here is a common theory in journalism worldwide — negative news is the best news. People frequently underrate it due to the lack of knowledge about journalism. This theory does not mean that journalists always seek to leak information that is derogatory to others and put the government in an adverse position. The real meaning of negative news is that professional journalism is to dig out the irregularities or misdeeds in a state and society that have a huge impact on a good number of people so that the concerned authorities can bring those issues into consideration and take necessary steps. There is no intention of journalists to dishonor or dishearten anyone. For the greater interest of the nation, journalists work without minimal partiality to any quarter in the state with fabricated or twisted information. That’s why we very often say the news is the reflection of something as it is.
For a long period, the authoritarian government of Bangladesh is seemingly failing to understand this chemistry of journalism. The true fact is that any authoritarian government understands it but is not ready to tolerate it in fear of losing the throne through a mass upsurge as the ground of any mass movement is mostly developed through media reports. In such cases, a fair government tries to amend its policies and eradicate the anomalies in the shortest possible time. But the corrupted or authoritarian government tries to suppress the media and take coercive measures against journalists under various pretexts or controversial laws.
It is alleged that the freedom of journalism is being squeezed in Bangladesh due to the oppressive state policy toward media and journalists. To ensure extreme control over media even the authorities enacted a very controversial digital law almost four years ago in October 2018. Many critics of the government including journalists have been reportedly arrested and harassed under the ‘draconian’ Digital Security Act (DSA). The government, however, has termed the move as a measure to protect people on the digital platform.
But according to dozens of reports published by many local and international rights organizations, freedom of the press is being restricted to an alarming proportion in Bangladesh due to the authoritarian state policy and oppressive measures.
According to the latest report of the international media watchdog, Reporters Without Borders, also known as Reporters sans frontières (RSF), released in the first week of May, Bangladesh has slipped 10 notches in the World Press Freedom Index 2022. The RSF published the report on the occasion of the World Press Freedom Day observed across the globe on May 3, 2022.
As per the report, Bangladesh ranked 162nd out of 180 countries while its position was 152nd in 2021. The report also records Bangladesh’s position as worse than that of Pakistan, Sri Lanka, India, and other south Asian nations. The Asian Muslim majority delta state of 170 million people is also one of the 28 in the world which saw “very bad” press freedom violations, the report noted.
In preparing the report, RSF has considered many factors including political pressure from the state or other actors, the degree to which journalists and media are free to work without censorship or judicial sanctions, or excessive restrictions on their freedom of expression, and the reported impunity for those responsible for acts of violence against journalists.
Furthermore, the media watchdog has also scrutinized the difficulty of creating a news media outlet, and whether advertisers and commercial partners create economic constraints and media owners seek to promote or defend their business interests.
Many other factors like police violence, attacks by political activists and murders, crimes orchestrated by criminal organizations, and the Digital Security Act have been identified as hindrances to the way of freedom of media in Bangladesh.
According to a September 30, 2021 report published by the Center for Governance Studies, a Bangladesh-based reputed think tank conducting research and media studies on issues like good governance, corruption, human rights, and press freedom, some 4,657 people, mostly politicians and journalists, have been sued under the Information and Communication (ICT) Act and the Digital Security Act (DSA) since 2013.
One big factor lapsed
There is no controversy over the factors highlighted in many local and international types of research and studies about the worsening press freedom situation in Bangladesh. But as a field reporter for more than two decades, it’s my conscious observation that journalists themselves, who are the victims of press freedom degradation, are also responsible for their own misfortune.
At the very beginning of this writing up, I mentioned a common theory of journalism – negative news is the best news meaning digging out the weaknesses or faults in the significant state arenas for the greater interest of the country.
Unfortunately, a good number of senior journalists have completely forgotten the core duty of the profession. They have become morally so weak that they are not even courageous enough to ask a question boldly before any top state policymaker. If you look at the question-answer sessions of different press conferences of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, you see many senior journalists, who are considered to be the icons in the media industry, have shamefully failed to ask questions to the premier on many burning issues.
Even the countrymen and I have observed that there is disgraceful competition among some senior journalists on how they admire the prime minister with so many unnecessary compliments like ‘Magic Lady’. In the local language, it is called ‘oiling’ or indecent appeasement. It was really unimaginable that such senior journalists might be so much ‘backboneless’. So, the field level journalists who are interested to report freely in their respective media are frequently handicapped by those so-called ‘boss journalists’ as they are holding the key position in the media industry and reporters work under their command.
Though I feel shy, I wish to disclose that many top figures in our community are corrupted. They have earned huge money illegally through the unethical support of politicians, especially by the blessings of the ruling forces. Now those journalists are morally so fragile that they are always scared whether the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), the country’s main constitutionally autonomous body to curb corruption though there is also debate about how much independently the institute is functioning, seeks the statement of their wealth, whether the government stops supplying of illegal facilities. Now they ride in costly cars, live in luxurious flats, and always prefer to continue the lucrative lifestyle under the blessings of the ruling force. They are always scared of whether any new development ruins their prosperity at any time. So they themselves have surrendered and failed to do journalism professionally. But this issue has lapsed in most of the studies conducted by national and international organizations.
It’s my prediction that there is no easy solution to this crisis. Those who have already been derailed and lost their conscience and moral strength to perform professional duty with honesty and sincerity, will not back to the real track easily. But those who are determined to perform this great profession fairly, should keep patience and never compromise with the irregularities and corrupted forces. It does not mean that they would act revolutionarily in a foolish fashion and lose their job. They should be tactful and strive to promote themselves to the level of international standards with honesty so that in near future they can lead the media industry with true professionalism. Those who are still honest should boost the unity among themselves and try for higher study or training courses from abroad so that they can reach the top position in the media outlets through qualities. Nothing can sustain forever. Everything has an ending through the starting of something new. Honest, sincere and devoted journalists should prepare themselves to cope with the new era hopefully to begin in near future.
The author of this article is a Journalist and regularly contributes in national & international issues.