• Monday, Dec 06, 2021
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OP-ED: What role should our journalists play in times of crisis?

  • Published at 03:09 am October 17th, 2021
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Journalists need to go back to the basics of journalistic norms BIGSTOCK

The inaction of the media will only worsen the situation

BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir visited Durga Puja pavilions in Dhaka’s Dhakeshwari national temple and Banani playground, and vowed to stand by the Hindu community in the future as they had in the past. Seeking media coverage, he made the courtesy visits flanked by dozens of party leaders and activists on Thursday, a day after the communal attacks in Comilla, which he labelled as a ploy by the government to destroy communal harmony and stability. 

Without facing any trouble during the visit and while making the statements, the former state minister went on to say that the current government had been trying to divert the attention of the people and the media from the main crisis of the country -- democracy and freedom of expression. 

The Comilla incident coincides with the campaigns of the BNP (and the All-party Anti-Awami Alliance) to drum up public support for an all-out movement to oust the government before the next polls slated for end-2023. Eyeing more support during the election, Mirza Fakhrul conveyed the greetings of the party chief during the visit.

This is how most of Bangladesh’s news outlets falsely present the politicians to the readers: They do journalism like PR firms, and allow the politicians to make false claims. The news editors fail to authenticate the claims and add backgrounds to justify and/or nullify the statements as per basic journalistic norms. Some outlets do it intentionally to gain something, while others do it due to inefficiency. 

For example, 20 years ago, leaders and activists of the BNP and its allies -- Jamaat-e-Islami, Islami Oikyo Jote (Hefazat), and Bangladesh Jatiya Party (BJP) -- perpetrated around 18,000 incidents of killings, rape and gang-rape, loot, and arson attacks on political rival Awami League and religious rival Hindu minorities sensing victory in the 2001 national elections. They did not try the perpetrators, though they were in power till 2006. 

The same people have been involved in hundreds of similar attacks on the Hindus and other minority communities after the Awami League came to power in 2009 and re-instated secularism in the constitution in 2011. The Hindus of Bangladesh had never been in close contact with the BNP and their supporters due to bitter experience during the Liberation War and the tenure of the military dictator General Ziaur Rahman, who founded the BNP with the people from all parties who denounced secularism, hated the Awami League and India, and loved Pakistan, thus driving many Hindus out of the country. 

Bangladeshi journalists have also been silent over the impunity awarded to the BNP-Jamaat-Hefazat-BJP men for the last seven years, when the incumbent government published the judicial probe report on the post-poll incidents of 2001. They did not write a single sentence on the matter while publishing the statements of the senior BNP leader on the occasion of Durga Puja. Why? 

To make opportunist Zia a hero, the BNP men try to scandalize the Father of the Nation Sheikh Mujibur Rahman making false and half-true statements -- obviously via the media, and they have been successful in spreading and establishing many such lies in the minds of the ordinary people with “gold fish memory.”

For example, in the Independence Day message to the nation this year, BNP leader Mirza Fakhrul took the chance to claim that Zia had declared independence on March 26, 1971. However, the truth is that Zia, then a major, had “read out" the message of the supreme leader of the struggle for independence, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, from Kalurghat Radio Station in Chittagong as the ninth individual on March 27.

The journalists of Bangladesh published this statement widely, without editing, and they refrained from telling the readers the facts neglecting the journalistic norms. Why? 

The journalists, considered as a part of the civil society, often promote campaign materials provided by the NGOs and social organizations of the same quorum. Apart from the PRs needed to be published for appeasing the donors, the organizations issue statements on human rights, good governance, corruption and irregularities, violence against women and minorities, etc. These statements too are published almost without any basic editing and counter statement, and no related backgrounds added to complete the reports as per basic journalistic norms. 

The funny part is that most of the well-known civil society organizations do not practice democracy or transparency within the organizations, and decry the absence of freedom of expression making public statements without facing any hindrance. Why?

Such abuse of freedom of expression and democracy by the journalists of newspapers and TV channels should stop immediately to create a fair atmosphere for politics and activism, and to stop intellectual corruption. 

Bangladeshi journalists need to be serious about it due to the global support they have been getting for some years because of the hullabaloo regarding “intimidation and squeezing space.” Better late than never: Maybe soon you will find no place to bury your head in the sand.

Probir Kumar Sarker is Senior Assistant News Editor, Dhaka Tribune.

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