Fourth estate under attackby Mohammad Amjad Hossain
BANGLADESH has been passing through a period of political crisis coupled with significant lawlessness. This has been reflected on the attack on the fourth estate of the country. The word ‘fourth estate’ refers to the news media and was coined by Thomas Carlyle, British author and historian, while attributing the term to British statesman, author and parliamentarian, Edmund Burke’s statement in the British House of Commons in 1787.
Representatives of both print and electronic media are the voice of the people who, by and large, pinpoint flaws in the administration and the follies of administrators. In a democratic society news media representatives are treated with due respect and allowed unfettered access to newsworthy events of any nature.
News media, as a powerful medium of communication, plays a significant role in building a society and helping people achieve their national objectives. Therefore, freedom of the media should be given for greater national interest and well-being of the people.
The recent series of events concerning the news media in Bangladesh has caused grave concern at home and abroad. First, there was the assassination of two representatives of the electronic media in Bangladesh, in February. In spite of assurances by the home minister of punishment to the perpetrators, there is yet to be an arrest of the culprit of the gruesome murder of Meherun Runi, chief reporter of ATN Bangla, and her husband Sagar Sarwar, news editor of Maasranga TV, which took place on February 11. A comment by the prime minister seems to have dimmed any hopes of an expeditious end to the mystery surrounding the double murder; she was on record saying that her government could not guard people’s bedrooms.
Security forces are under obligation to protect the people, irrespective of party affiliation. But, alas, the people in Bangladesh have witnessed police assault a contributor and two photojournalists of the leading Bangla daily, Prothom Alo. This heinous incident took place on May 26. It was followed by another attack on journalists on May 28. Two journalists, Newaz Mohammed Rifat and Salahuddin Wahid, of bdnews24, were attacked by miscreants in Dhaka. They were hospitalised. The establishment is a bilingual news agency which has earned credibility and respect in the journalistic circle of Bangladesh. The high handedness of the Awami League administration in Bangladesh came to light when a reporter of bdnews24.com was asked to refrain from contributing from Virginia, USA, because he has apparently filed a report on Sajid Wazed, son of the Prime Minister of Bangladesh.
Allegations of attacks by members of the ruling Awami League Party on journalists has become a common feature in Bangladesh. A journalist of Prothom Alo was attacked in Faridpur on May 4, while another journalist in Pabna district came under attack on May 19. Another incident happened in Patuakhali on May16.
Recent news of gagging the print and electronic media came to us as shocking and disheartening. Amar Dash newspaper survived the wrath of the government, but its acting editor had to undergo a prison term. In the electronic media, Channel one closed down on flimsy grounds. This attitude certainly speaks of intolerance of the government in listening to criticism. In fact, this trend undermines democratic behaviour of the government. The trend in Bangladesh reminds me of the dark days of the newspaper industry between 1973-1975, when people saw the removal of reverend editor Abdus Salam of Bangladesh Observer and closing down all newspapers except government owned newspapers.
Generally, the ruling party in Bangladesh is scared of adverse reporting from both print and electronic news media. Instead of improving the situation, the ruling party come down heavily on the journalist community. No ruling party in Bangladesh takes lessons from the past, that any oppression on journalists would have a boomerang effect. Bangladesh has been placed 129th out of 179 countries for violation of freedom of press, according to French based Reporters without Borders, a watch dog on the violation of freedom of press around the world.
Freedom of expression is an inalienable right of human beings. The concept of freedom of expression encompasses freedom of speech and freedom of the press. In a democratic society people should be allowed the freedom to have an opinion, without interference, and to exercise their rights as citizens and participate intelligently and effectively in the governance of the country. The news media is by far the best suited medium for this purpose. The news media and free press is inseparable from a democracy. It is an essential attribute and an indispensable pre-condition for democracy. The utility of news media appealed so much to Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers and the third president of the United States of America, that he went as far as to state, unhesitatingly, his preference for newspapers without a government, than a government without newspapers. French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte had also said that four hostile newspapers were to be feared more than a hundred thousand bayonets. Therefore, government should take appropriate action to protect the journalist community and allow them to grow for the sake of democracy in the country.
Mohammad Amjad Hossain, retired Bangladesh diplomat and former President of Nova chapter
of prestigious Toastmasters International club, writes from Virginia
comments powered by Disqus