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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

Where is the freedom of the press?

As a cornerstone of democracy, press freedom must be defended and safeguarded despite challenges and threats

Update : 20 Oct 2023, 12:05 PM

In the modern world, press freedom is a hotly contested issue. In discussions on civil liberties, politics, and aid programming, it is receiving a lot of attention. An index of press freedom may be employed occasionally as a lobbying tool to promote international trade, aid, and business in developing nations.

The core concept behind freedom of the press or freedom of the media is centred on the notion that expression and communication through an array of media, particularly published materials on printed and electronic media, should be regarded as a right to be exercised without constraint. 

Such liberty implies an absence of interference from an overarching state; its preservation can be pursued through the constitution or other legal safeguards. It stands in opposition to paid media, where municipalities, police departments, and governments receive compensation for the utilization of their copyrights.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights from 1948 declares that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference, and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers.

After gaining independence in 1971, Bangladesh's media landscape has evolved in step with global trends and technological advancements, as have the methods used to suppress and stifle the press. 

Successive governments have effectively neutralized the domestic media, using strict legislation, threats of violence and intimidation, and leverage gained through capitalist ownership structures to turn it into a tool for propaganda. Over time, the state has effectively eliminated press freedom, leaving few channels for honest reporting, dissent, and resistance. This situation appears to be irreversible.

However, only in the ways permitted by law can the media engage in democratic activities. Law is essential to their very survival. Even in a favourable political and economic environment, the media cannot operate freely if they are constrained by the law. 

In order for a democracy to function today, it is necessary for the media to be watchful and unflinching, equipped with investigative skills, obligated to inform, and structurally organized to be representative. However, legislative barriers that are thrown in the way of the media now limit their ability to play legitimate roles in democracy.

Every day, journalists confront numerous dangers, including kidnapping, torture, and arbitrary incarceration, as well as defamation campaigns and harassment, particularly on social media. 

The greatest risk is for women

Especially at risk are female journalists. Female journalists and media professionals have experienced harassment, threats, and violence in Bangladesh, as well as many other nations.

According to Unesco, 73% of the women journalists polled stated they had experienced online threats, intimidation, and insults related to their jobs. Women journalists frequently have real-world repercussions, including harm to their mental and physical health, as a result of investigations into and responses to internet attacks. In certain instances, internet threats can turn violent, even murderous.

The Bangladeshi constitution's Article 39 states that (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of conscience. (2) Every citizen has the right to freedom of speech and expression, as well as press freedom, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interests of the [s]tate's security, friendly relations with other countries, public order, decency, or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation, or incitement to commit a crime.

The Press Council Act of Bangladesh was passed by the parliament in 1974 with the goals of upholding press freedom and conserving and raising the calibre of newspapers and news organizations in Bangladesh.

Press freedom therefore must be a fundamental principle of every democratic society. It promotes openness, permits the free flow of ideas and information, and serves as a check on governmental power. One of the most important aspects of maintaining press freedom is upholding the rights of all citizens to access a variety of reliable sources of information. 

However, upholding journalistic freedom comes with responsibilities, such as abiding by ethical journalism guidelines and recognizing concerns about national security and privacy. It is essential to establish a balance between freedom and accountability in order to ensure that the press can properly fulfil its critical function in society.

As a cornerstone of democracy, press freedom must be defended and safeguarded despite challenges and threats. This comprises laws and regulations that protect journalists' rights and promote accountability in governmental operations.

Also, the government, civil society, and media organizations in Bangladesh must cooperate to guarantee the security of women working in the media. In order to do this, rules and regulations that safeguard women's freedoms and rights must be implemented and upheld, and issues of discrimination and gender-based violence must also be addressed.

Maisha Fahmida is a freelance contributor.

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