PM’s free media claim hardly tallies with reality
THE prime minister’s claim on Saturday that the media is currently ‘enjoying full freedom’ does not seem to be consistent with the reality on the ground. The media in Bangladesh, both print and electronic, may seem to be functioning freely; however, to suggest that it enjoys full freedom or that her government ‘does not deter them’ would be an exercise in hyperbole. Such observation, made by the prime minister at a views-exchange meeting with grassroots AL leaders and activists of Kurigram and reported in New Age on Sunday, could thus be attributed her selective amnesia.
Let us first look at some facts and figures. In the past 15 years, 27 journalists were killed but only three of the cases filed in connection with these murders have been completed thus far. It is true that more than 10 of them got killed during the tenure of the previous political government of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led alliance. However, it is also true that 13 of them were killed in the three years and a half of the incumbent Awami League-led government. Moreover, the incumbents have not been able to conduct expeditious ‘investigation and trial of assassination of all journalists’ and ensure ‘exemplary punishment’ for ‘the real criminals’, in line with the AL manifesto for the 2008 general elections. Worse still, it has not appeared either serious or sincere about identifying and arresting the killers of the journalist couple Sagar-Runi although the home minister ordered the police to do so in 48 hours after the double murder had taken place more than three months ago.
Moreover, in the past week or so, there were two high-profile cases of police assault on journalists, including one that took place near the court of law. Meanwhile, more media outlets than one have been subjected to legal and extra-legal harassment by the government and its relevant agencies, and also leaders and activists of the ruling Awami League, apparently for critical reports on the government’s policies and performances. The incarceration of the acting editor of a Bangla daily and the closure of a private television channels are two obvious examples in this regard. Then, of course, certain agencies of the state have continued their attempts to dictate the policies of media organisations, especially the television channels in matters of whom to invite and not invite to their programmes, and also who to host such programmes. Besides, there has been the familiar tactics of withholding government advertisements and commercials from media outlets that the incumbents are not happy with. Such covert and overt actions by the government, its agencies and ruling party leaders and activists seem to have prompted many media organisations to exercise self-censorship, which, needless to say, is a major hindrance to media freedom.
To sum up, when journalists continue to get killed and the killers are not tried, when journalists continue to get physically assaulted by the law enforcers and ruling party loyalists and the government fails to demonstratively and decisively punish the attackers, and when certain agencies of the state continue to employ intimidation as a tactic to influence the policy of media organisations, it gives rise to a sense of impunity among the perpetrators and a sense of insecurity among the journalists. Needless to say, media can never be free in a climate of impunity and insecurity.
The incumbents need to realise that political rhetoric is not enough to allay the fears of journalists or ensure freedom for the media; it requires sustained efforts, and also tolerance of the government to critical and dissenting views. The incumbents do not seem to have flattering records on either count. Hence, instead of just talking the talk, they need to start walking the walk.
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