Ecrea3h Shameen Mahmud Paper

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Ecrea3h Shameen Mahmud Paper

  1. 1. Interactivity and online newspapers of Bangladesh Shameem Mahmud∗, Department of Mass Communication and Journalism, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh Abstract: Technological development has been changing the form, character and content of journalism, and the pace of changes is quickening after the invention and widespread use of new media, specially the Internet. The practice of journalism, from newsgathering to the process of news dissemination and consumption, has changed forever with the use of the Internet since 1990s. The Internet has challenged one-way model of information delivery by traditional broadcast and print media, and thus made mass communication interactive or multi-directional. People are no longer passive receiver of information, they are also contributing in the content of mass media in a great extent than any period of the past. It is a public sphere for many. This article puts focus on online newspapers of a developing nation – Bangladesh - to identify how the online newspapers of the country are exploring the distinct and powerful feature of the Internet - interactivity. An exploratory content analysis of Bangladeshi online newspapers came out with the conclusion that they provide very limited or no interactive option to their users. It is found that despite having the potential to turn online newspapers into a public sphere of debate through using different interactive features, online newspapers of Bangladesh follow the traditional model of one-way information delivery, though the first newspaper went online 10 years back. On contrary, it has been found in the study that many online portals, produced by Bangladeshi diasporas, are very much interactive in nature and number of such portals are increasing. Another finding of the present study is that over half of the users of Bangladeshi online newspapers are from outside the country, that means Bangladeshi diasporas or Non Residential Bangladeshis (NRBs) are using the media to search their lost community. ∗ Email: s.mahmud@bracnet.net 1
  2. 2. Introduction: One of the thing that is often considered about the digital revolution in general and the Internet in particular is that they give everyone the power to be a publisher. Technology has given the voice to the voiceless. It has enabled people to produce their own newspapers, newsletters, magazines, audio and video documentaries, and publish those on the web. In the case of online newspapers, the experience is two way that allow readers to contribute via e-mail, discussion forums, and all matter of annotation as they navigate the web, having a democratizing effect (Levinson, 1999: 38). Though the main objective of the paper is to study level of interactivity offered by Bangladeshi online newspapers, the author thinks it is necessary to provide back ground information about Internet access, services, content and challenges in Bangladesh as well as data about Bangladeshi diasporas or NRBs, who are living mainly in Gulf States, United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, Malaysia and Singapore. The Table below will show a clear picture of Bangladeshi diasporas’ use of Bangladeshi online newspapers. Table 1: Users of Bangladeshi online newspapers No Name Type Users from Users from Rank of the Bangladesh other website in in percent countries in Bangladesh, percent among all websites in terms of use 1 The daily Popular 46.9 53.1 13 Prothom Alo Bangla daily 2 BDNews24.com Country’s 62 38 26 first online newspaper, bi-lingual 2
  3. 3. 3 The daily Popular 42 58 28 Jugantor Bangla daily 4 Somewhereinblog First Bangla 78.5 21.5 29 blog engine 5 The daily Ittefaq Popular 27.5 72.5 36 Bangla daily 6 The daily Amader Popular 40.8 59.2 42 Somoy Bangla daily 7 The Daily Star Popular 43.7 56.3 50 English daily 8 The daily Popular 39.5 41.5 61 Samokal Bangla daily 9 The daily Popular 34.4 65.6 88 Amardesh Bangla daily 10 The daily Jai Jai Popular 38.9 61.1 89 Din Bangla daily Source: http://www.alexa.com/site/ds/top_sites?cc=BD&ts_mode=country&lang=none Bangladesh, its mediascape and the Internet: Bangladesh is the seventh most populous nation in the world with 140 million people in an area of 144,000 square kilometres. A South Asian nation, it is surrounded by India on all sides except for a small border with Myanmar to the far southeast and the Bay of Bengal to the south. Bengali is the fourth most widely spoken language in the world 3
  4. 4. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bangla_language), and is shared by Bangladesh and the Indian province of West Bengal, when the latter has a population of about 80 million (as per 2001 census) who speak in Bangla (http://www.censusindia.net/). These two facts have a significant bearing on the Bangladeshi media or Bangla community on the net. Bangladesh was created as a nation in 1971 after brutal war of independence with Pakistan in which India played a significant part. Prior to 1971 the region was known as East Pakistan, which had been created under the partition of India in 1947 when the region gained independence from Britain. Partition severed a huge hinterland from its principal city, Kolkata (Calcutta), which was not only the economic centre of the region but also the Bengali cultural capital as well. In 1947 what was to become Bangladesh had very few newspapers, one state-run radio station and no television. The