Killing Print Culture: Must FORUM Die?

Forum_March2013

Daily Star has announced that FORUM, it’s long-running monthly magazine, will close down as a “cost-saving” measure. FORUM was originally published in the 1960s/70s, with an editorial board that included Hameeda Hossain, Rehman Sobhan, and others. It was revived in the 00’s with Zafar Sobhan as editor. For last few years, Kajalie Shahreen Islam is the editor. It is the country’s only monthly magazine of serious, long-form, non-fiction essays in English. Below are some reactions from people who have been involved with FORUM, reprinted with their permission.

Kanak Mani Dixit, Editor, Himal Southasian magazine, Nepal:
I have heard that Forum may be pulling down its shutters, or reformatting itself to cater to a younger audience. PThere are so few publications providing analysis and longform reportage in Southasia. We are poorer today in this sphere than half a century ago. The vernacular media as well as the Internet and the social media, while both have expanded exponentialy, are not able to provide the base for jounalism and discourse that magazines like Forum provide. What I mean is rigorous writings based on critical thinking, research and reportage. Everywhere, of course, we are challenged by the demands of the market. I myself am hardly the person to give advice, because Himal Southasian has not managed to become a sustainable entity after 15 years of trying. But we have tried to keep it going, tinkering a bit with the frequency and also using the Net. On the whole, it would be lonely out here without Forum over there!

Hameeda Hossain, former editorial Board, FORUM:
I am glad there so many are pressing the editors at ds not to stop forum publication. It has under its present leadership acquired a high quality of content and maybe the format could be improved. There are young people writing seriously about issues that should matter. I dont see why life style which is merely a consumer promotion mag continues but a serious journal in fact the only one in bd has to die. We need to get over the neanderthal market demand for entertainment. The youth have also told us that they can think seriously. And DS has sufficient funds to continue. Make it a paying proposition by inviting subscriptions rather than distributing it free.

Laxmi Murthy, Himal Southasian magazine, Nepal:
Yes, Himal has been re-launched as a print quarterly and the web version is also very active. Totally agree with Hameeda – the “market demand” bogey has generally been used to subvert diverse, sensible or radical views while promoting consumerism to the exclusion of all else. I think the youth of the region are proving, over and over again, that they too are looking for serious reportage and analysis. The format – print or web is the next battle, but content can’t be sacrificed for this mythical market.

Afsan Chowdhury, journalist, editor BdNews24.com:
Nothing exists outside the market but there are different kinds of them. Identifying these niches is important for survival. Himal is the best magazine in South Asia, my bias notwithstanding and Kanak’s vision is the most empowering one in the region but Himal is not going to become big in the way some Indian products have. Those reasons are not editorial but market reach driven. All I ask for is a practical approach to sustain idealism.

I don’t think there are enough young people who are interested in ‘serious’ journalism. Nor am i sure that DS is discontinuing Forum for profit market reasons. BTW, lifestyle mags have almost all failed due to market demand issues. So the best way out is to make sure that Forum goes on and on, market or no market demand. So let’s plan for an off market product which all successful media houses sustain but DS is unwilling. maybe its another market that probably bothers them not the profit providing one.

Sara Hossain, lawyer:
Can’t any independent group come together to take over forum and run it again? It is fantastic you have weighed in. Regarding options for salvaging forum, I suggest we put in personal money and see if boards of two hr groups may be willing to at least sponsor pages on rights and justice. In fact young colleagues at BLAST had been contributing for last few months and were really excited about having brainstormed on a whole set of issues to raise in monthly editions including ironically enough on censorship laws and the social media.

Mediafile: Requiem for Forum
By Chettria Patrakar

Cover of April 2013 Issue / Forum

With immense pleasure, Chettria Patrakar recently sat back to savour an old favourite, Forum, the monthly magazine of the Daily Star, Bangladesh. But a rude shock lay waiting on the first page: “With this issue of Forum, we draw the curtain on this publication. Seven years since its inception that the monthly magazine has been in continuous print, it does sadden us to bring it to a close. Much that we would have liked to continue with this serious publication replete with in-depth analyses and commentaries based on insights gained through expertise, experience and research, like all good things, it too has to come to an end.” What happened? Why these drastic measures, Mahfuz Bhai, when all of us are in the same leaky boat, being buffeted by the stormy seas of the corporate media?

Launched in 1969 by human rights activist Hameeda Hossain and economist Rehman Sobhan, Forum pulled no punches, talking up for the underdog and speaking boldly about the human rights of East Pakistanis. Like all serious forums of critique, Forum was banned in 1971 by the Pakistan army. It’s re-birth in 2006 under Zafar Sobhan was welcomed across the region. It was heartening to once again seethe little magazine talking big. But if this must be its last issue, it is indeed a fitting swansong, capturing the euphoria and spirit of the youth movement at Shahbag square while remaining uncompromisly sharp in its analysis and insight. ‘War Crimes, Justice and the Politics of Memory’ by Bina D’Costa discusses the role of memory in the contentious procedures of the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT), set up by the Bangladesh government in 2010 to try war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the Liberation War of 1971. ‘Unpacking the Islamist agenda’ throws light on extremism, while ‘The paradox of dual identity’ goes beyond the immediate to unravel the dilemmas and choices inherent in identity politics. In short, it is an issue of incisive thought and contemplation, and a celebration of the power of the word. We hope it will not need to become a collectors’ item, and that Forum shall soon be back to valiantly stand for all that’s good about magazine journalism in Southasia.”

4 comments

  1. Readership numbers are important. The social role of long-form essay is important – but if DS is closing it, surely they are not closing a profitable venture. Now it is something to like something non-profitable and wish it success, it is another thing to fund something. Many such things have found sustenance and survival by enthusiasts with money actually walking the talk and putting in money ti buy out the brand, restructuring it, identifying niches and what not. If that does not happen, there will be nostalgic obituaries, and years later, PhD thesis. A closure is also an opportunity to take over as the owners don’t see enough value (in whatever calculus) in it to run. Nostalgia and occasional leafing cannot be a business model. Many things only survive online (ViewPoint from Pakistan is a good example), some have done innovative restructuring (Himal is a good example). In short, those in top 5% income bracket vis-a-vis BD can do put in money by ganging together to save this and possibly take this venture forward (Afsan’s ‘niche’ talk is important in this regard – so this to be successful). I hope they do. Otherwise their behavior is quite akin to the 1% many hate.

  2. thanks for this post, Naeem – I believe that Sara has hit it on the head with her solution on how to continue publishing the Forum (or for that matter, keeping in print any other serious publication that does not cater to the mainstream/is not sustainable just from its own revenues). If DS is willing to hand over ownership/license publication rights of the Forum to a trust formed by a group of individuals committed to keeping the Forum (or any other anti-establishment publication that comes on board) not just on life support but to also expanding its reach/readership through investments in marketing/technology and attracting quality articles from the young, I am pretty sure BD-based individuals and NRBs would step up. This could be the model to keep serious outsider publications going – otherwise we may soon see names such as the Forum or the Holiday and the legacies that they represent disappear altogether or worse – deep pockets using the names to hawk magazines to enhance their prestige and give them even a louder voice in the public sphere.

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