The advent of ICTs has put the whole society in a process of transition. There is hardly any sphere of the society that is not being affected by this phenomenon. Journalism is not an exception to this. ICTs brought new opportunities in the sector alongside creating many challenges and/or threats. The situation is summarized by Working Group on Sustainability of Journalism (2021) in the report “A New Deal for Journalism” as:
Independent journalism is an essential force for democracy and open societies, but is facing an existential threat from a set of interlocking challenges that, in their scale, complexity, and systemic nature, is akin to its own version of the climate emergency. A hostile political environment at best, and an authoritarian resurgence at worst; declining revenues as a result of the move to a more digital, mobile, and platform dominated media environment; and fraying public trust has left journalism in a precarious state.
Journalism is clearly in a transitional stage globally; sustainability has emerged as one of the key concerns in journalism. On one hand traditional media are facing a huge decline in the revenue income, and on the other hand facing strict (and outdated) regulations by the governments; facing mistrust and confusion among audiences due to spread of misinformation and disinformation. Furthermore, the COVID 19 pandemic worsen the situation by all means. Keeping these in mind, the Dhaka Media Summit 2021, with its central theme “Future of Journalism,” is envisioned to be a multi-sectoral dialogue regarding the present and future of news organizations, especially in Bangladesh, in the aspects of audience access, agenda setting, sustainability/viability, and safety concerns. Participants to the dialogue includes all sectors with a stake in having a healthy and vibrant news media. This will include news organizations, reporters, academics, policymakers, advertisers and civil society representatives.
The move from a media environment defined by the mass media to a digital-dominated environment is one of the most fundamental changes regarding how society communicates. Yet, this simple fact has been overlooked or denied by many of those working in news organizations; they prefer a “business as usual” approach or “nothing much has changed” mindset. Nevertheless, there is a growing consensus among researchers regarding trends in journalism, described as follows:
Audience Access. The world has shifted from media organizations acting as gatekeepers to them still influencing the news agenda but platform companies controlling access to audiences. Although media organizations have a say over the messages, they have lost control over the channels of communication.
Agenda Setting. Even with a say over messages, news organizations still need to compete with the loads of information in the digital platforms. They need to rise above the clutter given that digital platforms are full of free and paid news content – many of which may be products of disinformation and misinformation. To add insult to injury, a report mentioned that the Bangladeshi audiences do not trust the local media.
Sustainability/Viability. There is an oversupply of mass media in the country – making several news organizations unprofitable. With audiences and advertising revenue moving to digital platforms, news organizations find themselves in difficult financial positions. They need to find ways to cut costs, pay their employees, survive the competition, and/or transition to digital media.
Safety Concerns. The safety of journalists encompasses avoiding bodily and psychological harm such as career threats, economic threats, harassments, beatings, arrests, imprisonment and enforced disappearance. The end effect is the decrease in the journalists’ ability to do their function of monitoring and interpreting events in society.
Yet, in all these, news organizations play a key role in society, i.e., providing citizens with the information they need to make the best possible decisions about their lives and their society. It is the only profession that has sworn allegiance to the truth; truth being the bedrock of any society.
In light of this, there is a need for a multi-sectoral dialogue regarding the future of journalism in Bangladesh. It is imperative to enable news organizations cope with and transition towards the fundamental shift in how the country communicates.