The government has halted the broadcast of private satellite television channels Diganta TV and Islamic TV alleging that they have played an “irresponsible” role in reporting stories on Hefazat-e-Islam’s Dhaka siege programme.
Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) stopped the transmission of Diganta TV at around 4:20am Friday and Islamic TV, another private channel, a few hours later.
Sources said Lieutenant Colonel Mohammad Sajjad Hossain, director of BTRC’s Spectrum Management Division, conducted a drive at Diganta’s office and shut down its broadcast.
On the issue, Sunil Kanti Bose, chairman of BTRC, told the Dhaka Tribune: “The transmission of the two private satellite television channels was suspended as per the government directive.”
“Information Minister Hasanul Haque Inu first gave a verbal order and later we received an official letter from the information ministry to suspend the transmission of the two television channels,” Sunil added.
The BTRC chairman, before suspending the transmission, confirmed with the home minister regarding the issue.
He said: “The home minister told me that the government can suspend the transmission of any television anytime under section 53 of Telecommunication Act 2001.”
However, Sunil refuted the allegations of damage to the television stations during the commission’s drive and said: “The allegations brought are false. The BTRC officials suspended the broadcast of the channels by just pulling the cables out.”
While talking to journalists, information minister Hasanul Haque Inu Inu said: “The government has suspended broadcasting of two private television channels, Diganto Television and Islamic Television due to their irresponsible transmission regarding the Hefazat’s programme violating the conditions of the license.”
“An internal investigation is running to prove the allegation against them. We will take final action after getting the reports of the investigation,” he added.
At least 22 people including three members of law enforcement agencies were killed and many others injured in fierce clashes between the lawmen and the Islamist Group Hefazat-e-Islam.
The clashes broke out at different places of the capital since Sunday afternoon and continued till early Monday.
At 2:30am on Monday, about 5,000 law enforcers including police, Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) and Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) conducted a joint drive to oust thousands of Hefazat activists from Shapla Chattar intersection in city’s commercial district Motijheel.
The protesters, however, left the intersection within 15 minutes from the beginning of the drive.
Hundreds of Hefazat activists were also seen leaving Motijheel peacefully in the presence of law enforcers while many fled from the spot minutes after the clash broke out.
Law enforcers at that time informed the media hat some seven people were killed during the clash till 3:30am.
But, Diganta TV was showing that some 24 people had been killed and hundreds of Hefazat activists sustained bullet-injuries during the operation. Many protesters were dragged away into police vehicles in critical condition after police “cleared” the area within an hour of the operation, the channel reported.
The channel also broadcast live much of Hefazat’s programme.
Later, BTRC said that the satellite channel had "exaggerated things, given misinformation and called for breaking the law and attacking the law enforcers".
However, denying these allegations, Diganta TV news producer HM Dulal told Dhaka tribune: “You know that our tag line is --news as it is. So, we always try to broadcast true and accurate information. We do not want people to be misled by watching our news.”
He said: “The government should issue a prior notice to the channel authority asking it to stop transmitting such stories that could mislead people. But, it did not give us any prior notice,” he added.
Claiming that Diganta TV authority always try to follow the rules and regulations set by the government, he said: “We could correct our mistakes (if there was any), if the government gives us a prior hint.” But he added that the casualty figures reported by Diganta later turned out to be correct.
Diganta Television is a concern of Diganta Media Corporation, owned by Jamaat-e-Islami leader Mir Qasem Ali, currently facing war crimes trials at the International Crimes Tribunal.
Last month, the government attracted criticism from rights advocates when it shut down a pro-opposition newspaper, the daily Amad Desh and arrested its editor, Mahmudur Rahman.
Critics accused the government of using the Islamist issue to muzzle opposition voices.
A faction of Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists (BFUJ) has protested the government’s decision to shut down the two private channels.
President of the BFUJ faction Ruhul Amin Gazi, General Secretary Shawkat Mahmud, and General Secretary of Dhaka Reporters Unity (DRU) Ilias Khan addressed the meeting at the National Press Club Monday noon.