By Jahangir AlamAkash, Press freedom in Bangladesh is again under threat after some reports on corruption were recently published. A national daily supported by an opposition party is facing the heat from the ruling party for publishing a corruption report while another progressive national daily is facing a defamation suit filed by the main opposition party for publishing a crime report.
The Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Jammat-e-islami owned daily newspaper Amar Desh published a report on corruption by the son of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Sajeeb Wazed Joy and the energy adviser to Hasina, Tawfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury, which has become the most talked about issue in the country.
After the report was published, some members from the ruling Bangladesh Awami League as well as some top leaders in the government threatened the newspaper with dire consequences. Reportedly, there was an attempt to also kidnap the journalist who wrote the report.
Amar Desh in its Dec. 17 issue published a report headlined “Allegations of US$5 million bribes against energy adviser Tawfiq-e-Elahi and prime minister’s son Sajeeb Wazed Joy.” The report was on kickbacks received by both men from an unsolicited deal with the U.S. oil company Chevron.
The general secretary of the Awami League Syed Ashraful Islam in a press briefing on Dec. 20, said, “false report publishing is immoral and also a violation of the policy of newspaper and the fundamental rights,” and called for more responsible journalism.
We do agree with his speech. But, those who believe in the freedom of speech, freedom of the press and democracy do not threaten the media or journalists. The allegation against Joy and the energy advisor is not a simple issue. So the government should set up an independent and competent panel to investigate the issue.
Also, those threatening the newspaper can go to the court and fight a legal case for false reporting. But they cannot threaten the journalist, as that is a denial of press freedom and the right to free expression, which hampers democracy.
A multi-billion dollar defamation suit was filed on Dec. 20 against the acting editor of the daily, Mahmudur Rahman, publisher Md Hasmat Ali and its news editor. Hanif Ali Sheikh, the general secretary of Awami League, Natore district, filed the case with the chief Judicial Magistrate’s Court. After hearing the case, the Chief Judicial Magistrate Sharif Uddin issued summons and has asking the accused to appear before the court on Feb. 23, 2010.
Now, as the issue of corruption, as published, is under the court, the hope is that people from the ruling party do not intimidate the media again. Let the court decide whether the report is true or false.
On the other hand, a 20 crore takas (US$2.89 million) defamation suit was filed against the progressive national Bengali daily Janakantha and its editors for publishing an article about opposition leader Khaleda Zia’s elder son Tariuque Rahman and BNP leader Salauddin Quader Chowdhury.
Janakantha’s editor and publisher Atiqullah Khan Masud, advisory editor Toab Khan and executive editor and eminent writer Swadesh Roy have been accused of defaming the two BNP leaders as they were dubbed killers in the news write-up.
Moazzem Hossain Babul, general secretary of the district Jatiyatabadi Ainjibi Forum, filed the case with the chief Judicial Magistrate’s Court of the Ka region. After hearing the case, summons was issued against the editors asking them to appear before the court in March 2010.
In the case statement, the complainant mentioned that the daily in its Dec. 17 issue published an article titled “39th Bijoy Dibosh abong Khoshepora Khunir Chhadmabesh,” wherein Tarique was called as “killer of August-21” and Chowdhury “killer of 71.”
In Bangladesh, a criminal defamation case is a common problem for the press. As a professional media worker, I demand the government and the opposition to uphold press freedom and democracy. Do not attack to press, media or journalists. Please abolish the journalist oppression culture. At the same time the journalist’s community should reorganize their professional unity and leave their political fascination for press freedom and professionalism.