The newspaper industry has already become weak in the era of digital media and the global coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the crisis. The industry is witnessing its worst crisis in history. Newspapers do not receive any special facilities despite being a special service. It is difficult for newspapers to survive in such a situation without assistance from the government.
The Newspaper Owners' Association of Bangladesh (NOAB) made this observation at a pre-budget meeting with the National Board of Revenue (NBR) at the latter’s office in Dhaka on Sunday.
AK Azad, president of NOAB and publisher of Bangla daily Samakal, Mahfuz Anam, member of NOAB, editor and publisher of The Daily Star, and Dewan Hanif Mahmud, secretary of NOAB and editor and publisher of the Bangla daily Banik Barta, raised the various issues related to the newspaper industry. Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury, vice president of Association of Television Channel Owners (ATCO), also spoke at the event.
Presided over by NBR chairman Abu Hena Md Rahmatul Muneem, NBR members Zakia Sultana and Shamsuddin Ahmed were present at the meeting.
At the meeting, NOAB told the NBR that production costs of newspapers were several times higher than the selling price. Advertising revenue meets the cost deficit slightly and this has dropped to near zero amidst the coronavirus situation. At present, the advertising market has also shrunk. The price of newsprint rose to $890 now from $570 a tonne in one and a half years.
So, it has become necessary for newspapers to receive a portion of the stimulus package that government announced during the Covid-19 pandemic.
NOAB president AK Azad said mass media has a role in developing democracy, establishing justice and putting an end to corruption. Newspapers also highlight the positive side of the government. NOAB has long been trying to draw the attention of the NBR and now NBR must cooperate, he added.
NOAB member Mahfuz Anam said though it is a business, the newspaper industry is a service. The government receives very little in its several trillion-taka budget from the newspaper industry. The newspaper industry should be seen as social service provider, he added.
Excess corporate tax
NOAB said newspapers, despite being a weak industry, pays 30 per cent corporate tax in the private limited company and unregistered company category. On the other hand, the readymade garment industry, a profitable sector, pays 10-12 per cent corporate tax. Therefore, tax rates should not be more than 10-10 per cent for newspapers.
Newspapers are listed as the VAT-free service in the value added tax (VAT) and supplementary duty act. Newspaper is a service industry, its raw material is newsprint, and that costs 50-60 per cent of the total expense. NOAB said newspapers have to pay a 15 per cent VAT while many products enjoy VAT free facility.
NOAB demanded a VAT-free facility or a maximum 5 per cent VAT for newspapers.
According to the income tax act, newspapers pay 4 per cent tax at source (TDS) on advertising revenue and 5 per cent advance tax income (AIT) on raw materials, totalling 9 per cent. But, the majority of newspapers do not earn 9 per cent in profit.
NOAB demanded the TDS be waived to 2 per cent and AIT to zero per cent for newspapers.
Employee’s income tax on companies
According to the income tax act, employees of all companies pay their own income tax whereas newspapers have to pay the income tax of its employees. NOAB said such a law should exist in the country that is equally applicable to all.
Housing allowance is 70 per cent of basic as per the wage board while the income tax ordinance exempts 50 per cent of the housing allowance. NOAB demanded total housing allowance of newspaper employees be exempted from tax.
After hearing from the NOAB members, NBR chairman Abu Hena Md Rahmatul Muneem said the matters raised by NOAB would be reviewed sincerely and also assured them of doing as much as possible.