national mediascape was created post-1971 period and is closely allied to the Bengali language movement, which provided the intellectual, as well ideological, impetus to the separation of East Pakistan from its western counterpart and the creation of Bangladesh. Consequently, Bengali or Bangla is the dominant language of the media in the country, although there are very influential English language newspapers and magazines. Bangladesh is regarded as a poor nation with significant development issues, not least of which is the gap between the urban centres and the rural areas. The media are an urban phenomenon in Bangladesh, although this is gradually changing. Other major issues, set out in Tables 2 and 3 respectively, impacting upon the Bangladeshi mediascape are the general levels of poverty and the literacy level (particularly in rural areas). Table 2: Quality of Life Indicators Population Population Urban Life Literacy People per People Growth Population Expectancy Rate Telephone per (Fixed TV Line) 140.6 1.42% 25% 65.1 (2004) 62.66 134 170.5* million (2004) (2002) Total fixed 4
  5. 5. (estimated telephones: as of 104,771,7 2007) Table 3: Economic Data Per GDP Per Foreign GDP Exports: Inflation capita Capita currency Growth 9 (CPI) GDP national Reserves months (PPP) income (July 06- March 07) $ 482 $ 438 b $520 $4.36 b 6.71% $9.03b 7.06% as of (2006- (as of May 15, 07) May 07) 07 Table 2 and 3: sources: Bangladesh Economic Review 2007, Finance Division, Ministry of Finance, Government of Bangladesh except those marked * which are from www.virtualbangladesh.com. [All figures are in US$. US$1= BTD 67.22 (July 06-April 07).] The Bangladeshi economy is augmented by $ 4.9 billion foreign remittance (July 06- April 07 period), which represented 6.89 percent of the GDP and 45.62 percent in comparison to the export income of the country as in 2005-06. The major sources for the remittances are the Gulf States, United Kingdom, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and North America (United States and Canada). Expatriate Bangladeshis play a major role in 5
  6. 6. the economy of Bangladesh. The table 4 below will illustrate a partial picture of Bangladeshi migrant workers in different countries, which is now over 4 million. Table 1: Number of Bangladeshi migrant workers in different countries No Country Number 1 KSA 2.22 million 2 Kuwait 0.47 million 3 UAE 0.68 million 4 Qatar 1.00 million 5 Iraq 67,000 6 Libya 54,000 7 Bahrain 0.14 million 8 Oman 0.25 million 9 Malaysia 0.29 million 10 South Korea 19,000 11 Singapore 0.14 million 12 Brunei 16,000 13 Jordan 22,000 14 Ireland 453 15 UK 7,000 16 Laos 463 17 Mauritius 5,000 18 Italy 3,000 19 Spain 1300 20 Lebabnon 4500 21 Namibia 468 22 Others 32,000 Total 4,558,245 Source: Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET), Government of Bangladesh. 6
  7. 7. This is a partial picture of the total expatriate Bangladeshis or diasporas as a whole. The Table only listed the people who left the country as a labour, but their family members as well as people who have been migrated and are now abroad on study purpose are not on the list. Besides, a large number of Bangladeshis are now British and US citizens. The Bengali community, who started to go the UK since 1960s, has now second generation there. Similar is the case for USA and Canada. Besides, the country has expatriates in Australia, and Japan also. As Georgiou, Myria (2001) mentioned a total of 160,300 Bangladeshis in the UK, while a census profile of New York city’s Bangladeshi American population (2000) says there are 28,269 Bangladeshi Americans in the NY City. Bangladesh and its accommodation to new communication technologies: Bangladesh remains at the bottom in South Asia in the UN’s ICT Diffusion Index, with a rank of 164 in 1997 and 171 in 2001 and 2004 (UN, 2006) and in the year 2004, Internet users for per 100 people was only 0.22 and only 1.20 per cent people have the access to personal computer (ICT4D Status Report 1, 2006). Though the situation has improved slightly in recent days, situation in other South Asian countries are almost same. South Asia has yet to fully enter the digital age despite the high take up rates for mobile phones. It is estimated that only 3% of the 1.5 billion people in the region have broadband connection. One of the major reasons for this is the cost involved. Broadband connection still very high in the region in comparison to their per capita income while the service of local providers is also very slow. This situation is reflected in the utilization of the 14-Gigabyte capacity of the single SEA-ME-WE-4 fibre optic cable connection of Bangladesh, which currently stands at 15%. For Bangladesh, the problems are not technological but economic, political and cultural, and also language of the technology is a barrier. A brief comparison of the relative take up rates of the major South Asian countries reinforces this view. 7
  8. 8. Table 4 Country Population Internet Latest Market % of Growth (estimated Users Data Penetration Users 2005) 2005 Rate Asia (estimated) India 1.12 5 million 42 million 3.7% 9.6% 740% billion Pakistan 167.8 133 900 12 million 7.2% 2.7% 8,661% million Sri Lanka 19.79 121 500 350 000 1.8% 0.1% 188.1% million Bangladesh 139.47 100 000 370 000 0.3% 0.1% 270% million Source: http://www.internetworldstats.com/ The lack of uptake in Bangladesh is further illustrated if we compare these figures to the five most wired nations in the world. Table 5 Country Population Number of Users Market Penetration Singapore 3.54 million 2.13 million 60.2% Denmark 5.4 million 3.72 million 68.7% Canada 32.5 million 20.45 million 68.8% Sweden 9.04 million 6.64 million 73.6% USA 296 million 200.9 million 67.8% Source: http://www.internetworldstats.com/ Clearly economic and developmental factors are issues but in the case of Bangladesh other factors are even more significant, particularly the role of the government and its rigid regulatory regime. 8
