Matiur Rahman was born 2 January 1946 in Calcutta to Mohammed Fazlur Rahman, a lawyer, and Lutfunessa Begum. He grew up in the era of decolonisation and nationalism that gave birth to East Pakistan and then Bangladesh. For his secondary education, he attended Nawabpur Government High School and then Dhaka Government College. For his higher education, he attended Dhaka University and earned his Master's degree in Statistics from University of Dhaka in 1967. While a student, he became a Marxist and was a student leader in East Pakistan Student Union. Later, he was secretly a member of Communist Party of Bangladesh while it was still outlawed.
Matiur Rahman entered journalism in 1970 when he became the editor of Ekota, a Socialist weekly. For five years during the 1970s, he also published the Bangladesh edition of the journal World Marxist Review. He left that position after 21 years and after the fall of the East Bloc. After he left Ekota, he worked as a journalist for Ajker Kagoj ("Today's News"), which was Bangladesh's first modern newspaper. In February 1992, Matiur Rahman partnered with others to found Bhorer Kagoj ("Morning News"), which he edited for the next six years. After Saber Hossain Chowdhury joined the cabinet of the Awami League government, Rahman felt pressured to shape the newspaper's stance in accordance with the ruling party and this led to his resignation. In 1998 he founded Prothom Alo, or "First Light", a daily newspaper. Rahman established Prothom Alo's credibility and increased circulation by exposing government missteps and corruption, as well as human rights violations. The newspaper's advocacy of solutions and Rahman's editorials attracted readers. Today it reaches a half million readers.
Prothom Alo attracted international attention when it covered the issue of acid throwing in Bangladesh. In 2000, the newspaper covered a case of a female acid throwing victim who was 15 years old. Rahman used the resources of his newspaper to campaign against the practice. Prothom Alo pressured the government to strengthen laws against acid attacks and the sale of dangerous chemicals. In 2002, the Acid Crimes Prevention Act and Acid Control Act stiffened penalties for acid throwers and tightened licensing requirements for acid sales. In prominent daily appeals, Rahman called on readers to contribute to the Prothom Alo Aid Fund for acid victims. The newspaper solicited donations at rallies and press conferences working with the Acid Survivors Foundation and called upon celebrities and volunteers to carry the appeal throughout the country. As donations poured in the fund, Rahman acknowledged each small gift in the newspaper. By June 2005, some 8.2 million taka had been raised to benefit almost two hundred victims. The funds were used for burn treatments, plastic surgery, legal fees, and living expenses, as well as new homes for some and income-generating assets such as milking cows, sewing machines, cultivable lands, and shops for others. Matiur Rahman was presented with the 2005 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature, and Creative Communication Arts. In the award citation, the board of trustees recognised "his wielding the power of the press to crusade against acid throwing and to stir Bangladeshis to help its many victims."
^Goloy, Angelina G.; Balgos, Cecile C. A. (2006). "Great men and women of Asia: Ramon Magsaysay Awardees from South Asia, 1987–2005, Volume 3". In Kalaw-Tirol, Lorna. Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation (Anvil Publishing, Inc). p. 242. ISBN971-27-1836-0.