‘Journalists face multiple types of pressure’
The prime minister’s information adviser, Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury, told the Boithoki that journalism is the most risky of all professions.
“We, the professional journalists, cannot deny the fact that we have to face multiple pressure including from the government, political parties and communal forces,” he said.
“One can protest against the pressure which can be seen from outside, but how will one protest against the pressure which cannot be seen?
The veteran journalist noted a generational shift in the determination of journalists.
“Once the journalists were ill paid but they were very bold, (whereas) now they are paid well but they are not bold enough,” he said.
“We cannot remain always neutral. We have to take one side. If there is a major attack on the country should not I take a side?
“Democracy and journalism go hand in hand. If there is democracy there is individual freedom; if there is individual freedom there is freedom of media.”
‘Owners should not put pressure on journalists for their own interest’
The Daily Samakal’s executive editor, Mustafiz Shafi, said the media can overcome the pressures it faces by standing together in solidarity.
“There are many examples of the media facing pressure of religious sentiment (and) there are also political and corporate pressures, but our media is not strong enough to stand against these pressures,” he said.
“Many laws have been made against journalists. If we were united the laws could not be formulated.”
Mustafiz said the media owners are also applying a kind of pressure. “They might be politicians or businessmen but they should not create pressure on us for their own interest,” he said.
“As a media person I think we should have a sense of accountability. If I cannot perform my duty properly I have to face questions, but the questions should be specific. The law should be specific. I will have to be informed specifically about what I can do and what I cannot do.”
‘Media in Bangladesh is enjoying much more freedom than the past’
The country’s media is currently enjoying much more freedom than at any other time, according to the ruling Awami League’s central working committee member, ABM Riazul Kabir Kawser.
“Once there was only the state-owned channel BTV, but now many private channels and about 150 community radios are operating,” he said. “There is huge opportunity of work in these channels. Media is now enjoying more freedom than the past. Journalism has also flourished as well.”
Riazul also highlighted how journalist leaders were consulted by the government over the draft Digital Security Act. “The law has not been finalized yet (and) many changes might be made before finalizing it,’ he said.
‘Pressure is created on journalists’
Barrister Rumin Farhana blamed the authorities for stopping the free thinking of journalists by detaining them and closing down their platforms.
She said: “We have seen many media houses were shut: the daily Amar Desh, Diganta TV, Islamic TV and many other newspapers and TV channels. Why did it happen? There was definitely a pressure.
“Many noted journalists are facing harassment over cases. If these famous journalists are harassed, then the junior journalists will have to face more cases. This is how pressure is created on journalists; it is not only legal pressure.”
Farhana said that although journalists have presented a united front against section 57 of the Information and Technology Act, there exist similar provisions in the draft Digital Security Act.
The Bangla Tribune’s head of news, Harun-ur Rashid, said the mass media sensors itself due to pressure from the owners.
“I think this pressure is more painful than the other pressures,” he said. “In order to protect business, the owner does not want to publish anything that is conflicting with the government or the state. The media also cannot write against the advertisers.
Harun said the journalists themselves are also divided. “They work for a particular political party. When journalists become political they want to get some benefits from the party and that is why they do not write against the party.
“It is clear that people are losing trust in the news media. Instead of blaming people for criticizing us, we need to find why they have lost the trust.”
“The pressure on the news media will increase further in the future. But journalists will have to move forward with honesty and professionalism.”
‘Media does not face pressure of religious sentiment’
The Bangladesh Khelafat Majlish joint secretary general, Md Muntasir Ali, reminded the Boithoki of the contributions made by journalists to the values held in society.
“Our media has not fallen under the pressure of religious sentiment,” he said. “There might be some discrete incidents, but overall the media does not face the pressure of religious sentiment. I think media plays a vital role in promoting culture and awakening patriotism by upholding our social values.”
Muntasir lamented the unchecked growth of social media, saying it is “out of control”.
“Social media is responsible for many sporadic incidents (and) if the authorities do not control it right now, the mass media will ultimately face the liability,” he said.
‘Laws are made to silence journalists’
Shahnaz Munni, the chief news editor of the private TV channel News24, said journalists should be allowed free journalistic practice in the interests of the wellbeing of the people.
She said: “Laws have been made in an attempt to stop this practice and silence journalists; they are saying the law will not be applied to journalists. But I think the law will impede investigative journalism.
“People have lost faith in journalists. We should bring back the faith. We have to practice self-criticism. We have to practice objective journalism. Journalists also have a place of accountability in this regard.”