestly. As you are with us, Prothom Alo survives and will advance forward."
Moderating the event, Prothom Alo managing editor Sajjad Sharif said, "Our task is to provide correct information. Despite taking all sorts of precautions, we may make mistakes along our journey. We corrects ourselves if we make mistakes. Remain with us. We work with all good intentions."
About not publishing nicknames in Prothom Alo, associate editor Anisul Hoque explained that Prothom Alo generally publishes the certified official names.
About publishing cover advertisements, Prothom Alo consulting editor Kamal Ahmed said reputed newspapers around the world also do this for the sake of survival. Readers have the right to complain against this, but newspaper needs this business to survive.
A student at Government College of Applied Human Science, Mahbuba, said when they were younger, journalism was a dream profession. Some still have these dreams. But now when to comes to choosing a profession, those wanted to study journalism or who have studied it, are afraid of taking this up as a career. They don't have the courage to take journalism as profession. Why is this so?
Answering this question, Prothom Alo feature editor Shumana Sharmin said there are opportunities to take the Bangladesh Civil Service (BCS) examination for government service or to work as public relations officers after studying in journalism. However, it is accurate that nobody is taking up journalism after studying the subject.
She also added, those from the journalism department, are doing well in different sections of Prothom Alo. However, there is a lack of confidence in most of the establishments. Interest for this profession would grow further if this confidence could be built up.
Hasan Muhith, who took the SSC examination from Monipur High School in the capital this year, asked, "What message does Prothom Alo want to give to its new readers?
Answering this question, Prothom Alo head of online Shawkat Hossain said the main message is delivering accurate news. As new readers want to know about education, technology and the job market, such news is published with priority. News is published in accordance with their interests and this effort will be strengthened further in the future.
A reader asked about Prothom Alo Sports Department (online) head Utpal Shuvro about the cricket board. Shuvro said Prothom Alo has a plan for extensive reporting about the activities of cricket board.
Prothom Alo head of English online Ayesha Kabir, Prothom Alo deputy editors Lazzat Enab Mahsi and AKM Zakaria, head of reporting Tipu Sultan and deputy news editor Razib Hasan, among others, were present at the event.
In his concluding remarks, Prothom Alo editor Matiur Rahman said, "You readers are our friends and our partners. Let us usher in an environment for good journalism in real sense and strengthen independent journalism. We love our country. The goal of Prothom Alo is to see victory of Bangladesh in all sectors."
*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print and online editions, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam.