By Jahangir Alam Akash, How truly free is the media in Bangladesh? In reality, my beloved Bangladesh has no free media. Most of the owners of media houses have other businesses of their own. Not only that, but most of the media owners have huge amounts of “black money”. They don’t pay the journalists well, so most journalists are getting bribes or gifts from influential political and business people. Our media is not serving the poor people or giving voice to those who have no voice and no money. People in media involved in corruption are controlled by the government. And the present trend of media is that those who are corrupt are coming into ownership of media outlets.
Journalists are, first of all, self-censored. Another key to controlling the media is government advertisements. There is no definition regarding contempt of court or defamation. So the media lives in fear of these. Which content will be labeled as contempt of court or defamation, if published? People in the media do not know. There are no national broadcasting or publishing regulations, although a right to information act and a community radio regulation has recently been enacted.
We are seeing corruption, dishonesty and a lack of patriotism inside of the government, with political parties as well as with the media sector, and even the judiciary. The media and the government have to help each other for the sake of their own interests. Cooperation and corruption go hand in hand. Online journalism has no exact rules, so it is a little bit more free. Here there are no actual democratic practices, so the media hasn’t been able to have courage.
The media hasn’t made any investigative reports about extrajudicial killings. But there are those in news, like me, who have been harassing the government on this issue. Journalists are not united for their own safety, interest and profession. Our community of journalists has been divided by two political ideologies. One is linked with the Bangladesh Awami League and left-leaning parties, and another part is involved with the BNP-Jamaat alliance. That is why the government and the political parties always taking advantage of and illegally pressuring the media.
I believe that those who are honest and clear with their profession can publish any truth freely. But, when there is dishonesty and a lack of professionalism, nobody can publish facts freely. Still, in Bangladesh, it is true that many journalists have been harassed, tortured and detained by the government for their courage in speaking out. And many journalists have been killed for their truthful work by a government that patronizes terrorists. And the perpetrators of these violent acts are linked with the government, the political parties and millionaire businessmen.
With few exceptions, Bangladesh has no real journalists, only “Awami journalists” or “BNP journalists”. Still, there are exceptions. We have many media-oriented people, not only journalists. I want to give a real example. Suppose you are a journalist. You support the Bangladesh Awami League. Suddenly, you are harassed or tortured and falsely accused for your truthful reporting. Then, other journalists who also support the Awami League, they don’t help you, because you are going against the Awami League. The same goes for BNP-supporting journalists, although those who support the BNP-Jamaat never write anything against them.
In Bangladesh, this is a common practice. In 2007, I was victimized by the RAB, meaning the state, as well as a powerful leader of the Awami League who is now a mayor, who was behind the conspiracy against me. That is why journalists supporting the Awami League did not really fight for me. Not only that, but some journalist leaders also asked me at that time, “Why were you writing about extrajudicial killings and corruption and terrorism in connection with the leader of Awami League? Don’t you also side with the Awami League?” I answered them, “As a professional journalist, I am not a friend to any political leader or any government or political party. Yes I agree with you, I have a political ideology. But I can’t back from the truth just because of that.
I think that there are many courageous journalists in Bangladesh. But with an impure journalist community, poor democracy and a lack of rule of law and accountability, they don’t show their real courage. This is despite the fact that our divided journalist community are united for the South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA), where there some good opportunities to go abroad and such. My question is, if our journalists can be united for SAFMA, then why shouldn’t we unite for media freedom?
In Bangladesh, we need real journalists, those who will fight for democracy, peace and human rights. https://jaakash.wordpress.com/