According to NOAB's Roundtable, one and a half years ago, the price of a tonne of newsprint was USD 570, now it has increased to USD 1,050. Although the readership of printed newspapers is decreasing, the readership of online is increasing. The organisations are turning to investing on online sector.
Although the newspaper was considered as a service industry and subsequently an ailing industry in the current situation, no benefit or support was received from the government. During the Covid and post-Covid period, various industries received stimulus from the government except media.
NOAB has made a number of demands to protect the newspaper industry from the ongoing crisis. Demands include reduction of the corporate tax rate on the newsprint from 30 to 10 per cent, complete withdrawal of VAT on the import of newsprint or reducing it from 15 to 5 per cent, and zero import duty on newsprint.
In addition, it has been mentioned that the source tax on newspaper advertisement income is inconsistent. Because, Tax Deducted at Source (TDS) on newspaper advertisement income is 4 per cent. Besides, 5 per cent advance income tax (AIT) has to be paid on raw materials at source. However, most newspapers do not have the profit of 9 per cent of the total income.
Alongside the financial problems, some laws, including the Digital Security Act and the proposed Data Protection Act, OTT regulations and policies and the Media Workers (Terms of Service) Act, are creating and will create adversity for the media in Bangladesh. NOAB's roundtable meeting called for immediate redress of these financial and legal issues.
During the meeting, AK Azad, president of NOAB, underscored several real crises. We consider them logical. It is important for all concerned to understand that journalism as an industry is different from other industries. The industry has been in trouble for a long time but the problem is not being solved even after explaining various aspects of the crisis to the National Board of Revenue (NBR).
The cost paper have doubled since the Russia-Ukraine war. The main income of the newspaper comes from the advertisement but it has decreased due to Covid. Tax has been levied on advertisement. Apart from this various media outlets owe advertisement bill of around Tk 1 billion.
Almost everyone present at NOAB's roundtable meeting agreed on the crisis in the newspaper industry and demanded that the government take steps to resolve it. We hope that the government, all the concerned ministries and authorities will realise the existing crisis in the newspaper industry and announce tax support in the budget for the newspaper industry to overcome the financial crisis. At the same time, steps should be taken to free the newspapers from laws that curb freedom of expression and the development of journalism and the media.