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Bangladesh through Matiur Rahman of Prothom Alo's eyes

Posted by Adgully Bureau | on November 22, 2010
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Matiur Rahman, Editor of Prothom Alo, Bangladeshi newspaper is a man who believes that journalism requires hard work and honesty. Recipient of Ramon Magsaysay Foundation Award for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts in 2005, he is highly regarded as a secular and renowned journalist in Bangladesh. Growing up in the era of decolonization and fervent nationalism that gave birth to East Pakistan and then Bangladesh, he edited Dhaka's socialist weekly Ekota for twenty-one years. He established Prothom Alo, by extensively covering corruption, terrorism and human rights violations, taking that risk of going against the Government. In an exclusive interview with Adgully, Rahman discusses journalism, Prothom Alo and India.

Adgully:Share a little about your career and some key highlights...

Maithur Rahman: I was a student of statistics. And I was active in politics early in life which I continued for 50 years. In 1970, we started a weekly and I was an acting editor after which I became an editor. I was with that weekly till 1991. However I was into politics and writing for other newspapers as well. In 1991, I quit politics and started full time journalist. We started a weekly called "Morning News' where I worked for 6 years. Then in 1998 I started this news paper, Prothom Alo.

Ag: Can you share with us some memorable moments?

MR: We had some targets from the beginning itself, which were that we had to become number 1 and we had to be a good business because otherwise we would have to depend on owners, government or advertisers. After three years we want to be number one. We are making good money and putting it to the right use.

I am really happy that I got the Ramon Magsaysay Foundation Award in 2005 for launching a newspaper for social change for supporting people from different sections. It was a great moment my career. The prize money which was 50,000 $ which I distributed to three campaign programmes, which Prothom Alo is doing right now, that is one against acid throwing against women, fund to say no to drive campaign and there is a fund to help journalists especially those who are attacking the government, so these are the three funds. We are getting support from the readers for these causes.

Ag: How has Prothom Alo grown in the last 12 years?

MR: In the first issue we published 1,22,000 thousand and within a week it came down to 42,000 and slowly we grew. Today we print 4, 40,000 and that's a huge number. We are in a comfortable position but we are always trying to improve the editorial content and news content so that we can increase the numbers more.

Ag: What are the challenges in front of Prothom Alo at this point of time?

MR: Our online readership is a huge number with our e-paper and we also have a mobile news service and for the last 3 years we have Prothom Alo jobs.com for careers and all. One year ago, we also started our publishing house and we have about 60 books. Also very recently we have started our "chittagong' edition.

As we are strongly independent, all the major political parties campaign against us and try different ways to prove anything against us. These sort of challenges or pressures are there. We are doing well now and so nobody can stop us. We are known for being unbiased, digging out the truth against terrorist politics, corruption and so on.

Ag: What are the opportunities do you see for the group?

MR: As literacy levels are increasing, there is better growth and better income, there is an opportunity to take Prothom Alo further to more numbers, to more business and to more strengths.

Ag: What are the key learnings that you can share?

MR: Well one thing which we made sure from the beginning itself was to remain honest, in journalism you must do work honestly, sincerely and be hard working. Also another most important thing is not get involved with any political party or business group.

Ag: As an editor, how difficult is it to steer the growth of the company? Somebody who has an added responsibility of winning an award, how do you live up to that?

MR: My team is very good and we are all in understanding of the situation and policies and our journalistic activities. As a team leader, publisher, editor, we have to work hard and longer than others, however we have one weakness that we couldn't develop good management system, which we are concentrating on now. Marketing initiatives in terms of circulation and advertising are also one area which we are looking at improving further.

Ag: What's the pricing of your newspaper?

MR: It is 8 Taka, in rupees it would be 4 or 5 rupees.

Ag: Do you see legroom for increasing the cover price?

MR: No there is no chance of increasing, rather we should try to bring it down but that is also difficult because we have to give 35% commission to the hawkers.

Ag: How do you build connect with the youth? Is there a challenge there, in terms of their readership?

MR: Actually this is one of the major challenges for our newspapers. We have definite pages for them. We have various activities like Math and language Olympia, we organize debates and cultural functions. All these are targeted at the youth.

Ag: Are you also thinking of an opportunity where you could bring in a mid-day or afternooner in your country?

MR: Nobody has tried, so there may be.

Ag: How much focus is there on entertainment there?

MR: There is a lot interest by young people in sports and Bollywood like it would be there in all places.

Ag: What are your views on Indian newspapers?

MR: We follow Indian newspaper and their marketing strategies and we are looking for opportunities also. There is a scope of our newspaper and online newspapers adversaries from Indian companies.

Ag: Are there any proposals you are looking at from India?

MR: No we are not. Ananda Bazaar has already approached us for some sort of joined activity. TOI is also thinking something like this. So we are looking at all these proposals.

Ag: Any message for young journalists?

MR: Young journalists should be hard working, honest and sincere and should learn something new every day and should develop their skills, knowledge and understanding which is so very important.

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