Saturday, March 23, 2019

The monetization of online news in Bhutan and its impact on visually impaired readers

While it is understandable that the decreasing revenues and the increasing cost of production are compelling news agencies to come up with creative methods of monetizing their products, the Kuensel Corporation’s latest move to monetize some of its online news articles has come at a wrong time for the visually impaired readers in Bhutan since E-Kuensel is still not yet fully accessible with screen-reading software. In the absence of braille news magazines and other reading materials for the blind in circulation, KuenselOnline had become one of the most accessible sources of news and information for persons with visual impairment in Bhutan over the years. But now with readers requiring to register for E-Kuensel to access certain news articles, the visually impaired readers would be missing them until the day E-Kuensel is made fully accessible for the blind.

A couple of years ago, I had subscribed for E-Kuensel but I had to cancel it after a year since it was not fully accessible with the screen-reading software that enables us to access computer. JAWS or Job Access With Speech, is mostly configured to read A4-size documents but since E-newspapers consist of large pages, it does not read the document in the right sequence. It often jumbles up the contents and creates confusion for us. If all the E-newspapers come either as a Microsoft Word document or in A4-size PDF format, we would be most happy to avail the service and help the media houses generate additional revenues. Since Microsoft Word is the most accessible format, I wish if the news agencies could make a special arrangement for the visually impaired subscribers to have the E-newspapers delivered in Word format so that they can easily access them. Of course, there should be a strong understanding that these digital newspapers will not be manipulated or distributed further.

But I also often ask myself if online subscription is really helping the news agencies generate additional income as I can see E-newspapers being freely circulated on social media. Considering this trend, I don’t think the introduction of premium E-newspapers is making any significant difference to the concerned media houses. Instead, it has been depriving the visually impaired readers of access to national news. While the international news agencies such as BBC and CNN are providing world news free of cost through their websites, it appears quite ironical that we have to have premium subscription even to access our own home news.

Nevertheless, for a small economy like ours, I can understand that it would be difficult for the media houses to survive only on commercial advertisements, announcements and the sale of their hardcopy newspapers. It is a good move to promote the sale of E-newspapers for more cost-effective circulation, but as highlighted earlier, they can have a wider reach if these digital newspapers could be made inclusive and accessible for all.

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