'After the coronavirus situation, mainstream media had to resort to layoffs, print media are lessening their pages, TV channels are conducting live through zoom, program channels have stopped buying contents, and many compelled their staff to take forced leave'
Speakers at a webinar have emphasized on ensuring professional security for journalists and writers to ensure a democratic environment the country has been dreaming about.
“We want to build such a society, where there will be freedom of thinking and expression, and freedom after expressing one’s opinion, which we do not ensure at times. In our society, there is some confusion over the issue [freedom after expression] and we have to work a lot on it,” said Prof Syed Manzoorul Islam, an acclaimed critic and writer in the country.
The webinar, titled “Freedom of press during coronavirus: Professional security of journalist,” was held on Tuesday night.
The program was moderated by Bangla Tribune Chief Reporter Udisa Emon and organized by Pen Bangladesh.
Prof Syed Manzoorul Islam, who is also the president of Pen Bangladesh, said that there were many examples where having no freedom of expression can give rise to mischief and militarization in a country, which might compel the respective nation to take part in negative roles in the global community.
GTV Editor-in-Chief Syed Ishtiaque Reza told the webinar: “Historically, Bangladeshi media has been running in an adverse environment fueled by conflicting political situations, divided journalist society, the culture of not being able to accept criticism, and financial uncertainty.”
Digital media has attacked the mainstream media heavily, which intensified during the coronavirus pandemic, he added.
“Digital Security Act [DSA] has been a great challenge in the emergence of digital media.
“After the coronavirus situation, mainstream media had to resort to layoffs, print media are lessening their pages, TV channels are conducting live through zoom, program channels have stopped buying contents, and many compelled their staff to take forced leave.”
Daily Samakal acting editor Mustafiz Shafi said the DSA is needed, but it has mixed the line of work for journalists with the general people.
“When the coronavirus situation has forced us into an economic crisis, the Digital Security Act keeps us in despair,” he said, mentioning that a body of journalists were subjected to the DSA.
The journalists from outside Dhaka are now getting involved with different online news portals, some have started their own news channels, he said.
“But, when these journos come under DSA due to their personal work, some people associate their identities with national media. And we can’t help it,” he said.
Dr Aliur Rahman, chairperson of journalism and media communication department at Green University, said that the concept of media governance is not obscure in Bangladesh.
“There is no press commission in Bangladesh,” he said, adding that it could be a bridge between the government and media and its owners.
“We have the freedom of thinking, but not of expression….[due to] Digital Security Act,” he said.
“Democracy, freedom of the press and freedom of expression should be said in one breath,” he said quoting a journalist, “If it is parted, there stays no spirit.
“We can’t talk openly even in classrooms,” he lamented.
“At times, we listen during [audio or video] conversation, saying ‘Are you and I safe as we are talking about this?’” he mentioned.
He also held the media responsible in this regard.
Channel i Special Correspondent Soma Islam said: “I think media is independent, but it matters how much the journalists get freedom as they remain captive under owners. There are some personal interests at work, which is a big challenge. It’s a very tough issue—independence of media and the assurance of staff,” she said.
“Journalism is a lifestyle, but many do not have the luxury of staying in this profession,” she said, mentioning the poor salary structure of the media.
Daily Ittefaq Associate Editor Mohsin Habib urged on ensuring maximum independence, not unlimited, of the media.
The government has not been able to ensure the minimum security of journalists in the DSA, he said.
“If any government misuses it, journalists could become vulnerable.
“Professional security has three things—legal security, atmosphere of collecting news, and job security. There is no implementation of the wage board. That means they could lay off you saying that your service is no longer required,” he said.
“Here, we leave empty-handed,” he added.
Pen Bangladesh Secretary General Mohammad Moheuddin, among others, was also present at the webinar.