Free to broadcast

When there is no democracy, where is the political space for exercising journalism?

Is there any surprise at the government’s moves to curtail freedom of expression? It’s rather surprising to see the ruling camp’s expectation that it would frame a better national broadcasting policy. The incumbents are not supposed to be sweet with free media that will not sing its praises all the time.

Media professionals aren’t the only ones who should be bothered by censorship schemes. Because freedom of the press is not the property of the journalist community alone; a free information regime depends on the demand from, and is obviously meant for, the general populace – whether they want it or not – to build a civilised society.

When there is no democracy, where is the political space for exercising journalism? We don’t have proof that undemocratic states welcome any dissent.

The number of journalists is not as high as teachers or public servants, so they could be exiled or forced to change their profession if the existence of the media proves to be irrelevant – politically, economically, socially, and culturally.

However, if the people feel that free media is necessary, even a handful of Hasanul Haque Inus will not be able to snatch away this fundamental right, notwithstanding some unforgettable price to be paid by both the oppressor and the oppressed.

Yes, many of our colleagues have been scared of measures and steps that would limit the scope for making revelations of corruption and crimes as well as raising protests and criticism on the pages of a newspaper, or through electronic media.

There is no justification for speaking half the truth, without talking straight about the context of the Awami League regime’s attitude towards the media and journalists. This is not the first time that attempts have been made to keep the media in the absolute grip of the regime.

In fact, it’s part and parcel of the political culture to cajole, patronise, control, malign, intimidate, and punish the media, as “required.” Blaming bureaucracy and the police for retaining long hands of the repressive state apparatus to keep the voice of the media muted does not make much sense when certain political authorities are the ultimate decisionmakers.

A number of ruling party leaders have earned notoriety for their comments and activities against the freedom of the press and the security of individual journalists. A case in point is the social welfare minister, who actually represented the cultural legacy he had inherited from his party over the years.

The current administration is replicating a failed model of having the media be subservient to the regime. The world rejected the Soviet style of using the press as a propaganda machine, but AL here is apparently in an illusion of reverting to the one-party Baksal system which banned all newspapers, acquiring four only to serve the rulers.

AL is desperate to curtail any semblance of criticism against it, particularly ones relating to its legitimacy and popularity. Afraid of facing public wrath in case of free elections, it managed to hold a one-sided ballot on January 5 and is now going ahead with its blueprints to suppress public opinion at any cost.

Some of our colleagues don’t speak of this reality, given their political affiliations with AL. Be it US president Richard Nixon or today’s Russian leader Vladimir Putin, who wouldn’t appreciate a pool of journalists who serve as their public relations officers or protagonists of evil political campaigns?

Premier Sheikh Hasina is lucky to have behind her a section of media professionals who drum up support for her despite rigged polls, financial sector scandals, abductions and killings, and finally, the suppression of the media. They further refrain from reminding her that it is she who is presiding over a system of governance that is violating the people’s rights.

Thus, the culture of sycophancy has been well established to be in line with the choice of the ruling camp. To the credit of Team Hasina, it’s been successful in promoting its own culture of manipulating the media. This has been reflected in the licensing of televisions, guillotining of opposition voices, or providing state benefits to like-minded journalists.

Characteristics of this school of thought, which is in favour of an undemocratised culture for the functioning of the media, can be summed up as follows: First, only the will of the supreme leader is the final word in deciding all state policies, including framing of laws, and the media should respect such prerogative.

Second, no criticism shall be allowed in the media, so that the government cannot be made vulnerable to the opposition’s demonstrations or public resentment.

Third, freedom of expression is subject to exception to protect a number of institutions that should enjoy immunity from criticism in the public domain.

Fourth, everybody is not equal before the eyes of the regime, which is actually one-eyed (or blindfolded), and the media cannot refer to laws and natural rights that promote the freedom of conscience.

Finally, countrymen must be content with the “new model” of democracy, in which they do not need to take the pains of going to polling centres to choose their representatives, and the media should not think and act otherwise.

Source: Dhaka Tribune


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here