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When the spell breaks

  • Published at 05:33 pm September 25th, 2018
Laws such as the DSA are no good
Laws such as the DSA are no good BIGSTOCK

Journalists have a responsibility towards the people

No one is surprised that the Digital Security Act (DSA) got passed -- and no amount of criticism, condemnation, or outrage could have stopped this train from reaching station. Democratic practices were never the government’s forte, so why try to change now?

Don’t get me wrong, curtailing rights is not exclusive to the ruling party, and as I’ve waxed poetic on in a prior op-ed, there appears to be something akin to a global backlash on journalism and the mainstream media around the world -- even in some of the most developed parts of the world.

I doubt if even more words being wasted on this specific issue is going to help at all.

It’s a far more interesting use of one’s time to try and dissect the rhetoric used by our politicians to justify undemocratic laws such as the DSA. And what better material do we have than Prime Minister Shiekh Hasina’s recent attempt at dispelling all the fear and doubt surrounding the controversial bill?

“I have seen that several noted editors, journalists, and intellectuals have spoken out against the bill. They are only concerned about whether they will have a voice, and they will not be gagged.”

A very astute observation on the part of the premier.

One of the fundamental criticisms of the DSA is how it leaves absolutely no legal space for investigating government irregularities by journalists. It’s not like the government is unaware of the monstrous levels of corruption that exists within its various rungs (especially at the lower levels) -- I mean, we even have a dedicated federal body in the form of the Anti-Corruption Commission -- but to ward off the media from conducting its own investigations makes little sense if they are serious about tackling corruption.

“What we have done is for the well-being of the country, the nation, and the children…” 

“Considering this aspect (security), we have passed the Digital Security Bill. So, there is nothing to be worried about in it.”

Trading freedom for the promise of “security” is as old as the very concept of governance by now (just ask the ghost of Ben Franklin). But exactly what sort of security is going to be provided to the average citizen through this bill?

One of the more prominent feathers in the incumbent government’s cap is how it has managed to increase the level of digitization throughout the country -- everyone from your grandfather to your office peon is now on Facebook, and consequently the internet. 

And the most offending thing they can perhaps encounter on such platforms is the odd offensive comment or curse word directed at someone. Or, more commonly, the government.

Then there is, of course, the “children” argument. The sentiment behind this argument is in the right place, children are indeed the future, and there is a credible argument that bullying in any form (digital or physical) can have lasting impacts on a child’s cognitive development. 

But the argument crumbles faster than an expensive gourmet sandwich when we take into account what we noticed a little over a month ago in the form of the student protests. The BCL cadres sure didn’t do anything to make all those young boys and girls feel any safer during their protests, did they?

“Journalism is surely not for increasing conflict, or for tarnishing the image of the country. ”

It is not. What journalism is, is an essential, formally recognized part of the political system.

The fourth estate, if you will. 

Journalism does not seek to divide, it does not seek to foment hatred or conflict, within its own people or otherwise. 

And to even implicitly conflate the field of journalism with two-bit thugs’ attempts at igniting communal violence (a recurring issue in our society) is insulting it, and is nothing short of a slap on the face of every man and woman who has risked their lives and the lives of their loved ones in its pursuit.

To add to that, journalists have no responsibility to uphold any given image of a nation, their responsibility lies squarely to the people.

“The kind of journalism which will take the country forward and develop confidence among the people is the one which should be practiced, not the one which seeks to mislead people and create conflict.”

The very idea behind journalism and the media is to inform the people, not to misinform them. In fact, during the student protests last month, it was the mainstream media that stood between all the “gujob” being disseminated over social media and the facts on the ground.

There seems to be an undercurrent of denial in the administration’s attitude towards its policies --  as if it is impossible for them to enact a law that could go against their own people, which, let’s not kid ourselves, the DSA does with gusto.

Jerry, just remember. It’s not a lieif you believe it … ” the character of George Costanza (from the TV show Seinfeld), in a rare moment of ill-conceived profundity, once said to the titular character as advice in beating the lie detector. And you can see some of that false conviction in our leaders when they speak of protecting the children, of draconian laws such as the DSA being good for us.

But what happens when the spell breaks, and the mental gymnastics have faded away faster than a thumb print on an old ballot paper? 

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