May 09, 2007

Press freedom in Bangladesh: Self censorship is the greater evil

Here is an interesting discussion by some renowned journalists of Bangladesh on the occasion of the World Press freedom day organized by Drik. Bangladesh is under a state of emergency and police permission was needed to hold this discussion. What an irony.

Some excerpts:
Probir Sikder: I was victim of terrorism in 2001. I am very confused what should I say about journalism and safety? I was attacked and lost my leg, but when I went on TV we could not mention the name of my attacker. I see these glossy supplements made in newspapers about press freedom, with advertisement money, what should I say? It seems the advertiser is more important than my safety.

Mainul Khan of Reporter San Frontieres: There is now a trend of self censorship. We have to stop censoring ourselves.

Tipu Sultan: [had arms crushed by Joina Hazari’s men] These last 3 months we see a new trend. We know that people have been told not to publish some kind of news. These things are increasing, but invisible execot to those in news management.

Tanvir Siddiqui: What about the MNCs that own the press. What about cell phone companies and the injustice they do on us. When I started talking about the injustice they do, these outrageous bills ripping us off, I complained about it, widely loudly. But my media friends cannot report about this. We get 5 lakh taka of ads, how can we jeopardize this. So this is another kind of censorship.

Syed Mahbub Morshed/(Naya Digantha): We are not hostages to government, we are hostages to business. We are told what to write, and if we try to write against it we will lose jobs here, and won’t get jobs elsewhere either.

Khaled Muhiuddin ( Who did Hasina give her reaction to when she was offloaded from British Airways. She talked to BBC and Al Jazeera. We posted that news, we received 25 calls from an army colonel, and finally after 26th call we took it off. We get these calls, they are always from Colonel so and so, and they say we don’t want these things.
So it is true that self censorship is happening for many reasons.

I think citizen journalism or blogs have a greater role to play in Bangladesh. As the online readership of the major newspapers are growing so should the readerships of Bangladeshi blogs should increase as we have seen that Bloggers disseminate views and information without such limitation. Whether the news is authenticated or credible that is another issue.

I am concluding with an interesting observation from the discussion-
Tipu Sultan: Actually the government is having high level meetings right now to figure out how they block websites. What they call “anti-state” websites or “non friendly” media. So they are coming and they will spend a lot of money to get the best technology so they can block it.
An excellent rebuttal against this threat from fellow blogger Asif in his blog:
They're not banning ALL websites, just those that carry "anti-state" rhetoric. Whew, that's good. 'Cause everyone knows THIS website loves the state but criticizes every government for being the same, boorish, narrow-minded, colonial, paternalistic, patriarchal, condescending, exclusive oligarchy as the last one!
Amen to that spirit. History tells us blocking the blogs never worked.


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