Muhammad Quamrul Islam
At the outset let us thank esteemed weekly Holiday carried an article of Syed M.Fuad wrote from the Georgia State University, USA, in its last issue Friday July 26, 2019 on’ Flood-affected people vis-a-vis chasing sensationalism: Vacillating position of the media’ and hope it might have attracted the attention of mainstream national dailies consider the questions raised therein at respective end. As soon as I read the View Point I reciprocated his feelings thru e-mail, comforted him there is honorable exception, and promised to put up his points in my column that is ‘these newspapers take a deeper look at them and question the role they are playing in society’.
Fuad was reasonably unhappy for not covering the flood situation duly in major newspapers of this country. Compared to this, floods have received much more extensive coverage in international media, including Al Jazeera, Times of India, CNN and CBS. He commented: ‘A very important distinction has to be made here. We have to remember that ‘a high quality’ newspaper is different from a tabloid newspaper. The difference is not limited to the standard paper size, but also in the contents. Are these newspapers trying to reinvent themselves as tabloids that chase sensationalism? Perhaps that is what readers want. But one must remember there isn’t much moral value in sensationalism.
Historically, the news media has played a major role in bringing national issues to light and carried important conversations forward. The news media often has an unparalleled power to influence how and what people think. When people lose faith in the government, they turn to the media. And when people open a major news website and the prominent news they see is the marriage of Bangladeshi man to an American bride- something so banal and crass that it should not invite a second glance from a cognizant human being- this faith is compromised. Perhaps then, the media may just be reflection of the subconscious desires of people who read it! May be more people are interested in (and inspired by) reading about a local man married to a foreigner! If that is the case, what does it reveal about us?
Yes, readership is important because it brings more revenue from circulation and advertising. And at the end of the day, newspapers need bottom line growth to remain sustainable. But is that all? Doesn’t journalism or the news media industry as a whole, serve a greater purpose? Yes it does. Before we forget the news media is one of the more rigid pillars on which democracy rests. It acts as perhaps the strongest counterbalance to unchecked government overreach. At a time when democracy is being challenged, the role of the media should be much more assertive and bolder. It should not be committed to merely entertainment value, sensationalism or profit, but to truth. It is very important that truth is not compromised in the pursuit of publicity and greater readership/viewership.’
Now let us turn to our experience over the preceding decades of writing in mainstream media in a nutshell that may be useful reference for the current generation. I am now 78+ years of age born on July 3, 1941 seen three periods of history- India, partition1947, and emergence of Bangladesh in erstwhile East Pakistan 1971 and values of this country, while passing the varied career with natural patriotic sentiments. What is important to note we were asked to read newspaper by parents and in education institutions right from childhood, the role and need of which was taught in classes as probable essay and letter writing included in syllabus. Hand written wall papers by students was the beginning of cultural literary exercise.
At College, Hall, University Library newspapers were kept for reading as well as Public Library outside open to all readers that created cozy environment and enlightened society. While at University some with natural talent and aptitude of writing worked in newspapers also with studies. Right at this moment I remember my batch mate at S M Hall Dhaka University 1961 A Z M Enayetullah khan Mintu took me in one evening to Observer office who arranged a job at his own accord and asked to join, that’s the friendship grown in students’ democratic pursuits and political vent of mind. But I could not as I had to study law in the evening class as advised by my father with MA final. Mintu was the founding Editor of Holiday in 1965. Our contacts with friends and seniors in journalism remained all through as we joined services, it was increased for me as I joined law profession and politics directly in 1988, who solicited me to write column.
From then on experience was sweet and sour in the domain of journalism, far away from bright sunny days we worked together led to mother language movement and independence 1971. It was lost due to campus violence, University teachers’ partisan politics, divisive society and confrontation politics. Unfortunately, journalists divided organizationally between Pro Awami League and Pro Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). I asked our contemporary veteran journalist Nirmal Sen last president of united BFUJ to unite the two groups which he regretted as power and pelf involved in it! But honest journalists in the desk remained away from group fighting and dedicated to the profession, come what may, thanks to them from the core the heart and seek salvation of souls who passed away. Of late I come in touch with a young promising journalist, so contemporaries don’t worry new generation coming up to set the house in order.
(Muhammad Quamrul Islam an economist, advocate and columnist:
Muhammad Quamrul Islam