  9. 9. The Internet operates in a very clear policy framework that was devised in the 1990s and was legalized in Bangladesh in 1996 when the first Internet Service Provider (ISP), Information Services Network (ISN), began services on June 4, 1996. Subsequently 185 listed ISPs were registered in Bangladesh but many of the ISPs are inactive. In 2003 sixty-two continued to operate, providing services to a limited number of subscribers and the rest (123) were inactive. There is no evidence to suggest that this situation has changed. Most of the ISPs services are centred in the capital Dhaka, and second largest city Chittagong. The state-owned Bangladesh Telegraph and Telephone Board (BTTB) has extended ISP services to all sixty-four district headquarters and 165 sub district headquarters (called upazillas) out of 507, the local government units, and the BTTB has announced plans to provide Internet service to all the upazillas. In May 2006, Bangladesh connected with one fibre optic cable link (SEA-ME-WE-4) to the outside world that comes ashore at Chokoria some 121 kilometers south of Chittagong, the main port on the eastern coast. Broadband services are available in big cities and recently the private mobile telephone operators, like the Grameen Phone and the Citycell started to offer wireless Internet connection across the country, except the three hills district in the country’s east where no mobile phones are allowed for security reasons. The leading mobile phone operator Grameen Phone has taken a new initiative to take the Internet in the rural areas, setting up 500 Community Information Centres (CICs) so far at rural areas. Here it should be pointed out that Grameem Phone is party owned by Grameen Telecom, an off-shoot of Grameem Bank, the pioneer of micro credit in Bangladesh. Indeed its founder, Muhammad Yunus, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his work in alleviating poverty in Bangladesh through micro credit. Grameem Phone is managed by the Norwegian telco Telenor and phones are easily purchased by all classes. From a very small base in 2000 the number of mobile phones has increased to 29 million in 2007 (Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission, 2007) with a 9
  10. 10. prediction of 50 million phones by 2009 that is one third of the population will have a mobile phone. Most of the government ministries and offices as well as private organizations, NGOs, newspapers, television stations and universities have websites. Newspapers like The Daily Star (the first to have a website) and the daily Prothom Alo, and Amader Somoy update their online editions several times a day. Most of the online editions of these newspapers are free, but the leading Bangla daily, Prothom Alo requires an annual subscription fee of $ 30 or monthly $ 5 for access to its updated versions of the day. In 2005, BDNews24.com, was launched as the country’s first and the only online newspaper. This online newspaper has achieved popularity with Internet users both in home and abroad but has little or no competition. The ownership of mobile phones, by contrast to the Internet, has boomed in Bangladesh. In the Bangladeshi context mobile telephony is the technology of convergence and innovation. For example, bdnews24.com can be accessed on mobile phones, PDAs or any other mobile device. The mobile version is specially designed to fit with the technology and offers the latest news, top stories, Bangladesh news, political news, business news, sports news and world news. Another recent phenomenon is blogging, which is particularly popular with the Bangladeshi diaspora and students, who are the main users of the Internet in Bangladesh. The blog <somewhereinblog.net> attracts huge numbers of users because they may contribute in Bangla The added attraction of blogs is that they can also be an outlet for news when the mainstream media are censored, fulfilling their function as outlets for citizen journalism. There is evidence to suggest that the military are monitoring blogs for dissent in the current situation. On May 11, 2007 The Daily Star (Bangladesh’s leading English daily) released a statement under the signature of its editor Mahfuz Anam in regard to the arrest on one of its journalists, Tasneem Khalil by the Army. The statement read in part [I] ‘was informed that his being questioned was not due to his journalistic [activity] and had nothing to do with his function at The Daily Star. In fact, it was because of the contents of his personal blog and some SMSs he had sent recently …. 10
