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Bangladesh: Compromised Media

Ever since Bangladesh was put under a state of emergency by an interim government supported by the military it was a testing time for Bangladesh media. An exclusive report in the Himal South Asian magazine in June 2007 pointed out that Bangladesh’s Bangla and English-language press has lost its credibility:

Bangladeshis have been looking to the press for leadership in a time of military rule, but the journalists have allowed themselves to be bullied by populism and cowed by fear of authority.

Things have not been changed after a year; in fact the situation is getting worse.

Unheard Voices Blog lists the events that have unsettled Bangladeshi media which includes some recent shockers:

May 2nd, 08: Jai Jai Din (news daily) editor Shafiq Rehman resigns without citing reason and replaced by a relatively unknown Shahidul Huq Khan. His first editorial favours govt which is a radical shift for the paper.

May 12th: All the major (newspaper) editors issue a joint statement:

“It has been noticed that different agencies—military and civilian—have been intervening in the work of the media,” the statement says.

“Media do not have freedom in a state of emergency. Regular interference in day-to-day work of the media is not acceptable,” the statement says.

Rumi Ahmed of In the Middle of Nowhere provides more insights:

This Jai Jai Din editorial [bn] ..quotes Ataus Samad/ Nurul Kabir on how JJD owner was forced by DGFI (Defense Forces Intelligence) to have Shafik rehman fired. From this editorial we also know that some electronic media directors were asked by DGFI not to show up in this (editors) meeting.

He asks:

Have we gone back to gestapo era?

Another such transformation is evident in the Daily Star, the widely read English Daily. One of editorials published in last February boasted that it completed 17 years of ‘journalism without fear or favor'. In contrast only days after when the Human Rights Watch published an exclusive report on tortures in Bangladesh highlighting the testimony of Tasneem Khalil, a journalist of Daily Star (and the representative of CNN and Human Rights Watch in Bangladesh), this newspaper failed to report or comment on it. A journalist of the Daily Star commented in reaction of the report in E-Bangladesh:

The press is still gagged tightly. We still cannot write about anything negative regarding the military in our articles. This has been going on for more than a year. Tasneem Khalil and Arifur Rahman incident have happened for a reason.

It may be noted here that the condemned cartoonist Arifur Rahman, who was charged by the government for hurting religious sentiments because of a harmless cartoon (which quoted prophet Muhammad) published in the Daily Star's sister concern, the Bangla Prothom Alo's supplement. He was also indicted with a sedition charge and was recently freed by court from a six month long detention. While none from the large media fraternity of Bangladesh ever bothered to listen to Arif's side of the story and publish it, a blogger cum journalist Omi Rahman Pial was the first person to track him down after months of his release and publish his interview in his Bangla blog (obviously mainstream media was not going to publish it). The post got hundreds of comments and there were some strong words for the media for their role in this issue. You can read the English version of the interview in E-Bangladesh.

And last but not the least a rebuttal of the Daily Star's recent role by Dhaka Shohor Blog got interesting when an editor from the Daily Star started commenting on the blog to defend its actions. The post dissects one op-ed published in the newspaper which among other appeasements say that there is no curb on press freedom in Bangladesh and:

“It is for the first time in Bangladesh that there has not been a single instance of victimization, persecution or harassment of journalists. It is unprecedented in a country under emergency rule.”

Dhaka Shohor points out:

But surely the editors at this newspaper know what happened to their own colleague (Tasneem Khalil) last May!

A heated debate ensued in the comment section when the op-ed editor from the Daily Star cited excuses that it was a mistake to publish it and due to the shortage of manpower they could not verify the fact of the op-ed.

An anonymous commenter said:

In case of the op-ed in question – the theme was blatant denials, and any person involved in journalism in Bangladesh has to be extremely incompetent to not have got that.

So what is the motive behind these actions of the media – restrictions and pressures on them or the owners’ economic interest not to be over troubled waters? Now the million dollar question is how can the media get out of this abyss of self censorship and appeasement and be bold to tell the truth?

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