Digital method of muzzling newsmen

Prothom Alo Online

File Photo

File Photo

Of late it has become a habit in Bangladesh to file lawsuits against newspaper editors and newsmen. Earlier, defamation or compensation cases were filed if anyone was aggrieved with any published news item. Since the implementation of Digital Security Act, it is being used to muzzle the editors and newsmen.

MP Saifuzzaman Shikhor recently filed a lawsuit against ‘Daily Manabzamin’ editor Matiur Rahman Chowdhury and 31 others under the Digital Security Act. Incidentally, the name of Saifuzzaman Shikhor has not been mentioned anywhere in the report that led him to file the suit. Still, if he thought he had something to say about the report, he could have sent a rejoinder to ‘Manabzamin’ office and the newspaper was bound to publish that.

But he did not do that. The MP could have filed a suit with the Press Council if he found the report objectionable. He could go to the criminal court if he were not satisfied with the verdict of the Press Council. That’s the rule. But, why on earth would a ruling party MP follow the rules? Instead, he used the Digital Security Act against media at the first chance.

When the journalists and civil society members protested at the passage of the Digital Security Act, the government said it wouldn’t be used against the media or newspersons. It would be used against those who would take to social media to tarnish images of people. I don’t know how many of them the government has detained, but the act is being rampantly used against journalists.

Names of no MPs, bureaucrats of businessmen were published in the ‘Manabzamin’ report that led Shikhor to file the suit. Quoting Jubo Mohila League leader Shamima Nur Papia, who was detained in arms and drugs cases, the report said investigation revealed names of 30 persons who would meet her regularly. Investigation will reveal who were involved in the illegal activities of Papia, who was later expelled from the party. However, many photographs of Papia with many influential leaders of ruling Awami League were published on social media. Photos of Papia with many Jubo League, Jubo Mohila League and many others went viral. Why MP Shikhor targeted the ‘Manabzamin’ editor instead of filing cases against those who published the photographs on social media?

AL leaders should have been ashamed when the Papia-incident came to the limelight. This is not the first time the influence of an associate body of the ruling party was used to achieve for ill-gotten gains. People came to know about the nefarious acts of the leaders of Jubo League, Chhatra League and Krishak League thanks to media. The AL leaders then tried to draw a curtain on everything saying those were the acts of party infiltrators. What would they say now? Samrat or Papia do not emerge on their own. There are many visible and invisible ‘shadows’ behind their rise. The MP filed the suit since ‘Manabzamin’ talked about those ‘shadows’.

The ‘Manabzamin’ report said the investigation officer of the Papia incident, RAB-1 commander lieutenant colonel Shafi Ullah Bulbul, told ‘Manabzamin’ that they have been investigating the information Papia divulged to them during interrogation. Action would be taken later.

The MP must know newspaper reports and social media posts are not the same thing. It is not the duty of the newspaper editor or reporter to see how people react about the report. They will take responsibility of what was published in paper. While the topic was already being hugely debated in social media, the MP said many people posted statuses on social media about many AL leaders including himself after ‘Manabzamin’ ran the report. MP Saifuzzaman Shikhor’s logic is absurd. If the chief editor and reporter of ‘Manabzamin’ were accused for any social media status following the news report, then home ministry and police also should have been made accused since the newspaper ran the report as they arrested Papia. The list of names was also published following various police sources.

RAB arrested Narsingdi unit Jubo Mohila League general secretary Shamima Nur Papia on 22 February on allegations of running many illegal activities including the business of arms, drugs and women at a five star hotel in the capital city.

Since the MP brought up the issue of social media, then another thing should be mentioned. A vested quarter started propaganda against ‘Manabzamin’ chief editor and a teacher of Dhaka University since the publication of the report. Those who want to keep everything about Papia-incident hidden are involved with this propaganda.

Generally people file cases to get legal solutions but in Bangladesh the powerful quarters file cases against media editors and journalists to shut their ‘insolent’ mouths. Dozens of examples could be cited from the recent past. MP Shikhor’s suit is just an example among many.

* Sohrab Hassan is a joint editor of Prothom Alo. This piece, originally published on Prothom Alo Online, has been rewritten in English by Shameem Reza