Bangladesh drafts new online mass media policy; tighter restrictions to be imposed on media

mass media

Mandatory registration proposed for online newspapers

Mustafizur Rahman

The government has drafted new policy guidelines to monitor and regulate online mass media. The draft policy prepared by the ministry of information provides for imposing restrictions on posting news and advertisements on the internet. A provision in the draft policy, already posted on the website of the information for eliciting public opinion, makes it mandatory for all online news portals to get registered. The provision would be equally applicable for the existing online editions of newspapers and TV channels.

The draft National Online Mass Media Policy 2015 empowers the proposed National Broadcasting Commission to coordinate and monitor online news portals. It empowers the proposed NBC to serve show cause notices to violators of the proposed policy and submit report to the government after holding probes into the violations recommending punitive action. The draft says that objective of the policy would be ensuring ‘accountability and freedom’ of the media by protecting the rights of the people and individual citizens almost like the objective set out in the National Broadcasting Policy 2014, which drew widespread criticism for empowering the government to impose ‘draconian restrictions’ on publication and broadcasting of news and advertisements.

The draft policy makes it mandatory for online news portals to post information provided by the government on events of national importance. ‘Most of the newspapers are running online editions for which no permission is needed,’ said information minster Hasanul Haq Inu.

The TV channels are also running online news portals in which views are also posted, he said.

Replying to a question, Inu told New Age that once in place the policy would require newspapers, news agencies and TV channels to get their online portals registered. He said the information ministry would monitor the online portals until the creation of the NBC. He said that in the absence of any mechanism to regulate proliferating online news portals many of them showed scant regard for accountability. At times, said Inu, news posted by newspapers on their online editions did not match the versions in print. Posting provocative news on online news portals is not acceptable, said the information minister. Accountability needs to be ensured for both print and online media for which online news portals would be treated as separate entities, Inu said.

Dhaka University professor of mass communication and journalism Mofizur Rahman who took part in drafting the policy guidelines said a policy should be there for proper monitoring of the fast growing online media across the country to ensure ‘responsible journalism’ without curbing press freedom. He, however, opposed incorporation of any provision that could squeeze the space for the media, curb freedom of speech or could be misused by the authorities. There must have a provision to check misuse of the policy on political consideration,’ said Mofiz.

The draft policy proposes bringing all online media outlets under a comprehensive management. The ministry of information already posted the draft online mass media policy on its website to elicit public opinion by August 31, 2015. According to the draft policy, the country had over 2.27 crore internet users as of January 2015.

The country’s first National Broadcasting Policy adopted by the Awami League-led government in August 2014 drew severe protests for prescribing restrictions on airing news and advertisements by TV and radio networks. The new draft policy prescribes bans on posting what it calls misleading and inconsistent information and data. It prohibits posting any information and data to demean the armed forces, law enforcement agencies and government officials who can sentence people for criminal offences. It also prohibits posting information and data on online portals that could spark separatism and unrest or create hatred among people of different castes and religions. It also prohibits satirizing national ideals, undermining people or harming national unity and solidarity, intrusion into privacy, impeding state security or hurting religious values and non-sectarian spirit. The draft policy prescribes bans on posting indecent content that could affect children or that might encourage harassment of and violence against women and children. It prescribes restrictions on posting any information or advertisement on online portals that might hamper friendly relations with foreign countries or cause conflicts with a friendly state. It also prohibits online media from posting any advertisement using language and scenes that might hurt political and religious sentiments. It also prohibits the use of photographs or video footage of mosques, temples and churches in advertisements for commercial objectives.

In recent years, deputy commissioners, authorized to issue declarations of newspapers, have been demanding a policy framework for regulating the online media. Now no permission is needed to launch a website with information, photographs, video or audio clips as the contents.

Source: New Age