Greater unity called for to protest against govt’s highhandedness

press-freedom

THE information minister’s request on Tuesday to editors of 15 national news dailies and a news portal, who expressed their concern on May 18 about the closure of the Bangla daily Amar Desh and private television channels Diganta TV and Islamic TV, not to ‘speak in favour of a person like Amar Desh editor who had abused the “liberty” of media by publishing distorted news and doctored pictures to instigate religious fanaticism and cause social unrest’, is, perhaps, a reconfirmation of the incumbents’ increasing intolerance with divergent opinion — be it in the political arena or in society at large. The Amar Desh acting editor is apparently deemed culpable by the government for leaking the content of the Skype conversations between a sitting judge of the International Crimes Tribunal, who has since stepped down, and a Bangladeshi legal expert, which happens to fall very well within the jurisdiction of a professional journalist and a responsible media outlet. If anyone has overstepped his jurisdiction and thus perpetrated culpable offence, it is the judge who actually undermined the sanctity and credibility of the tribunal by conversing with a person not officially linked with the trial, that too, about the content and formulation of verdict.

Indeed, the Amar Desh acting editor is guilty of his paper’s publication of a misleading photograph; however, he did subsequently apologise for the mistake. No one should presume that a journalist or a media outlet is infallible because they are not. What deserves recognition and even appreciation is when a journalist or a media outlet regrets the mistake and apologise, both of which Amar Desh and its acting editor did. As for the closure of Diganta TV and Islamic TV, the government has clearly acted arbitrarily and now seems to be at pains to justify its actions. It is worth noting that these two television channels broadcast live the predawn joint operation by the police, the Rapid Action Battalion and the paramilitary Border Guard Bangladesh at Motijheel on May 6, just as many other electronic media outlets did. However, these other television channels managed to evade the government’s wrath, apparently because of their close links with the ruling Awami League.

Overall, there are reasons to believe that the government’s action against Amar Desh, Diganta TV and Islamic TV stemmed from anything but its concern for the ‘good’ of the media and that the three media outlets may be victims of partisan vendetta. Regrettably, such highhandedness is neither isolated nor unprecedented but has, in fact, characterised the tenure of the AL-led government since its assumption of office in January 2009. It is also not the first instance of the government’s obstructing free flow of information and/or restricting the freedom of the media. The least said about its relentless encroachment on the democratic space for its political opponents to express grievances and articulate demands, the better.

In such circumstances, it was not only professional duty but also moral obligation for the editors to raise their voice in protest; so they did. It is pertinent to note that these editors do not necessarily subscribe to the journalistic policies and practices of Amar Desh, Diganta TV and Islamic TV. Also, there are discernible differences in their own journalistic policies and practices. Yet, they have come together and taken a united position because of the bigger issue involved here, i.e. obstruction to free flow of information and onslaught on the democratic freedom of the media by the government in particular and its encroachment on individual liberty and rights in general, the latest manifestation of which is the imposition of a one-month ban on political meetings and rallies. Regrettably, certain sections of society seem to have missed the greater picture, fallen for the government’s partisan rhetoric and bemoaned the stand taken by these editors. Such frictions and fractions could put at peril not only media freedom but democratisation of the state and society in the long run.

Hence, rights-conscious and democratically-oriented sections of society need to raise their voice in unison against the abuse of people’s mandate to govern the country by the incumbents.

Source: New Age Editorial