Saturday, April 20, 2013

Dhaka Tribune - style over substance?

Bangladesh's new English language paper, the Dhaka Tribune has finally rolled off the press for the first time - handed out today at its launch party.* (see the new website here)

I worked at the paper for three months but was rather unceremoniously tossed out by the owners when questions about editorial independence were raised.

You can guess, they didn't like the idea of it one bit! I am now back at the New Age - which thankfully does!

Nonetheless, I have been keenly awaiting the publication of the paper - to see what kind of competition it may give to The New Age as well as of course to the industry (English language) leader, The Daily Star.

Newspapers are I suppose a combination of content and style.

In terms of style (and here the comparison is with other Bangladesh papers), the Dhaka Tribune has done really well. A clean uncluttered design; a front page with just three stories (amazing in the context of Bangladesh); articles which finish on the same page; news on sequential pages; and a really great use of photography. There is no doubt that in terms of Bangladesh newspaper design it has knocked the ball out of the park.

In my view the design is a great contribution to Bangladesh newspapers. Lets see if it can keep this up day after day - and of course how other Bangladesh papers will react.

However, in terms of content - its a thumbs down I am afraid.

You would expect the paper to start with some thumping stories - it has had journalists (and good ones too) working there for months doing nothing much else other than look for good stories.

The front page contains a story on the 18 Bangladeshis shot in Greece, a wire story on the arrest of Pervez Musharaff and an analysis of how political unrest is hitting Bangladesh's exports, which is not linked to any story on the front page. Inside stories are also rather pedestrian - though there is a moving story about a six year old girl victim of a recent hartal (strike).

Absolutely nothing special - nothing to say to readers that - in terms of substance - this is a paper to buy rather than any one other available.

Perhaps it has something special up its sleeves that we will see in subsequent days - but I somewhat doubt that this will be the case.

The men who put the money into this venture are from two business families - Gemcom group (the three sons of Kazi Shahid Ahmad are directors) and Kazi Farms (the two sons of Kazi Zahidul and Parween Hasan) - who together have fingers in quite a few business pies. One of the families (Kazi Farms) has recently obtained a TV license which - since these licenses are given on purely political grounds - suggests a somewhat close relationship with the Awami League government (particularly since their main business until then was as poultry farmers!).

Kazi Shahid Ahmad, the father of three of the directors of the Dhaka Tribune used to own Adjkar Kagoj - a Bangla language newspaper which when it was launched in 1991 led to the resurgence in bangla newspapers, but soon quite quickly lost its popularity when other newspapers like Prothom Alo came onto the scene. By all accounts, Ahmad used to be a rather hands on editor. In 2007, it closed downs as it was draining money from the overall family business.

Apparently one of Kazi Shahid's sons (Kazi Anis Ahmad who is the Dhaka Tribune's publisher and managing director) made a speech at the launch about the fearlessness of the paper. However, I doubt this very much - knowing the owners' horror at the idea of any kind of editorial independence for their paper.

Perhaps - however - the paper will flourish on style alone. Lets hope not.

* Apparently, I have just heard, the paper handed out at the launch was a 'dummy' and not the first edition for sale. So perhaps a review of the first edition for sale will be necessary.


  1. Thanks for the great analysis David

  2. Right, and any word then on the 'real' thing in newsstands today? This one here of the Issue 1 that isn't, actually suffers by way of being lenient, believe you me.