If press freedom stands for the senseless adulation of power and making news stories according to state directives, then Bangladesh has it. However, if press freedom means creating public awareness to oppose autocracy, then Bangladesh does not have it. In Bangladesh, writers and journalists are increasingly losing the liberty to expose government mass murders and misrule. Conversely, ministers are unapologetically making public statements to say that the freedom of expression is unrestricted in the country.
If we look at the content of a majority of media outlets in today’s Bangladesh, we notice their implicit loyalty to government policy. They do report government’s misdeeds, but that within the limits set by the state. They are functioning very well in terms of getting government advertisements and other incentives from the establishment. But all these are at the expense of ethical journalistic norms.
Awami Regime Coerces The Press
Sometimes a few editors want to show bravery, but they also do not want to end up in prison or receiving remand tortures. I do not believe that most of our editors are brave journalists. If a majority of them were brave, the Awami regime would not dare to trample journalistic freedom in such a heinous way. One editor is being tortured again and again in police custody, while many others seem to hanker after invitations from the government ministers and from foreign missions.
The only time a section of journalists pretends to be brave is when it comes to demonizing the Islamic political force and madrasa teachers and students. Showing bravery against the weak may be easy and rewarding, but Bangladesh needs journalists and editors who would be united against the continuous violations of human rights in the country. If editors refuse to stand against violations of press freedom now, who knows next time it may be their turn to be detained and tortured.
Awami League Coercion
Do not be deceived by the number of newspapers and television channels that are functioning in Bangladesh. The big number may mislead an observer who does not know the full extent of violations of press freedom in Bangladesh. Look at the list of newspapers and television channels that have been shut by the Awami League government. They have been shut not because they broke the country’s journalistic code of conduct. They have been shut because of their independent journalistic policy.
The government has forcefully shut the second-widely-circulated vernacular daily, Amar Desh, for the second time now. On both occasions, it detained and inhumanly tortured its acting editor Mahmudur Rahman. It shut down the online newspaper Sheersha News and detained and tortured its editor. It has closed down popular television channels like Diganta, Islamic TV, Channel One and Jamuna TV.
That the police and ruling party men are beating up journalists in the street is no news in Bangladesh now. Government forces have regularly raided newspaper and television offices and harassed people working there. In a country of poverty and natural disasters, the freedom to speak is being curtailed dramatically. As a result, we have now begun to hear what the government wants us to hear. Truth is being monitored and censored.