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We are not the enemy

  • Published at 05:43 pm September 4th, 2018
A job not for the faint-hearted BIGSTOCK

Journalists get a lot more hate than they deserve

As if it weren’t enough for Myanmar to engage in the ethnic cleansing of a subset of their own citizenry, to cement its steady transformation into a clandestine, cartoonish group of moustache-twirling evil-doers, the country has now sentenced two Reuters journalists to seven years of jailtime with hard labour for reporting on said ethnic cleansing operations.

As anyone even remotely associated with the field would attest, being a journalist is a thankless job, as the threat of incarceration always looms large over our heads.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a sub-editor just trying to make sense of a jumbled collection of words and epithets sent in by a reporter or someone whose sole contribution to making sure the news reaches people is to make a copious amount of printouts, nothing can save you from the ire and scorn of friends and family projecting their own conspiratorial thoughts and ideas on to you and everything your profession stands for.

I have previously aired my own frustrations with how the mainstream media has, seemingly now more than ever, devolved into little more than an exercise in confirmation bias, with the sources themselves playing judge, jury, and executioner regarding any bit of news.

But most of the time, such biases are seldom the fault of the reporter on the ground, the individuals risking life and limb so that we can wake up in the morning and start the day dwelling over other people’s miseries for a change.

News, just like any other industry, follows the top-down business model.

However, regardless of your opinion on the role of the media, there is no argument that it is an essential arm for not only ensuring a workable democracy but a workable governance in general. Which is why the recent attacks on journalists, worryingly becoming a trend worldwide, sets such a dangerous precedent.

What’s interesting with the case of the Reuters reporters is the nature of the litigation. Journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested under the country’s Official Secrets Act, whereby defendants are charged with obtaining state secrets.

I’m certain there are a million different reasons for any government to keep secrets from its own people, but incarcerating journalists in the process speaks to the sort of shamelessness that has thus far defined the Myanmar government -- deflecting worldwide accusations of ethnic cleansing, bordering on genocide, of the Rohingya minority, like an unwashed stray cat lazily swatting at flies gathering around it.

Of course, as a Bangladeshi, one does not have to look far when discussing freedom of the press being choked to death. The now-sure-to-be-historic student-driven movement for road safety from earlier last month witnessed journalists getting attacked in the most literal of ways by BCL cadres.

Somewhere in between the mass hysteria over misinformation and students dying out on the streets, very few seemed to have noticed stories of journalists from The Daily Star being sexually harassed and beaten to a pulp by BCL dogs let loose by a state that is becoming ever more paranoid about its relevance to the nation as it currently stands.

And no more is that evident than in the incarceration of Shahidul Alam -- a photojournalist known for promoting Bangladesh to the world through his work, which he had acquired a great deal of success in from what I understand.

For all the admonition that Myanmar has received over its flagrant abuse of human rights with the Rohingya crisis, and all the plaudits that Bangladesh has received for coming to their rescue when no other nation would, what has, disturbingly, united both governments is their contempt for journalists and the media at large, making enemies out of those who speak of serving the people and truly mean it.

We are certainly not the enemy, and we hope that those who are trying to make us appear as such are not either. 

Rubaiyat Kabir is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune. He can be followed on Twitter @moreanik.