  11. 11. Because of the caretaker government’s commitment to the policy of freedom of the media’ Khalil was released (The Daily Star Press Release, 11.05.2007). As it has been mentioned earlier and quite clear now is that cyber culture in Bangladesh is basically focused on the capital city of Dhaka. There are a few hundred Cyber Café, most of which are well furnished, air conditioned facilities with broadband connectivity. Some of them have private cabins with fifty or more computers. Computers are generally networked. Locations of these Cafes are on the main road and on prime locations. Some Cyber Cafes serves snacks and other fast-foods to their clients. Most of them have scanning, CD writing, printing and other facilities. Charges for browsing are from BDT 20 to 35 per hour (approximately 50 US cents). Students form the largest community to use the Cyber Cafes. In short, these are places where the young may socialise outside of the repressive gaze of authority. The second biggest commercial and port city of Chittagong is also aware of the technology and has lots of Cyber Cafes but not on the same scale as Dhaka. In addition the district towns are just testing the technology successfully. The handful of Cyber Cafes in these towns are well patronised. Internet Kiosks are used mostly for e-mail purposes. People communicate with their domestic and international counterparts through e-mail. In some areas where relatives of expatriates are large in number, Internet Kiosks are used for International Phone Calls. They use Net2Phone and other VOIP technologies for this purpose. It is thought that VOIP might be very useful for the rural people where they have relatives living aboard. It might turn to be an opportunity for them as the cost of phone calls comes down to around one tenth of the state owned BTTB's rate. The government recently legalised VOIP after initially closing down all the private operators at the insistence of BTTB who feared it was loosing revenue. This action caused phone traffic congestion, which in turn led to a review of the situation. Indeed it has now been decided to privatize BTTB, leading, hopefully, to a more flexible telecommunication sector that can take advantage of the technologies that have transformed other Asian mediascapes. 11
  12. 12. The reality about Internet and other media in Bangladesh is that they are confined to the urban, sub-urban & semi urban areas of the country. However, the majority of the population, the rural poor and even the rich farmers are excluded from using this technology. Dhaka, the capital city, is the home base for all the major newspaper, the television and radio stations as well as the most Internet users. Although this is a small base a cyber community has developed in Dhaka that can claim to be real cyber citizens as well as media literate. Thus it can be concluded here that the advent of Internet is understood as an opportunity for shifting and sharing power until now concentrated in the hands of the urban elites. The decentralization issue, or how to empower rural and poor people through the use of the information technologies, then become the central. It may be question for another paper. Lets focus on the purpose of the present study. Mass Communication: from one-to-many to many-to-many Interactivity is a distinct and powerful feature of online media, which is a process rather than a product (Ward, 2002: 144). Interactive communication process also bears some of the characteristics of interpersonal communication (Defluer and Rokeach, 1989) when sender and receiver alternatively share the role of communicator, and each partner receives immediate feedback of the content. In the traditional model, the media are all powerful providers and audiences are passive receptors. Traditional newspapers and broadcasters control the flow of information by identifying, selecting and publishing the issues or events, which they think have public interest or which are newsworthy in their definition. In this process news media have enormous power to highlight an event and kill any event, if they think it has no news value. The question can be raised how can the audience be potential creators or contributors? The online media come with the solution with huge opportunity from the receivers’ point of view. Considering the power on online media, Ward (2002) uses three different models of mass communication to illustrate the varying levels of interactivity. The traditional model (newspapers and broadcasters) is predominantly passive and dos not involve any input from the audience. It is all one way, while the two-way model gives the user a choice in 12
  13. 13. the information they want to consume and an opportunity to contribute. The (triangular) three-way model might involve users sharing information and possibly news with other users, with the journalist acting as a user as well as a provider (Ward, 2002: 144-8). This dimension of mass communication begins to challenge the journalist’s traditional roles as the sole gatekeeper of news and raises important issues including accuracy and veracity (Ward: 25). In journalism, interaction happens in the case of users’ consuming information that means sender and receiver interchange ideas and views or receivers give instant response on what they receive from the media. Web designers use a handful of interactive tools to enhance their products (Dibean and Garrison, 2001) and online newspapers in the developed world generally use options like e-mail contact with journalists or editors, chat rooms or live discussions, blogs, online forums, links to other stories, archive and searchable database to make the communication two way, or even multi-directional. In the three-way model (Ward, 2002: 146), users contribute to users as well as the journalists. The most common feature of the three-way model is the newsgroup or discussion forums where users share information and hear news without or with the input of the journalists. Newsgroups and message