It is either law enforcers or ruling party men behind the violence. Ministers and government officials, however, make the right noises promising punishment of the guilty and pledging firm stance to curb violence against the press. But these words of assurances are increasingly sounding hollow, mere rhetoric.
But the incidents continue regardless. Even more alarmingly, the incidents were not cases of stray violence. The individuals were assaulted, in some cases mortally, because they were journalists. When ruling party men did it, the law enforcers stood watching. When it was not Awami League men, it was the law enforcers themselves.
Freedom of the press is held sacred in democracies because they provide a much needed check and balance for the powers that be on behalf of the people. It is the responsibility of the press to hold the powers accountable. Hence much of the journalistic efforts are expended on finding out what is going wrong. It is the duty of the press to ask the difficult questions. It is often for that reason that the press is said to be the fourth arm of the state. And the state does all it can to ensure that journalists may go about their work without fear.
While a free press is not an absolute indicator of openness and transparency, a timid press certainly indicates that all is not well. Journalists living in a climate of fear and afraid of grave reprisals for uninhibited reporting is certainly an indicator that the government is not doing enough to ensure a free press, most likely to safeguard its own interests.
The culture of impunity among the ruling party men has emboldened them not only to be violent towards the citizens but also members of the press. As such incidents as those of Sirajganj or Khulna are fresh in the memory, and with the likelihood of more in future, the press in general would tend to become cautious. With no effective opposition in parliament and a clampdown on virtually every aspect of the government, this regime is already considered one that has clinically stifled dissent. A timid press would be another marker of the lack of transparency.
The downward spiral can only be contained with firm conviction from the top of the regime. The rhetoric that has come so far hardly qualifies for the strong message on behalf of the press. Pending that, the message would be quite clear too: Be a journalist, but at your own peril.