GOVT’S NEW BROADCASTING POLICY – Reign in free flow of information

Faruque Ahmed

Three events that happened after the Eid holidays nearly epitomized the utterly reckless nature of the government towards the nation. It showed how public safety has little place at the centre of the power with the death of over 200 ill fated passengers in the first place in a ferry launch capsize in the river Padma.

Meanwhile, a new broadcasting policy aimed at regulating electronic media has hit the journalist community as they fear it is going to gag the free flow of information to the nation.
In yet another development a cabinet minister has attacked the journalist community with vulgar words like ‘khobish’ demeaning newsmen as roguish, immoral elements in their profession.

Govt. unmoved on launch disaster
Most people believe that the death of so many people in the Padma who were coming to the city after the Eid festival took place entirely out of neglect of the BIWTC’s field level inspectors and ruling party men who were controlling the ferry ghat to realize illegal tools. The launch was having a capacity of 85 people but they were forced to carry over 250 passengers to benefit from illegal collection.
News reports made the disclosure that the launch owners had no control over their vessels as inspectors and local ruling party men were stuffing excess passengers on board to collect the tolls on per passenger.
Reports said a lone BWITA officer at Sadarghat issued fitness certificate to six launches in a day before the Eid vacation which were located at Sadarghat, Narayangonj and some other places. It has raised questions how one man could correctly verify all these vassals in a single day.
Moreover, reports said the master of the ill fated launch was not qualified and had no valid certificate as a master pilot. The vessel was unfit, besides the field level government employees did not make sure that passengers were supported with life jacket and other safety equipments in all such ferry launches.
It was rather a free carnival of raising tolls compromising public safety. People who were on duty as part of vigilance team to watch the orderly river crossing during the ten days before and after the Eid festival also joined the toll collection party ignoring their safety mandate, says a news report. The government has meanwhile abandoned the rescue of the launch with over 50 still missing passengers last week. The river is running with speedy current and nobody can visualize where the vessel may have been lost.
The government now blames the launch owner, who blames BWITA and its officials again blame the launch owner for the tragedy. It appears as if there is nobody who can fix the responsibility and take the culprits to the book.

NBP contradicts Constitution
The new broadcasting policy (NBP) has come under severe criticism from leaders of the journalists’ community. It outlines the repressive policy outlook of the government which aims at cowing down the press to buy peace and stability for the regime while keeping the nation uninformed of critical developments.
The policy has many do’s and don’ts. The Information Minister claims that the broadcasting sector can’t go without a comprehensive policy but media watchers questioned the minister’s motive behind it. The do’s in the policy want to keep the electronic media clearly ruling party friendly and the don’ts warn the media to refrain from pressing news and views which may serve the opposition cause as they are preparing to launch an oust the government campaign soon.
The new broadcasting policy is being pressed at a time when the government is coming under pressure to engage in a dialogue to hold a free and fair election as its January 5 unilateral election remained fraught with many legitimacy questions.
In the past several weeks the government similarly used the threat to the print media with a move to authorize the DCs in the district to cancel newspaper licenses if they print materials that may prove to be a ‘threat to peace and national security.’
The media community is now running almost daily protests to desist the government from putting the new broadcasting policy into immediate effect. There are two basic questions now in the air. The first, the new broadcasting policy has severe legitimacy question. Media leaders said a policy alone is not having the force of a law and a TV or radio station can’t be punished based on this policy without the law’s backing.
It appears that most of the outlines in the new broadcasting policy stand contrary to the basic constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech. This may be one of the reasons observers believe the government is stopping short of making it into a law fearing that it may not stand any challenges it in the constitutional court.

A media crackdown imminent?
The media ponders how the government would reign in the situation without a law. Moreover, the policy has provided for setting up a commission to enforce the new broadcasting policy. So the question also arises how the government wants to implement the new policy until the commission has been set up, although it has already issued a public gazette notifying its enforcement.
Now if the Information Ministry acts on behalf of the commission until it has been set up; will such actions be treated lawful? Moreover, the new policy has retained many issues for the Information Ministry to handle where the authority of the commission is not clearly spelled out.
Media leaders hold the view that the Information Ministry can’t act as the complaints as well as the judge. There may be miscarriage of justice.
Analysts pointing to the opposition’s preparedness to launch ‘oust the government’ campaign soon, say whatever may be the controversy, the government is purportedly running after the policy to use it to reign in the electronic media.
In fact, as many observers believe, the government wants to shield the law enforcement agencies and the civil administration from their criminal excesses that they may carry out to make the government safe. It will shield the brutalities of the leaders and workers of the ruling party in dealing with the opposition.
The question is whether such blackout denying the airing of sensitive news at national level will help the government at the end. The answer is a clear no. It may accelerate crumbling the government’s support base to quicken its fall. But it is likely to be highly repressive in the short run.
Meanwhile, the Social Welfare Minister Syed Mohsin Ali came out with repeated barrages over the past weeks on the journalist community showing an intense hostile outlook of the government towards the media.

Source: Weekly Holiday

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