boards (Ward, 2002:149) are a useful way of understanding users’ needs, interests and pre-occupations. The use of discussion forums or live chat rooms on web sites allows readers to exchange views and information, which can provide different textures and perspectives to a story. Bangladeshi online media - Inactive online newspapers, interactive online portals by diasporas: The small-scale study for this paper was undertaken in September 2007 to find out what and how many interactive tools do online newspapers (online versions of daily newspapers) in Bangladesh offer to its users, both in home and abroad. The main goal was to determine the level of participatory communication process in the mass communication structure that has been brought out with the invention of the Internet. The survey questions were very simple – how many online newspapers offer general e-mail 13
  14. 14. addresses that readers can use to contact the newsroom, how many offers posting forms to respond any news or other contents, how many of the newspapers offer individual reporter or editor’s e-mail address to contact, how many offer chat rooms and discussion forums, polls and surveys. A total of 15 newspapers (See Appendix 2 for full list of sample newspapers and their web addresses) were chosen purposively on the basis of their print circulation as well as their average online hits. Besides, I took few English language newspapers to get an idea whether language is a barrier in making the online media more interactive. The newspapers’ are chosen from the list of http://www.onlinenewspapers.com/banglade.htm. Of the 15 newspapers surveyed, almost all have a printed version and only one sample is purely an online newspaper (BDNews24.com). The sample was comprised of 11 Bangla language newspapers, three English and one (BDNews24.com) is a bi-lingual that has both Bangla and English versions. The content analysis of the study revealed that interactive features are very limited in Bangladeshi online newspapers or generally no use of interactive features. Even when interactive features were available in few newspapers, they often did not work. That means users of Bangladeshi online newspapers have no or very little scope to add information to a website. However, it was found that all of the samples provide at least one general e-mail address in their websites to contact the newsroom. Many newspapers even have different e-mail addresses or e-mail based posting forms for each editorial section or for different purposes (i.e. to submit letters to the editor). Seven newspapers provide a list of e-mail addresses of different sections of the newspapers. Newspapers, like The Daily Star and New Age encourage feedback very openly, when there are options in these newspapers’ toolbars like - Write to the Editor. The study revealed that 10, out of 15 newspapers provide their editors’ e-mail address on the site. 14
  15. 15. Moreover, none of the Bangladeshi newspaper provide any e-mail address to contact the story’s authors or journalists. The Daily Amardesh, a Bangla daily, uses posting forms for every news item to get users’ feedback and publish those below the news items. Readers were found giving feedback in English as there is no technology on the website for giving feedback in Bangla. Some of the feedback were found in a ‘Banglish’ form that means the readers have written Bangla using English letters/characters. It was also found that the responses were uncensored. Though there is a notice on the top by the Amardesh authority asking the readers not to post any abusive, but many words were found which is defamatory to public figures, specially attacking the politicians. The same newspaper is the only site, which offer a chat room in its website. Polls and surveys is a popular tool of Bangladeshi online newspapers and seven newspapers hold daily polls and surveys on different current issues. The issues range from local politics to international affairs as well as sports and economy. The print edition of the newspapers publish polls results next day in its first page. Most often, the online newspapers offer simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ style quick polls, without a chance to put additional comments. But, such a poll lacks reliability as if any user wants he or she can give more than one vote. None of the newspapers were found which try to make voting second time a difficult task. Besides, these newspapers do not use any disclaimer in their websites explaining the poll is not scientific. Only two newspapers (The Daily Star and BDnews24.com) offer discussion forums, a very important option for interactive communication process. But, in the case of BDnews24.com it was found that the paper recently withdrew the section and one of the insider of the paper told this author that they have lack of moderator that forced them to stop the service. However, the paper is planning to resume the option soon. In the case of The Daily Star, its ‘Talk Back’ section is very poorly organised that frustrate potential responses. The author visited the website in September 2007 and found that the latest posting on the political discussion was of June 2006. The process to registrar oneself in the paper’s Talk Back site is quite complicated that may discourage many potential discussants to take part in the forum discussions. It can also be suggested here that the 15
