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Archive for August, 2010

For the last few weeks, we have been in a little bit of conundrums, originating from some propaganda from a certain quarter, that whether our freedom of expression has been challenged by the ruling authority. This has been heightened after the detention of Mr Mahmudur Rahman, the Acting Editor of the Daily Amardesh. Latest news is Mr Rahman has been jailed for six months in a contempt of court case. Many ascertained that the arrest of Mahmudur Rahman and his subsequent conviction is a threatening factor for a free press. Certainly they have their own different perspectives in viewing this event. Also, some rather bashes Mr Rahman as they found him a narrow one-eyed person who merely has any quality to become a journalist let alone an editor. In Bangladesh as everything is politicized and polarised, this division is quite natural.

To me, Mr Mahmudur Rahman, as a columnist, was okay so far the concept of freedom of expression goes. But as an Editor I don’t think his qualification as a journalist made him fit for this post. Because as media is considered as the fourth column of a state, it imposes greater responsibilities on one’s shoulder. Therefore, as a columnist when you prefer writing trash or rubbish it has little significance but as an Editor of a national daily you cannot enjoy that much freedom, because you are bound by some laws, principles and conventions. Following his numerous write ups, I am in a complete doubt whether he poses this journalistic attributes.

 I had the privilege to follow almost every issue of the Daily Amardesh on internet during his editorship which led to have my own observations of his controversial tenure as an editor. To me, it was of utter frustrating when I saw him taking side of militants on a several occasions- when almost every other newspaper reported any arrest of suspected militants, his one tried to cast a doubt on it by creating confusion that the innocents were being harassed because they were from madrashas or other religious schools. He has also deliberately taken side of the killers of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as when the hearing of the review petition was going on at the Appellate Division which was later dismissed and the killers were hanged, he very purportedly published news and reports alleging Bangabandhu for delivering misrule and thus tried to justify the killing of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Some argue that there is no bar publishing reports on Mujib era. Very true. But one should not also be so blind of the sensitivity of such a compassionate time. Even hardcore rightist newspapers didn’t chose to dig the so-called misrule of Bangabandhu when the nation was waiting for the punishment of the killers. But the great editor (!) entertained the killers successfully by trying to portray them as heroes or salvagers. Besides, by supporting hardcore fundamentalists and militants, and by trying to inflict division within society based on religious belief, he proved himself a risky person for the society. Alongside, during all these days of questionable editorship, his attempt to spread absurd xenophobia (with his trade-mark India-phobia) among certain quarters was continued.

Another dubious news was the banner headline of the corruption allegation against the Prime Minister’s son and the Energy Advisor without reliable sources which went totally against the spirit of independent news media (you cannot simply put your banner headline implicating the Prime Minister of the state based on unknown (inexistent) sources). That was something outrageous. Even in the first world, you cannot do this rubbish. I am not saying that PM or her son cannot resort to corruption. If you have reliable information (even with a slightest degree), I would say you may go with it. But publishing news with such magnanimity without having any sort of reliable sources (Mr Mahmud only managed to refer to an anonymous letter filed by an unknown Siddique, who later proved to be inexistent!) which can be verified independently- shouldn’t have a free pass at all. Regarding the contempt of court, based on which he has been jailed, same goes here. He was alleged for generalising everything from a narrow angle and perspective. If we look into those controversial headlines: “Chembar Judge manei sarkar pokkhe stay” and “Shadhin bichar bivager name tamasha”, we will understand this syndrome. Read carefully both the headlines again. First one renders that whatever cases put before the ChamberJudge, it means stay (on the part of the govt.). It was totally stupid. Even if you sample the Chamber Judge’s decision during the last one year I am not sure whether the ratio would even cross 50% or less. Another headline was self-explanatory which he published from his much politicized point of view and with also a too generalized way. If an editor lacks such a little common sense, how can he be allowed to carry on the editorship of a national daily? There are many such examples can be presented before the reader to show how he misused his noble duty. Now is the question, how much space one should allow to an Editor? What is the bottom line for an Editor? How far an Editor can go and to what extent?

I think we all have to understand that freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom of nonsense. Your freedom ends where my freedom begins. This is the simple math for freedom of expression. We appreciate journalists’ efforts to bring in the transparency and accountability within the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary and dig into and question about their misuse of power, corruption, and misrule. But, in Bangladesh, sometimes it goes beyond our imagination that to what extent many journalists themselves resort to corruption and how rampantly they misuse their noble power by exploiting their identity to garner their personal benefits. For a research purpose, we had a chance to visit most of the countryside of Bangladesh and talk to local civil society people. Astonishingly, we had a view, from our random sampling (off course one may question the method), that most of the local journalists were not paid (or ill-paid) from their appointing authorities which forced them to resort to corrupt practices and thus they also became associates of criminals and goons. When we talked to them regarding their remuneration, they simply asserted that their authorities advised (!) them to utilize their ID Cards (that was all what those authorities gave to them) (you know what it means). Only a few (very few) pay their correspondences regularly and adequately. Mentioning this unfortunate scenario is not for belittling the status of journalists or the news media, but to let the readers know that journalists are not considered as saints or event good fellows to follow at the local level. Ironically, this rotting symptom has started sweeping at the national level too. Some, at this level, are finding more interests in maintaining good terms with corrupt corporate bosses, political thugs, militants, and foreign patrons and chose to entertain them all for personal benefits, sometimes for name and fame.

One cannot support arresting or harassing a person for expressing his opinion. But a person should also not be allowed to do/speak whatever he chose, wants to- which in turns infringe others’ rights as well. If he does so, he cannot escape liability for spreading hatred among common people (sometimes by telling lies) and creating danger for the greater masses by inflicting divisions based on beliefs. To protect the society, law has its inbuilt ‘incapacitation’ measure in its armory which acts as a ‘deterrence’ against the evils acts (including intentions and thoughts) of any criminal person. We have every reason to believe that Mr Mahmudur Rahman has been accused for many of these allegations.

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