Tam­ing the Me­dia

The op­po­si­tion par­ties and civil so­ci­ety in Bangladesh say the Awami League gov­ern­ment is try­ing to con­trol the me­dia through the new Na­tional Broad­cast­ing Pol­icy.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - Ed­i­tor’s Coun­cil, Bangladesh. By Dr. Moonis Ah­mar The writer is the Dean of the Fac­ulty of Arts at the Univer­sity of Karachi.

The Awami League gov­ern­ment is ac­cused of try­ing to con­trol the me­dia through the new Na­tional Broad­cast­ing Pol­icy.

“The Ed­i­tors’ Coun­cil is con­cerned that the free­dom of ex­pres­sion and free flow of in­for­ma­tion will be com­pro­mised by the re­cently an­nounced Na­tional Broad­cast Pol­icy and var­i­ous steps taken by the gov­ern­ment. The coun­cil be­lieves that the gov­ern­ment wants to con­trol the me­dia with th­ese steps.”

Bangladesh has a long his­tory of po­lit­i­cal strug­gle for democ­racy and press free­dom. But re­cently, the Awami League gov­ern­ment at­tempted to break away from the tra­di­tion by adopt­ing the Na­tional Broad­cast­ing Pol­icy 2014 that aims to reg­u­late and con­trol the me­dia, par­tic­u­larly the elec­tronic me­dia. So what con­vinced the Sheikh Hasina regime to im­pose curbs on the me­dia, par­tic­u­larly on TV chan­nels that pur­sue an in­de­pen­dent ap­proach? Can the move­ment against the adop­tion of the NBP cause a se­ri­ous threat to the Awami League gov­ern­ment?

Ear­lier this year, the en­tire coun­try was par­a­lyzed for sev­eral weeks be­cause of the po­lit­i­cal vi­o­lence un­leashed by the op­po­si­tion fol­low­ing the con­tro­ver­sial gen­eral elec­tions. The boy­cott of the elec­tions by the ma­jor op­po­si­tion par­ties and the pyrrhic vic­tory of the Awami League fur­ther deep­ened the po­lit­i­cal stale­mate. Reser­va­tions ex­pressed by the Euro­pean Union, the Com­mon­wealth and the United States about what they called ‘the un­con­tested gen­eral elec­tions’ in­creased Sheikh Hasina’s predica­ment in terms of seek­ing po­lit­i­cal le­git­i­macy at an in­ter­na­tional level. Ex­cept In­dia, no other coun­try en­dorsed the elec­tion re­sults.

How­ever, the op­po­si­tion – the Bangladesh Na­tion­al­ist Party (BNP) and the Ja­maat-i-Is­lami (JI) – failed to ma­nip­u­late the sit­u­a­tion in their fa­vor and couldn’t launch a suc­cess­ful move­ment against the elec­tions. The oaths taken by the mem­bers of the new assem­bly and the en­su­ing calm in Bangladesh’s po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment en­cour­aged the Awami League gov­ern­ment to launch what is be­ing termed as an “as­sault” on the me­dia.

Ac­cord­ing to the new me­dia pol­icy ap­proved by the cab­i­net, TV and ra­dio sta­tions should not broad­cast news “which is con­trary to the coun­try’s or the pub­lic in­ter­est, pro­grams which un­der­mine the rep­u­ta­tion of the mil­i­tary or law en­force­ment of­fi­cers or in­for­ma­tion which can harm good re­la­tions with a friendly coun­try.” Fur­ther­more, the NBP states that no in­for­ma­tion could be broad­cast “if it vi­o­lated any­one’s pri­vacy, dis­rupted state se­cu­rity, went against pub­lic in­ter­est or hurt re­li­gious sen­ti­ment. No scene or state­ment that mocked or de­meaned the armed forces and law en­force­ment agen­cies could be aired. The news and pro­grams would have to up­hold the ide­ol­ogy and spirit of the Lib­er­a­tion War, state pol­icy and ideals.”

Ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cial po­si­tion taken by the gov­ern­ment of Bangladesh, the new me­dia pol­icy is not aimed at putting curbs on the me­dia and it only pro­vides broad guide­lines on how the me­dia should per­form ac­cord­ing to the coun­try’s na­tional in­ter­ests. Elab­o­rat­ing the of­fi­cial view­point, In­for­ma­tion Min­is­ter Hasanul Haq Inu said, “The law does not have any pro­vi­sion for pun­ish­ment. The claim that the pol­icy in­tends to stran­gle the me­dia is com­pletely base­less and imag­i­nary.” But de­spite the clar­i­fi­ca­tion made by the gov­ern­ment, civil so­ci­ety groups and jour­nal­ists rep­re­sent­ing var­i­ous me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tions con­sider the pol­icy re­pug­nant to press free­dom and term it an at­tempt to cur­tail the in­de­pen­dent stance of the me­dia on var­i­ous so­ci­etal and other is­sues.

Why is Sheikh Hasina fear­ful of the me­dia and how do the rep­re­sen­ta­tives of var­i­ous news­pa­pers and TV chan­nels view the gov­ern­ment’s act? One would re­call that Sheikh Mu­jibur Rehman, the founder of Bangladesh, had also im­posed emer­gency in the coun­try in 1974, ban­ning all po­lit­i­cal par­ties and im­pos­ing se­vere re­stric­tions on the me­dia. There­fore, the per­cep­tion that Awami League gov­ern­ments do not ac­cept views which are crit­i­cal to their poli­cies is gain­ing cre­dence in Bangladesh.

The ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Trans­parency In­ter­na­tional’s Bangladesh chap­ter, Iftekharuzzaman has strongly crit­i­cized the NBP. “The in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the pro­vi­sions may lead to se­ri­ous re­straint on me­dia free­dom. What is in the pub­lic in­ter­est and in the in­ter­est of the coun­try can be sub­jec­tively in­ter­preted. The pro­vi­sion in the pol­icy in­volv­ing re­stric­tion on news about the po­lice and mil­i­tary of­fi­cers can pro­vide them blan­ket im­mu­nity from crit­i­cism,” he said.

While me­dia per­sons are crit­i­cal of the pol­icy for ob­vi­ous rea­sons, those hav­ing a neu­tral and non-par­ti­san po­si­tion have also ex­pressed their reser­va­tions. It is widely per­ceived that after get­ting away with the sham elec­tions, the AL gov­ern­ment wants to elim­i­nate ev­ery kind of threat, in­clud­ing the one posed by a free me­dia, to en­sure its stay in power. The tol­er­ance level of Sheikh Hasina and other AL lead­ers was tested when some TV chan­nels pur­sued a crit­i­cal ap­proach on the poli­cies of the gov­ern­ment and ex­posed its cor­rup­tion and re­pres­sive acts. In­stead of in­ves­ti­gat­ing the

charges, the gov­ern­ment re­acted by es­tab­lish­ing its own brand of me­dia com­mis­sion.

Two ma­jor me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tions in Bangladesh, The Ed­i­tor’s Coun­cil and the As­so­ci­a­tion of TV Chan­nel Own­ers, have taken a firm stand on the gov­ern­ment’s new me­dia pol­icy, ex­press­ing their griev­ances about the gov­ern­ment’s han­dling of the me­dia.

One of their com­plaints is about the in­creas­ing num­ber of at­tacks on news­men in dif­fer­ent parts of the coun­try, in­clud­ing the at­tack on the of­fice of Daily In­qi­lab. They have also regis­tered their protest against the ban­ning of a news­pa­per, Amar Desh, the ar­rest of its ed­i­tor Mah­mudur Rehman and the ban­ning of two Is­lamic TV chan­nels. Although th­ese steps caused much re­sent­ment in the me­dia, it was the NBP which com­pelled civil so­ci­ety groups and the me­dia to pur­sue a hard line against the gov­ern­ment’s de­lib­er­ate at­tempt to curb the free­dom of me­dia.

One can­not deny the im­por­tance and rel­e­vance of the NBP if the in­ten­tion of the AL gov­ern­ment is to en­sure re­spon­si­bil­ity, de­cency and eth­i­cal be­hav­ior. Un­for­tu­nately, in most de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, lack of pro­fes­sion­al­ism is quite ob­vi­ous and those re­spon­si­ble for pub­lish­ing news­pa­pers, mag­a­zines or run­ning TV chan­nels do not un­der­stand the im­por­tance of eth­i­cal jour­nal­ism. The ab­sence of laws to pre­vent the mis­use of the me­dia has cre­ated a cul­ture where rhetoric, sweep­ing state­ments, non­se­ri­ous be­hav­ior and un­pro­fes­sional at­ti­tude is very common. This prob­lem is not limited to Bangladesh and is, in fact, ram­pant in many South Asian coun­tries. As a re­sult, the cred­i­bil­ity of many news­pa­pers and TV chan­nels is at stake. A code of con­duct cov­er­ing the print and the elec­tronic me­dia, en­forc­ing ba­sic eth­i­cal and pro­fes­sional rules is the need of the hour.

Bangladesh’s predica­ment in the post-elec­tion pe­riod is twofold. First is the is­sue of le­git­i­macy of the AL gov­ern­ment which is ques­tion­able con­sid­er­ing the op­po­si­tion’s boy­cott of the elec­tions and the low turnout of vot­ers. The sec­ond is the per­cep­tion in the Bangladeshi civil so­ci­ety and in the op­po­si­tion po­lit­i­cal cir­cles that the AL gov­ern­ment wants to tame the me­dia, both print and elec­tronic, after neu­tral­iz­ing the op­po­si­tion par­ties.

This is why the pres­i­dent of the Ed­i­tors’ Coun­cil made it clear that the “broad­cast­ing pol­icy would cur­tail the free­dom of press and the peo­ple’s right to in­for­ma­tion as guar­an­teed by the con­sti­tu­tion.” To ex­press their re­sent­ment against the NBP, thou­sands of pro­tes­tors be­long­ing to the BNP staged a demon­stra­tion in Dhaka in which they blamed the AL gov­ern­ment for try­ing to con­trol the mass me­dia by an­nounc­ing the new broad­cast­ing pol­icy.

The so­lu­tion to this cri­sis rests with the AL gov­ern­ment. It needs to with­draw the NBP and come up with a broad pol­icy to deal with the is­sues per­tain­ing to the lo­cal me­dia by tak­ing all stake­hold­ers on board in­stead of pur­su­ing uni­lat­eral mea­sures that are tan­ta­mount to curb­ing the free­dom of the press.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Pakistan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.