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Editors' Council: Digital Security Act a crisis for journalism

  • Published at 01:47 pm October 13th, 2018
Editors' Council press briefing
The Daily Star editor Mahfuz Anam talks at a press briefing held by the Editors' Council at the National Press Club on October 13, 2018 Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

The platform of newspaper editors will organize a human chain on Monday

The platform of newspaper editors has said that the recently passed Digital Security Act not only creates a crisis for independent journalism and media institutions, but also hampers freedom of speech.

Reiterating their call for amendment to a number of sections of the Act, the Editors' Council has also announced holding a human chain in front of the National Press Club in Dhaka on Monday.

“Only members from the council will attend the human chain at 11am Monday,” The Daily Star Editor Mahfuz Anam told a media call on Saturday afternoon at the Press Club.

He said that Law Minister Anisul Huq had not given the council any update about whether the editors’ concerns would be discussed in the Cabinet meeting scheduled for Monday.

He said the council was also hopeful that the issue would be raised in the next session of parliament and the Act would be amended.

Mahfuz cited the example of India where a similar law was passed, but the country’s Supreme Court later annulled it. "We hope our government will take that example into consideration.”

Also Read- President signs Digital Security Bill into law

Asked whether the Editors’ Council would move to the courts if the government does not amend the Act, he said: "It will be decided later."

Bhorer Kagoj Editor Shyamal Dutta read out a written statement at the press conference, which demanded Sections 8, 21, 25, 28, 29, 31, 32, 43, and 53 of the Digital Security Act be amended appropriately to safeguard the freedom of media and freedom of speech.

The event was attended, among others, by Prothom Alo Editor Matiur Rahman, New Age Editor Nurul Kabir, and the Dhaka Tribune’s Editor, Zafar Sobhan.

After a meeting on Thursday, the council issued a statement where it expressed disappointment that specific promises made by three ministers and the information advisor to the prime minister about taking the editors’ concerns to the Cabinet and opening the process of discussions with all stakeholders to prepare an amended version of the Act “was not honoured,” and considered it to be a breach of trust.

Also Read- PM: Nothing to worry about Digital Security Act

In the statement, the council reiterated that the Act, which passed in parliament last month and was signed into law last week by President Md Abdul Hamid, was against:

The rights to freedom of speech and freedom of press as guaranteed by the constitution’s Article 39 (a) and (b); the values of freedom, free speech and rights enshrined in the spirit of the 1971 Liberation War; the fundamental norms of democracy, free society and fundamental rights guaranteed in the United Nations Charter and other international laws and instruments; and the core values of ethical and independent journalism.

‘Law can be amended if govt is serious’

At Saturday’s press briefing, Mahfuz Anam also said the new law could still be amended if the government took the matter and their demands seriously.

“Amendment to the law is possible in line with the demand,” he said, adding: “During our last meeting with the law minister, he told us that the law can be amended even after getting the president’s assent.” 

Two other ministers, he recalled, were present at that meeting as well.

Also Read- Why the Editors' Council opposes the Digital Security Act

The Daily Star editor, however, said they would continue to proceed with a positive mindset regarding whatever happens centring the law.

Asked why the editors were not joining other journalist organizations in their campaigns with similar demands, he said those platforms had their own part to play in seeking amendment to the law.

Amid concerns from various quarters, parliament passed the Digital Security Bill 2018 on September 19, to deal with cyber crimes, including hurting religious sentiments, negative propaganda against the Liberation War and Bangabandhu, and illegal activities in e-transactions and spreading defamatory data.

But since before its passage and till now, the law has been facing vocal opposition from editors, journalists, and rights campaigners, who say it could quash freedom of speech – especially on social media –and would undermine responsible journalism.

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