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Tell me no lies

  • Published at 12:02 am November 3rd, 2019
gun freedom of speech
Force can’t keep journalists from doing their job BIGSTOCK

Bangladesh’s track record in treating journalists is shameful

It’s not much fun being a journalist in Bangladesh.

Not only do journalists here have to be hyper-aware of the various laws breathing down their necks, and make sure they don’t say the wrong thing, when they are victims of violence, the crime often goes unpunished.

The Committee to Protect Journalists is an independent, non-profit organization based in New York which works towards promoting greater press freedom all over the world, and defends the rights of journalists to report the news without having to fear for their lives; and according to the CPJ, Bangladesh is one of the worst offenders for impunity to crimes against journalists, and stands shoulder to shoulder with countries like Syria, Somalia, and Afghanistan.

This is certainly nothing to be proud of.

Every year, worldwide, numerous journalists are killed, imprisoned, or simply made to disappear. 

Violence against journalists, of course, always takes a more sinister dimension when carried out with the government’s blessings.

More than 30 journalists have lost their lives around the world this year alone, and while some of them died in the line of duty, others were murdered; and when the murder of journalists happens in Bangladesh, the wheels of justice turn even more slowly.

The infamous Sagor-Runi murder case is still pending, and there seems to be very little hope that any progress will happen in the foreseeable future.

Names like Ahmed Rajib Haider, Avijit Roy, Faisal Arefin Dipan, Gautam Das, Niloy Neel, and Oyasiqur Rahman Babu, and many, many others serve to remind us of how people have paid the ultimate price for stepping out of certain lines, and daring to write or speak in a way that made others uncomfortable.

The problem goes back to the same thing we keep hammering on about -- impunity, and there can be no denying that this impunity exists because of some kind of influence. This influence can be political, or it can be bought with money.

Either way, if you are powerful enough, you can get away with murder.

What doesn’t help the matter is the extremely backward attitude that prevails in our society at large regarding press freedom and freedom of speech in general. 

The job of the press is to impartially report on all that is happening, while the job of columnists, bloggers, and op-ed writers is to try make sense of it all. It is certainly not the duty of the press to only publish things that will please certain vested quarters.

This freedom comes with a price, which is the mild discomfort we must all endure upon reading things that we do not agree with. Agreeing to disagree does not make us weak, it does not make us pushovers: It is what makes us enlightened and civilized, and it is the very bedrock of a democractic society.

But in Bangladesh, we are not very good at that kind of discourse yet. We tend to think the world should revolve around our opinions, and when someone voices something to the contrary, we want the author’s head on a platter. 

On the one hand, we don’t want the media to lie to us, but when unpopular truths are published, we can’t handle that either. Our double standards are abhorrent, we have no problem engaging in slander, or hurting other people’s sentiments, but when the tables are turned, we call for blood. 

Bangladesh’s track record in treating journalists is shameful, shameful.

If anybody has any doubts, they need only look at images from last year’s road safety movement, when on August 5, at least 23 media professionals were attacked, their equipment destroyed, vehicles vandalized. 

No one was arrested, in spite of ample photographic evidence.

But why? Could it be because the culprits were members of the government’s own student wing? 

Abak Hussain is Editor, Editorial and Op-Ed, Dhaka Tribune.