A round table discussion organized by civic group SHUJAN-Citizens for Good Governance on 21 August 2014 rejected the National Broadcast Policy approved by the cabinet on 4 August 2014 describing it as the government’s first step to form an authoritarian state. Political analysts and civil society members warned that the National Broadcast Policy could ultimately lead to autocracy and violence in the country. “It is part of the government’s political blueprint to suppress the people’s voice and cling to power for a longer period of time,” they reported, urging an immediate review of the policy in the interest of democracy, good governance, and human rights.
Participants at the round table discussion held at the Jatiya Press Club on Thursday observed that the policy would not help develop strong media in the country. Rather, they said, it would empower the government to impose restrictions on broadcasters, which focus on the anomalies of government and suggest corrective notions.
They urged the citizens to stop the government from implementing such a draconian policy or law. They said that the broadcast policy would also give indemnity to both military and civil bureaucrats of their wrong doings.
SHUJAN Secretary, Dr. Badiul Alam Majumdar, declared that the coverage of the 5 January one-sided vote and law enforcers’ involvement in the seven murders in Narayanganj had created the pretext for passing the broadcast policy. Muhammad Jahangir, a national committee member of SHUJAN, presented the keynote paper at the meeting chaired by former adviser to the caretaker government and president of the civic group, M. Hafizuddin Khan.
In his keynote address, Jahangir argued that the National Broadcast Policy is a political blueprint for the ruling party to form an authoritarian state, as was done with the Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League in 1975.
“If the policy is implemented, there will be no freedom of speech, while supporters and sycophants of the ruling party would dominate politics,” reads the paper. Jahangir suggested not considering the policy as a baseline while framing the broadcasting law, as many sections of the policy are faulty and incomplete. He suggested review of the policy considering the many criticisms it created among the citizens.
He also suggested formation of a media council, merged with the Bangladesh Press Council, to bring all print and electronic media under the same umbrella.
“If we allow the policy, bureaucracy will be able to evade accountability. If torture by police or RAB is not published in newspapers, can you think what will happen?” asked Dr. Dilara Chowdhury, former Professor of the Department of Government and Politics at Jahangirnagar University.
She alluded to a provision which imposes restriction on broadcasts “demeaning” the armed forces, law enforcement agencies, and government officials. “Police in general have a negative attitude towards the women, raped, or tortured. Where will these victims go, if the media does not publicize such negligence by the police?”
Dr. Chowdhury noted that amid the absence of an active opposition in parliament, there were but a few civil society groups and media outlets critical of the government’s wrongdoings. “But, without a free media, civil society cannot talk,” she noted.
“The loss of press freedom means suppression and repression. Its result is nothing but violence,” said Dilara, also a trustee of BRAC University.
Prof. Abu Sayeed, former information minister from the Awami League announced, “The policy and the way power is being used in Bangladesh suggest that the country is heading towards authoritarianism…Businessmen and politicians have gripped the state today, and media must publicize their irregularities. Sixty to seventy percent of MP’s are businessmen now,” he said.
Columnist Syed Abul Maksud said that the policy would gradually strengthen the government’s grip on media.
“Media and democracy will be threatened if it is enforced,” said SHUJAN President M. Hafizuddin Khan.
Dr. Golam Rahman, a Journalism Professor at Dhaka University, and Nayeemul Islam Khan, Editor of the Amader Orthonity, also spoke on the matter.