Friday, June 21, 2024

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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

Space continues to shrink for the media

A free press is the nation's and indeed the government's best friend

Update : 30 Mar 2023, 10:42 AM

The picking up of journalist Samsuzzaman Shams by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) sends a sharp signal to all media practitioners.

The signal was amplified by the clandestine nature of his arrest, with reportedly over a dozen policemen involved in the pre-dawn raid that took him away with little in the way of justification provided for his interrogation other than the fact that he is to be returned home afterwards. He has now reportedly been sued under the Digital Security Act.

For context, Samsuzzaman submitted a report on price hikes and how it is affecting people on March 25, the eve of Independence Day. The report drew some criticism due to a discrepancy in the headline and associated photo caption, but the publication withdrew the story immediately and issued a correction.

By all accounts it was a simple error of misattribution, which in the first place had nothing to do with the reporter, and in the second, as mentioned, was quickly rectified. There is no evidence to suggest any malice or agenda on the part of the newspaper, much less the reporter.

Given the shroud of fog surrounding Samsuzzaman's interrogation, if it was because of his report -- which was, again, withdrawn and corrected by Prothom Alo -- a troubling precedent is being set here.

News is produced in real time. Reporters, photographers, photo-editors and sub-editors all do their best to ensure that no mistakes are made, but due to the fast-paced nature of the work and the inherent difficulty in getting the full story as information typically becomes available only bit by bit, it is inevitable that there will, on occasion, be errors. No newspaper on the planet is immune.

Newspapers need to be allowed to make honest mistakes without fear that it will be used as an excuse or justification for punitive action against them, and the authorities must be able to distinguish between an honest mistake and agenda-driven misinformation, which can indeed be a cause for concern.

When it comes to freedom of press, Bangladesh has unfortunately never fared particularly well, regardless of the government in place. This is not a partisan issue. But with draconian laws such as the Digital Security Act placing a hefty barrier for the press by lumping journalists with cyber criminals, the space for journalism is seemingly constricting day by day.

In February, Deepto TV's Satkhira correspondent was picked up by the police while he was on his way home from an assignment, while Dhaka Tribune's own photojournalist Mahmud Hossain Opu was physically assaulted by law enforcers last week over what was termed a “misunderstanding.”

The shrinking space for press is a growing concern. A free press is the nation's and indeed the government's best friend, so this is space we cannot afford to lose further.

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