Finance minister AMA Muhith on Tuesday said a new wage board for the newspaper industry was unnecessary as the salary of journalists was higher than that of public servants.
He also said there have been too many newspapers and TV channels which were unnecessary and ‘bogus’.
Muhith was talking to reporters after attending a meeting with Newspaper Owners Association of Bangladesh at the secretariat.
Information minister Hasanul Haq Inu, NOAB president Matiur Rahman and its members AK Azad and Mahfuz Anam, among others, were present at the meeting.
The finance minister said he got the impression during the meeting that there was no need of wage board for the media industry.
He said, ‘The newspaper owners informed me that journalists received two gratuities and enjoyed provident funds’ as post-service benefits.
Officials attending the meeting said the NOAB leaders demanded decreasing duties on import of newsprint, waive of 15 per cent value added tax on import and advance income tax on advertisements’ revenue.
Muhith’s comments came against the backdrop of the demand by newsmen for setting up the ninth wage board for them.
He, however, said he would meet with the leaders of Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists, Dhaka Union of Journalists and Dhaka Reporters Unity on Thursday to get more information in the face of protest from the reporters present.
In an immediate reaction, DRU president Shakhawat Hossain Badsha rejected Muhith’s statements about the newspaper industry.
He hoped that the finance minister would get the actual picture of the newspaper industry after meeting with other stakeholders.
Inu said no decision was taken on forming the wage board during the meeting.
He said they discussed the problems faced by the local media industry.
Quoting Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, Muhith said 432 newspapers should be published from Dhaka, but, in reality, only 15 to 20 are available on the news-stand.
At one stage, Muhith said the government should only work for the welfare of the compliant newspaper houses.
He said more than 550 online based media are ‘bogus’ and existence of so many television channels is useless.
Responding to a question, Muhith ruled out the possibility of forming a separate wage board for the television journalists.
In response to another query, he said many of the useless TV channels will die automatically or merge with other TV channels.
‘I have been saying all along that there is no necessity of so many private banks and televisions,’ he said
Muhith skipped answering a question as to why the government provided licences to so many newspapers and TV channels. He also did not answer to another question on the role of state-owned agencies to monitor the media industry.
Later on the day, a faction of Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists and Dhaka Union of Journalists, in a joint statement, protested at finance minister AMA Muhith’s comment on forming the ninth wage board for journalists.
In the statement, BFUJ president Shawkat Mahmud and secretary general M Abdullah and DUJ president poet Abdul Hai Shikder and general secretary Jahangir Alam Prodhan termed the finance minister’s comment unfortunate and unexpected and said that his comment on the number of newspapers and salary scale of the journalists had crossed the limit of civility.
In the statement, the journalist leaders said the finance minister’s comment depicted his ignorance about newspaper industry.
They demanded formation of the ninth wage board by the ongoing month and asked the finance minister to withdraw his comment and say sorry to the journalist community.
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