“Repressed Media in Bangladesh and World Press Freedom Day”

 

Nancy Bhowmik

Today is being observed internationally as World Press Freedom Day. The day is mainly celebrated in a symbolic way when different media watchdogs submit their annual reports publicly. Freedom House, a global media watchdog which has been carrying out the responsibility of annual surveying since 1980, has sorted out that only 14 percent people of world’s total population have been enjoying the advantage of “free” media in the year 2013. And 44 percent people belong to the area where media is “not free” and the percentage is 42 in case of the area where press was “partly free”. Bangladesh had the rank 112 out of 197 nations last time. But in this year’s report, they have slipped down 3 positions ranking 115th, which is a clear indication of worse performance in the Freedom of Press sector. Moreover, the country’s freedom of press was heavily criticized because of the brutal murder of journo couple Sagar Sarwar and Meherun Runi and as well as the fact that none could be convicted till date. That is the apparent picture; the US based global media watchdog portrays. But what is the actual picture then? In fact the situation is much worse.

Over the Last 05 years, Bangladesh has been ruled by an elected autocratic government followed by this year’s so called “national parliamentary election” which was nothing but a farce. The same ruling party Awami League has formed the government after the election. Unfortunately, Awami League has a long history of repressing freedom of press. The head of state after the liberation war in 1971, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibar Rahman who happens to be the father of present Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, introduced the culture of oppressing the freedom of press. He banned all other newspapers in Bangladesh except government selected 04. A long passage of time has been crossed after that. Today we have many mouth-pieces both in print and electronic media. But is the mere increasing number reflects the freedom of press in a country like Bangladesh? The answer is NO. Actually the culture of allowing media to function independently has not been developed in Bangladesh. Government’s sharp scrutinies over the media, including using them as propaganda tools have rather increased. Presently, Bangladesh has more than 30 private Television Channels, maximum of whose license were issued during the Awami League regime and those are owned by different influential people belonging to the ruling party. So, those channels rather telecast concocted version of truth than practicing ethical journalism. Same happens to the print media. We saw how very differently the shamelessly rigged farcical Election of 5th January, 2014 and subsequently the Upazilla election was covered by the newspapers. Because of the government’s heavy censor and manipulation, the entire media in Bangladesh has clearly been polarized, which must be considered a serious threat to freedom of press.

Our country’s ruling elites have an ugly tendency of shooting the very messenger. We have sadly observed many instances. The journo couple Sagar Sarwar and Meherun Runi was reported to be working on huge scam in country’s power sector and government’s involvement in it. They were butchered for their good work. The entire journalist community has long been demanding the transparent investigation and conviction of the culprits. But mysteriously, the government law enforcing agencies are rather intentionally delaying the investigation as if they have something to cover up, let alone starting the judicial process. And the all powerful Prime Minister’s statement like “it is not our duty to guard every bedroom of the citizens” has rather exposed government’s true intention for uncover the truth. The family is still waiting for justice. And I have particularly narrated in different articles about the editors behind the bars. The editor of Daily Amar Desh (our land), Mr. Mahmudur Rahman has been subjected to humiliation, physical torture and repression because of his unbending commitment to the readers. He has been in prison for almost a year, and his newspaper has been made virtually banned by the government, making scores of journo unemployed. The Amar Desh family proceeded to the higher court and filed a writ petition, the hearing of which has mysteriously been made delayed for indefinite period of time. Whereas after committing similar type of “crime”, the ruling government and the judiciary as well were uncharacteristically soft towards the Daily Inqilab. So, government’s personal disliking towards Mr. Mahmudur Rahman is amply clear in this regard. And about our adored editor Mr. Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury? Well, I have already narrated the story of his absurd accusation, farcical trial and funny conviction in different articles. But government machineries have virtually no visible reaction. Till today, Shoaib Choudhury is forced to waste his valuable time remaining behind bars, where his only fault is -he is Semitic, anti-jihadist and a Zionist. Mr. Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury’s conviction is continuously giving a very wrong signal to international community about the standard of freedom of press in Bangladesh. Apart from this, the recent report in a front liner English Daily Newspaper in Bangladesh says that it’s reporter has been denied access to any government or party level news coverage of the ruling Awami League govt. What is their fault? Yes, they unmasked some ugly faces of government elites! And we call it domestically the “freedom of press”!

A country which doesn’t allow its citizens to exercise freedom of press can never remain a prospering one in the social indicator. Because, absence of true freedom of press means absence of “Democracy”. Very unfortunately, that is exactly the current state in Bangladesh at the moment.