Bangladesh media: Pre and post-Covid-19 realities and opportunities
Despite all these frustrating pictures, a silver lining flickers as the new media future is shaping up on the digital platforms
The impact of Covid-19 pandemic is visible in every sector of the economy and has also disrupted the media industry largely. A new survey found that journalists from all over the country are taking the greatest personal financial impact of this pandemic.
The Management and Resources Development Initiative (MRDI) surveyed 20 media houses in eight divisions of the country. According to their survey, the field level journalists see the pandemic as the biggest threat to their survival.
This was expected as the Covid-19 appeared in an already shrinking media market in Bangladesh. The media houses in the country are traditionally operated in a difficult environment. Even before the outbreak, the media revenues were falling.
The pandemic is just accelerating the deterioration resulting in a severe economic calamity for the media houses. The rise of social media and acceleration in mobile internet consumption has changed to the way media companies usually make money from selling contents.
The pandemic has made the situation worse. Advertisements have been dried up as businesses closed leaving an adverse effect on the routine operations of the media industry. In addition to that, the workload and health hazards also put the lives of journalists and media workers at risk.
At the very outset of the pandemic attack, central media houses in Dhaka had to embrace the necessity of social distancing. They enhanced hygiene practices immediately after the outbreak.
A large part of the media staff was initially asked to work from home. But within a very short time, media employees feared being treated redundant and started going to work risking their health.
MRDI survey said 75 percent of the field level journalists covered assignments from the spots resulting in serious risks for themselves and their families. Hundreds of journalists across major newsrooms tested positive for the virus in the last few months.
Media's overall approach is now to tighten the belt. Newspapers have reduced pages, while television channels reduced commissioning of contents. The only way for them is talk shows on the internet platform and live coverage for hours together to spend less.
Some media houses retrenched employees while others have sent their staff on forced leave. The situation allowed more opportunities for government functionaries to occupy spaces in the media.
And despite all these frustrating pictures, a silver lining flickers as the new media future is shaping up on the digital platforms. Revenues have started coming from the digital platforms as audiences are more active in the digital world instead of reading newspapers and watching televisions.
So, for media, the Covid-19 is both a challenge and an opportunity. Every publisher and distributor is a valid competitor. Everyone is striving to capture consumer attention and share revenues. The addressable digital market is bigger but highly competitive too. What is needed here is new ways to reach the maximum number of people.
A few have succeeded in drawing revenues from the digital platforms while many have failed. Bangladesh's media industry needs financial remodelling that would require more institutional approaches from the owners. Televisions and newspapers will not reach people without contents that are on the demand side.
Over the past few decades, people with access to the corridors of power had been successful in influencing dissemination of information through media houses, by largely owning these outlets. They influenced contents for their own political and business interests. Ownership of the media significantly affects the perspectives presented in the reporting and bias becomes inevitable in such circumstances.
The political or business influence over the media will not continue for long. People's engagement with media is high and they seek quality information from qualified providers. The younger group grew up with the internet culture. Their desire to consume and pay is an indication of improving value.
Connected to this particular segment of the population will allure the advertisers to invest more in content creation. I have seen that young generation wants to pay for news, but they want more independent and public interest journalism.
Media loves crisis. But now it needs to love products. Yes, there is a digital security act to be afraid of. Yet the media cannot stay away from its mandate of public interest journalism. Without good journalism, the media here will simply die out as Covid-19 has given a red signal to the conventional media approaches.
Digital professionals, digital audience and digital platforms have come together to prioritise professionalism and journalism for the people.
Syed Ishtiaque Reza is the editor in chief of GTV. Email: [email protected]