• Thursday, Oct 21, 2021
  • Last Update : 04:41 pm

OP-ED: In the public interest

  • Published at 01:05 am May 22nd, 2021
Rozina police
Photo: MAHMUD HOSSAIN OPU

The Rozina Islam episode reveals the sorry state of the media


I looked at the photo for quite some time. It was taken while journalist Rozina Islam was being escorted to the court of law surrounded by uncountable uniform-clad police officials. Interesting. To me, it looked like a “gotcha” photo that the officials wanted to display all across.

The photojournalists and the news editors fell in the trap and they published the photo. They didn’t understand the underlying message that the authorities wanted to disseminate. A hapless reporter in an ocean of law enforcers. 

Reminded me of the deshi law enforcers of the colonial time who used to chase anti-British rebels. The photo may have evoked emotions among the audience, but it didn’t serve the purpose of upholding journalism.

Dear readers, I am not trying to point fingers at anyone. Rather, I am trying to think deeper into the realities that we are experiencing today and put forth a commoner’s perspective.

Was the presence of so many police officers necessary to escort a single accused to court? Or did we want to evoke fear among the minds of the journalists? Well, it may not matter. An enforcer is always an enforcer. Force is always required. We have to be enforced. Controlled. Contained. Subjugated. It may be a job well done to prove that the authorities are alert against any form of crime. We understand.

By now, there were many such photos of Rozina Islam. They all ended up as the symbols of subjugation in our minds. The people’s minds. The photos looked like a news reporter has suddenly become an enemy of the state. We have accused her of stealing official secrets. However, the question is: What would be so secretive on the part of the ministry officials that we cannot reveal in front of the people? Certainly, our ministries aren’t involved in any kind of international espionage? Or are they?

The Rozina episode has increased our curiosity. We the people usually don’t want to know what kind of (and how many times) misappropriations take place in the corridors of bureaucracy. We know our bureaucrats are not 100% perfect while serving us; they have their follies, but we are OK with it.

However, when the news media reveals any kind of action that may go against the public interest, we become both sad and happy. We talk about the news items, get emotional, accept those actions as our destiny, and our life goes on.

This too will pass. We will certainly forget about the episode and become busy with our daily chores. However, this episode has struck a blow in our psyche. We don’t expect the news media, a pillar of democracy, to be treated like this.

It’s also not acceptable to us to see so many unwise divisions among the journalists. Over the decades in independent Bangladesh, we have also watched the journalists engage themselves in political activism. It’s OK to have a certain political view, but participating in politics as activists doesn’t go with the profession. 

The holiness of the profession is then tarnished. If any journalist wants to be a politician, s/he should, with no question asked, quit journalism. The journalists should prevent themselves from hankering after utilizing political privileges in their own lives.

In the case of the Rozina episode, we have seen many protests, condemnations, and concerns across the country as well as across the globe. We have watched journalists staging human chains and demanding the release of Rozina. However, a set of specific demands is absent.

This is important, because the safety of a media person is important. We have many protection laws in place. But there’s no law to protect a journalist who, we believe, works in public interest and good.

It’s now clear to us that Rozina had angered a section of the administrative elite and it looks like they are hellbent on teaching the media a lesson. We heard someone saying that justice would be done to Rozina. Well, the word “justice” is very tricky. There were many times in the past this word was uttered by responsible persons. Sadly, whenever we heard this word being uttered, newer complications were created. Therefore, the word doesn’t bear much meaning to us.

Having said that, I must point out two other aspects that have happened. The reporters had boycotted the press briefing of the ministry. I believe that was not a very prudent idea. They might have done that out of emotion and wanted to display their dissatisfaction, but they lost a unique opportunity to ask questions which may have solved many unanswered questions.

Then on the following day, some front-ranking newspapers published an advertisement paid by the ministry. The question to them is: Why did they publish the advertisement when their reporters had boycotted the briefing? The ministry surely must have wanted to shape the public mind with that piece of advertisement. And that would now be used against Rozina in the court of law. The editorial board of those newspapers should have thought several times before publishing the advertisement.

Now that the affairs have gotten more complex, the media persons may think of focusing on what they do in terms of working for people’s interest and welfare. The un-commoners may not believe, but we the commoners believe that the media exists in the interest of the people. 

We have seen this aspect many times in the country’s history -- the media had always put forth people’s interest first. And we have our faith in the media.

On the other hand, the bureaucrats need to realize that the journalists shape people’s perception. If this episode is mishandled, it will be written in history as another chapter that has gone against the interest of the people. 

Ekram Kabir is a yogi, a story-teller, and a communications professional. His other works can be found on ekramkabir.com.

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