  16. 16. Daily Star can advertise in its print edition seeking feedback or postings on the listed issues for the Talk Back section. Of the surveyed newspapers, six update their content on a round the clock basis, while rest nine are nothing but a mirror of print edition. Most of the Bangla newspapers offer the readers to free download of Bangla fonts if there is any problem in reading the Bangla contents. Only the BDNews24.com requests registration, but the content is free, while the daily Prothom Alo, the most circulated Bangla daily and its web hits is also very high have registration fees to get updated news of the day. The registration rates have been provided earlier. It was also found that none of the Bangla newspaper offers search option, though all of them have archive of previous issues. All English newspapers offer search option of their contents. This is a technical problems for Bangla newspapers as there is no Bangla search engine currently. This problem is related to the localization of new communication technologies and their offer, and the paper will discuss the situation regarding this later end of the paper. In contrast to the newspapers online, an analysis of some Bangladeshi online portals and blogging sites revealed that they offer a quite number of interactive options for readers, from immediate and full feedback to discussion forums and blogging. Many of such web portals are created and maintained by Bangladeshi diasporas. The Drishtipat (www.drishtipat.org) is such an initiative by Bangladeshi expatriates primarily in the United States, which has now branches in the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. The web portal is a platform for Bangladeshis, home and abroad, to promote human rights issues. Its language is in English that may be a reason which discourage most of the Bangladeshi expatriates in Gulf States to contribute in the site. Generally, educated and skilled Bangladeshi workers or migrants are living in countries like United Kingdom, United States, Canada and Australia, while migrant workers with low education level are in the Middle-East countries, and in Malaysia. 16
  17. 17. As the website of Drishtipat says: “Drishtipat is a non-profit, non-political progressive expatriate Bangladeshi organization committed to safeguarding every individual's basic democratic rights, including freedom of expression, and is opposed to any and all kinds of human rights abuses in Bangladesh. We are based in the United States, and have members in every part of the globe via memberships and local chapters. This website is intended for disseminating information about the state of human rights and social change in Bangladesh, and to discuss potential campaigns. Drishtipat and its local chapters have undertaken numerous campaigns every year since its inception in 2001.” The most exciting section of the website is its daily blog, titled ‘Unheard Voices’. This section is regularly updated and there is a good number of response or comments on the postings that make the site a platform of public debate. The site has huge postings on Bangla diaspora, civil society, climate change, corruption, culture, democracy, economy, energy policy, environment, generation new, free speech, ethnic minority, book reviews, human rights, news and views, politics etc. While visiting the site on September 25, 2007, it was found that the site has 314 postings on politics, 200 posting discussed human rights issues in Bangladesh and 179 postings for news and views. An example will make the point more clear. Recently a cartoon at a weekly satire supplement of Bangladesh’s largest Bangla daily Prothom Alo raised protests among the bigots and Muslim fundamentalists of Bangladesh. The cartoon allegedly defamed the Muslims community and the daily Prothom Alo swiftly withdrew the issue and apologized for the cartoon. Bangladesh Government has arrested the cartoonist in another quick response. As the author was not in the country during this time and the cartoon is no longer available on the online version of the paper, the author did not get the controversial cartoon. But, the Internet resolved the problem when I found a lot of debate regarding the cartoon issue on the Drishtipat website. In three days, from September 18 to 21, 2007 there was at least 68 postings on the site either supporting or criticizing the event, and also the cartoon was there (http://drishtipat.org/blog/). 17
  18. 18. Bangla Community online (http://www.bangla.org) is another initiative having more than 15,000 registered users (mostly Bangladeshis) from around the world discussing issues related to their everyday life abroad. Every registered member is able to discuss latest news and have chat with other Bangladeshis. The site’s discussion forums sections include immigration, community and student life, showbiz and so on. The members can also post their own events, photos or views. Besides, the site members have a free access to download Bangla music and MP3. World Wide Bengali Community (http://www.barnamala.com) is initiated expatriate Bengalees of West Bengal, India. It says its aim is to bring the worldwide Bengalee community closer, with a strong identity on the Net as a virtual, as well as real community with an exhaustive, searchable database. The sites link pages included Bangla newspapers from countries of origin (West Bengal in India and Bangladesh) as well as popular magazines, music, recipe, and addresses of benglai association worldwide. Another site nurtures an online community in order to unite Bangalees around the world under one banner - shorgol.com. In Bangla "ShorgoL" means "To Make Noise" either with a good or a bad intention. With good faith, the site has been named as it wants to create opportunities for Bangladeshi diasporas to break the silence so that they will have a vibrant presence in the web world. The site has chat, forum, guestbook, and other interactive media. The registered members has the opportunities to have personal portfolio, instant messaging, download of Bangla MP3s. polling options, events and link submission, The above findings on Bangladeshi websites by diasporas suggest that the Internet can play a unifying role for diasporic communities and it can looses the class, gender and intellectual barriers which used to divide them (Alzouma: 2005). Today, this is true for many scattered peoples who find in the Internet a way to regain a sense of lost community, according to Maybury-Lewis (1998). The flexibility of the Internet makes 18
  19. 19. possible a greater number of positive expressions of individual or collective identities. Internet has become a powerful tool to break their isolation. Bangla on the Net - problems of localisation: As per the ICT4D Status Report on Bangladesh, documented by different non- government organisations in 2006, observed that organized efforts in software and content localization are not very visible in the country (http://bangladeshictpolicy.bytesforall.net). It is obvious that some basic standards for encoding the language must be developed and these include character set encoding, keyboard layout, keypad layout, terminology translation and locale definition to enable computer interface in the local language. In the early 1980s, the first attempt at localization was made with Bangla font development in the Windows environment. But an absence of organised and planned efforts made the localization process cumbersome, and the results were not good. Many fonts were developed in haphazard way resulting in gross inoperability. In the late 1990s Unicode shed new light on the issue, and the process of localization began to take a new shape. Since then the major initiatives have been run by volunteers, while institutional initiatives have recently started to emerge on the scene. Government localization initiatives have, however, been absent even while Bangla has been included on its official websites. In many cases, the government websites post Bangla notices and circulars as pdf versions. In the late 1990s, the voluntary group Ankur (www.ankurbangla.org) started localizing open source software like Linux and OpenOffice.org. Another voluntary organization, Ekushey (http://www.ekushey.org/), started developing open source Unicode fonts and a Bangla input system (i.e. determining how Bangla fonts can be arranged using the existing keyboard). Around this time, the country’s sole centre for localization, the Centre for Research on Bangla Language Processing (CRBLP) at BRAC University, Bangladesh took an initiative. The centre is currently working on Bangla document authoring, information retrieval (spelling checker, search engine), optical character 19
  20. 20. recognition, pronunciation generator, speech processing, grammar checker, etc (http://www.bracuniversity.ac.bd/research/crblp/). The Bangla Wikipedia project is loosely organised using Internet-based mailing lists. Most of the participants in Bangla Wikipedia are students in Bangladesh and West Bengal, or expatriates living in North America, Europe and Japan. Suggestions: Online newspapers in Bangladesh can exploit e-mail, posting forms, blogs, live chat rooms, more detail online polls and surveys, the discussion forums primarily in a bid to engage its people in the public discourse. These feedback tools can help establish reactive and possibly interactive communication processes, in the way to make the media a public sphere of discussion. E-mail can be served as fast and easiest way of interpersonal communication between journalists and readers. It can also be used for reactive questions-and-answer sessions. One way can be that newspapers can advertise in its print edition asking readers to send e-mail questions to the reporter who is covering a certain issue or to the newspaper’s editorial team in general. Moreover, traditional letters to the editor can be sent quickly online. Like the BBC online, online newspapers can also ask readers to send words, pictures and video footages of a certain event or issue which can be published. For example, BBC made request to the people of Burma to send news, pictures and footages of the country’s recent protest against the military junta. This option is useful when there is little scope for the newspapers to send their own staffs. Interactive communication process can be used by live chats or live discussion (i.e. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/liveonline/?hpid=discussions). Such journalistic chat rooms should be guided by moderating hosts and defined topics. Users will get the chance to exchange views with reporters and editors. Besides, the newspapers can invite experts or a celebrity, may be politicians for the live chat, and advertise in its print edition that the person will be available at the live chat room of the paper for a certain period of time. The newspapers can also publish e-mail address in its 20
