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Mainstream media yields to social media in Bangladesh

TOP NEWS-ENG-19-11-2020
A Rohingya youth shares his stories on social media

As conventional institutions fail to grow adequately or are retarded, alternate spaces emerge. The social media has become the main socio-political space in Bangladesh for those who seek opinions or want to give vent to their opinions. People use it to make complaints, or to look for help. As the conventional public space shrinks, the social media space is growing. It's almost a parallel world now. 

The paid and print media's decline began in the last decade. The high level of investment that is required for floating a print medium makes it very prohibitive except for the super-rich. But those who are middle rich and have clout were the earliest to invest in online media. Now, the low cost of online media has drawn many people to it, including many of the super wealthy.

With online media comes social media, both serving as each other's producer and consumer. And it's not just the online and print media but TV and radio as well. 

Corona has also played a role as many stayed away from touching papers which were considered infectious. Research on the sources of information on Covid 19 shows that social media was more relied upon than print or paid media. 

Once advertisers had preferred print media for printing their large display adverts but as consumer behavior changed so did the use of digital space. The higher capacity to absorb better quality adverts and higher frequency of views led to a shift in market economics making the digital media space lucrative. 

More people have smart phones now than ever before. With economics overwhelming tradition, old media was banished to the background. 

A big push has also come from multi-media and multi-stream products in the digital space. Consumers are not just reading online newspapers but are also watching YouTube, FB live, online TV, video clips etc. Thus, not only is there more information and variety on the net but also more consumers. 

Digital media domination is now guaranteed. Two cases illustrate it: The Akbar case and the YouTube case.

ASI Akbar

The social media had focused and brought to attention the case of one Raihan, a resident of Sylhet who was beaten to death in a police station by the officer-in-charge ASI Akbar. The killing became such a big event that the police were forced to act and Akbar fled the scene after the authorities sought his arrest.

On November 8, ASI Akbar was shown being arrested in a bit of a mysterious way. Social media asked where he was hiding and how he was arrested. But the focus was on who arrested him. Initially, the police claimed that they had arrested him but as a smart phone video which told a different story went viral, the police had to back down. The video clip showed that Akbar was brought to the border area in a car and then tied up and led away by the local people, probably Khassia Adivasis. 

What this probably means is that he was hiding in India but was forced to give up his shelter or was forced out. The social media soon reported that his Indian shelter giver was bribed to hand him over and that he was later handed over to the Bangladesh police. Another version said that one Rahim did the transferring. He was offered a bribe by Akbar not to do it, but he refused. Individuals have already declared awards and rewards for Rahim. 

What the social media did was to show that the police version was not correct- at least it was confusing. India-Bangladesh co-operation had obviously played a role in the arrest of Akbar. The social media had already reported that Bangladesh had officially sought Indian help to nab Akbar. Clippings of the Indian media headline were floating in the social media for a while. Most mainstream/paid media covered the stories sourced from the viral video clip affirming the growing dominance of social media. 

YouTube case 

Some Bangladeshis living in the US and Canada have been running commentaries everyday trashing the Awami League government. They are Iliyas, Kanak Sarwar and Maj. (retd) Delawar. Kanak and Iliyas are Bangladeshi journalists now in exile, while Delawar is an ex-army man. They broadcast on YouTube pretty virulent stuff against Awami League politicians as well as India. Delawar has more or less incited the army to revolt. They get 500,000 to 1 million views regularly per broadcast. Most consider their views as being close to the opposition party Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). 

The YouTube broadcasts have been serious enough to merit a press statement from the army dismissing their claims. The Awami League government has no way to act against them. Some pro-Awami League activists are reportedly planning to run counter-narratives to contest the broadcasts, which they claim are made by supporters of Jamaat and BNP. 

What this basically endorses is the fact that no one can ignore social media even where official control is high or the mainstream media is pliant. What the old media will do now isn't sure but the new media's clout will grow.