On April 27 2010, half-way through the evening news Dhaka’s Channel 1 was shut down – pulled off the air with the authorities citing “irregularities” over ownership of broadcasting equipment as the justification.
Just over one month later on June 2nd the opposition newspaper Amar Desh was closed and the Editor jailed along with journalists who attempted to intercede. Apparently it took 200 policemen to subdue a bunch of journalists. Really.
While freedom of speech and expression (and therefore of the press) are enshrined in the constitution of Bangladesh. Governments on both sides have a history of heavy-handed dealing with media – in 2002 the BNP government shut down ETV, the last caretaker government shut down CSB television in 2007 and the present government shut down Jamnuna TV in 2009 before even fully on the air.
The arrest of dodgy businessmen is generally not something to object to but vague charges of “irregularities”- particularly when applied to media critical of a Government may well be something to worry about. Although restrictions on the media are now less than under the caretaker government journalists and the media are not free from intimidation, attacks, even murder. Since January 2009 media watchdogs have recorded dozens of incidents of violence against news personnel although more typical tactics would be the use “warning off” calls , the removal of government ads from a media channel or the use of technicalities to obtain the means to shut down a media outlet. Not unlike the sort of thing we are seeing now.
Concerned have been voiced in Bangladesh by the leaders of Awami League-led Grand Alliance, the Workers Party and the Jaitya Party, declaring this as an ominous sign for the whole industry and that there are other solutions to problems that closing down a paper.
These events have also drawn international interest and concern from organisations around the world such as the Paris based Reporters Without Borders, the International Press Institute (Austria), the Committee to Protect Journalists (New York) and has been widely reported in global media such as the BBC, The Guardian, The Hindu, and AFP.
No government likes to be criticised – whether correctly or smeared by it’s opponents – but when a government strikes back in kind, backed up by squadrons of police – armed police: even the dodgiest of journo’s will get sympathy. Using legal means (or worse) to crushing one’s critics in the media is almost always counter-productive.
Corruption and abuse of power whether by the Media or Government is something that cannot be overlooked or condoned and in the internet-age it can never be kept secret.