  21. 21. print or online edition before the session to send questions to the moderator, which will be posed to the celebrity later. It was found that almost half of the online newspapers offered quick online polls and surveys. But the problem is that such polls are not scientific and if any user wish he or she can post more than one votes. The newspapers can think about the matter and try to use some software or mechanism which will prevent more than one voting at least in one sitting. The newspapers can introduce editor’s blog, like the BBC online Editor’s Blog (http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/theeditors/) and the Asian Age of India – M.J. Akbar’s Corner (http://www.mjakbar.org/). Such a blog will create a more personal relationships between the newspaper editor and its readers. Finally, it is needless to say that online discussion forums is one of the most effective way to turn the medium into a public platform of debate. The newspapers of Bangladesh should exploit the tool vigorously specially when they struggle to publish many of readers’ reaction or letters in the print edition just due to lack of enough space. Conclusion: As discussed, the small scale study found a very low level of interactivity in the online newspapers of Bangladesh and receivers are not sharing the power of the communication process as information providers. In addition, it found that such interactive options as did exist on the site were not effectively utilised. The findings of this paper in terms of effective use of interactive options of Bangladeshi online newspapers, correspond to Schultz’s observation that while most news media are represented on the Internet, they do not necessarily apply the specific tools characteristic of the medium (Schults 1999). To make the online newspapers truly interactive or a forum of public communication, it is also necessary to consider a lot of practical challenges. The challenges range from lack of financial and human resources, relevant training and skills, bandwidth issues, while the 21
  22. 22. lack of appropriate technology in local language is a big concern for Bangla online newspapers and web portals. This is the author’s hope that this paper is only a contribution to study the matter further, and raise question about the reality of online journalism in developing nations particularly. Finally, interactivity in online journalism is am extremely broad and diverse topic. In the developed parts of the worlds a lot of communication research into the area is going on. Within the South Asian context, or a context of a developing nation like Bangladesh, the topic remains largely unexplored and there are a lot of possibilities and scopes for scholarly research. Bibliography: - Alzouma, Gado (2005), Myths of digital technology in Africa – leapfrogging development? Global Media and Communication, Volume 1(3): 339-356, Sage Publications (London, 2005, accessed from http://gmc.sagepub.com), on 28/2/2007 - Dibean and Garrison (2001), “Online newspaper market size and use of world wide web technologies”. [This paper was first presented at the Media in Transition Conference at MIT on October 8, 1999. The paper was revised in 2001.] - Georgiou, Myria (2001) Mapping minorities and their Media: The National. Context – The UK Report. London: London School of Economics. - Levinson, P. (1999) Digital McLuhan, London: Routledge. - Maybury-Lewis, D. (1998) ‘The Internet and Indigenous Group’, Cultural Survival 21 (4), January, cited in Alzouma (2005). - Melvin L. De Fleur and Sandra Ball-Rokeach, Theories of Mass Communication. 5th ed. New York: Longman, 1989 - Mike Ward, Journalism Online, Focal Press, Oxford, 2002 22
  23. 23. - Schultz, T. (1999). “Interactive Options in Online Journalism: A Content Analysis of 100 U.S. Newspapers”. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 5 (1). Available: http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol5/issue1/schultz.html List of websites consulted (September 2007): 1. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7020465.stm 2. http://www.alexa.com/site/ds/top_sites?cc=BD&ts_mode=country&lang=none 3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bangla_language 4. http://www.censusindia.net/ 5. http://www.mof.gov.bd/economic/index.php 6. http://www.virtualbangladesh.com/ 7. http://bangladeshictpolicy.bytesforall.net/?q=national_report 8. http://www.gsmworld.com/news/press_2006/press06_52.shtml 9. http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm 10. http://www.btrc.gov.bd/ 11. http://www.somewhereinblog.net/ 12. http://drishtipat.org/ 13. http://www.bangla.org/ 14. http://www.barnamala.com/ 15. http://www.shorgol.com/ 16. http://www.bengalinux.org/ 17. http://www.ekushey.org/ 18. http://www.mjakbar.org/ 19. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/liveonline/?hpid=discussions 20. http://www.mjakbar.org/ Appendix A: List of Bangladeshi newspapers and web addresses 1. Daily Prothom Alo (http://www.prothom-alo.com/) 2. Daily Ittefaq (http://www.ittefaq.com/) 23
  24. 24. 3. Daily Jugantor (http://jugantor.com/) 4. Daily Samokal (http://www.shamokal.com/) 5. Daily Inqilab (http://www.inqilab.com/) 6. Daily Amader Somoy (http://www.amadershomoy.com/) 7. Daily Manabjamin (http://www.manabzamin.net/) 8. Daily Bhorer Kagoj (http://bhorerkagoj.net/) 9. Daily Amardesh (http://www.amardeshbd.com/) 10. Daily Naya Diganta (http://www.dailynayadiganta.com/) 11. Daily Jai Jai Din (http://www.jaijaidin.com/) 12. The Daily Star (www.thedailystar.net) 13. New Age (http://www.newagebd.com/) 14. The Financial Express (http://www.thefinancialexpress-bd.com/) 15. BDNews24.com (http://www.bdnews24.com/) # 24

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