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Covid-19: Govt cell monitoring rumours, wrong information

  • Published at 02:37 pm March 26th, 2020

New directive stresses that previous one, saying the cell will monitor rumours on private TV channels, contained wrong information

The government has formed a cell to monitor all media — social, mass and electronic — in order to prevent publication and broadcast of propaganda or rumours about the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Information Ministry had issued a directive in this regard on Tuesday, but it was made public on Thursday.

That directive had mentioned that the 15-member cell would monitor the contents broadcast on 30 privately owned television channels for propagandas and rumours about the pandemic, which has killed over 23,000 people globally so far.

It immediately drew criticism from various quarters and protest from the Broadcast Journalist Center (BJC), an organization of journalists most of whom work at these channels.

The Information Ministry’s surprising, unwarranted and disappointing initiative has come at a time, when the country’s broadcast journalists are risking their lives every day to keep the people informed and aware about the pandemic, said BJC Chairman Rezwanul Haque Raza and Member Secretary Shakil Ahmed in a statement on Thursday.

They also urged the ministry to dissolve the monitoring cell and renounce such negative mentality.

Soon after, the ministry issued another directive, saying the previous one contained wrong information and was void.

The new one added that the cell would monitor whether any rumour or wrong information regarding Covid-19 was being published or broadcast on social and other media, and it would help the authorities concerned to address them.

The previous directive had said that the 15 officials who were deputed to monitor propaganda and rumours included 10 deputy secretaries, four assistant secretaries and one system analyst.

Besides, the Press Information Department (PID) will also monitor the online news portals.

The latest government measure, however, follows several arrests and suspension of a number of people from their posts around the country for reportedly spreading rumours about the coronavirus pandemic over the past few days.

The ministry’s directive also came into light a day after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in a national address warned that authorities will take immediate stern action against anyone for spreading rumours over the coronavirus crisis.

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry on Thursday also apologized to doctors of different government hospitals for an inappropriate order issued on Wednesday. The order was revoked too in the face of protests.

In the circular, the ministry had directed all hospital staff to admit new patients and take necessary steps to provide emergency treatment to each of the patients. The general public were asked to inform the nearest police station or army check-post if any hospital staff refused to admit any patient.

The circular, which warned that the licences or registration of the persons responsible would be revoked if such incidents occurred, had drawn immediate protests from doctors and other hospital staff from across the country, who had demanded resignation of both the health secretary and the director general of health services.

Until now, Bangladesh has recorded a total of 44 Covid-19 cases. However, 11 of them have already returned home after recovering fully, taking the number of active cases to 33.

The country has also seen five deaths so far from the new strain of coronavirus, which originated from China's Wuhan city in late December last year. 

There have been more than 510,700 Covid-19 cases in 198 countries and territories around the world till now, according to worldometer.

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