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Honest Journalism before a Gun Point?

Honest Journalism before a Gun Point?

Muhammad Jahangir

My todays write-up is at the backdrop of the events throughout the country round Mahfuz Anam, Editor, The Daily Star. By now the readers have learned all incidents of Mahfuz Anam drama. Repetitions of those events are of no use here.

Along the prologue of this incident we want to discuss a problem of journalism in Bangladesh. Why a change in government took place on one-eleven, who were responsible for this change, who welcomed this change, who claimed this change as their own achievements, who cooperated that government  all these are political issues. Todays writing centers round the journalism and not politics.

There is no difference of opinion on a matter that the government of one-eleven was army-backed special care-taker government. Although the government had a civil face it was fully run by the orders and desire of the military officials. That is why this government can also be termed as half-military government. On behalf of the half-martial government of one-eleven the army intelligence department (DGFI) at that time sent to mass media a report on the corruption by Sheikh Hasina. In the report it was stated that these information regarding this corruption were leaked out to them by a few Awami League leaders and businessmen in the face of arguments by army intelligence personnel. The video footage and audio tape of this testimony was then supplied to the market. The video of witness of Awami League leaders (some of whom are now Ministers/MPs) can be seen in the You Tube by the enthusiastic viewers.

The Military Intelligence may give the mass media some information, press release or a report; it is not a matter of offence. In this case the intelligence department works as a source of the mass media. But no newspaper or TV publishes or telecasts any information or report supplied by any person. The mass media compare that information by their own reporters. He would meet the person(s) whom are referred to as the provider of the information and would tally the credibility of their context of saying or quotes. He would also collect opinion of few more persons who are connected or contextual with the matters mentioned in the report and then a newspaper or a TV publishes or televises a complete report. This is the proper journalism. An editor or news editor publishes a report this way in the newspaper. But during the rule of one-eleven government no newspaper or TV was in a position to publish or televise the news sent by DGFI following this custom. It is because there was then emergency rule and half martial administration. Usual laws were not applied in running the government. By saying emergency situation and half-martial rule does not itself denote its real character? Those readers and who have not witnessed the emergency condition or martial law rule would not be able to imagine of the actual appearance of it.

During one-eleven government rule, the members of the armed forces lifted many journalists and political leaders from residence or office. Where they were taken away, many a one could not learn. After many days they could know it. Many persons were beaten mercilessly after lifting them. In many forms they were physically assaulted. Many humiliated persons told these things after being freed out. Except the harassed person and the persecutor there is no evidence of these events. The Awami League leaders (former and present ministers, MPs) would be able to state this torture. Many of the BNP leaders were inhumanly tortured at the hands of one- eleven government. They are as yet clamorous against that government.

During one-eleven newspapers and TV authorities were compelled to publish and televise the reports sent by DGFI against Sheikh Hasian, Khaleda Zia, Tareque Rahman, Arafat Rahman and many others. They had no scope for cross checking of these reports. Even in the past during martial law rules never there was any chance for cross checking. This is nothing new. Moreover DGFI did not make any request for publishing or televising the same rather made order. No editor, political leader or businessmen was in a position to disobey the orders of half martial rule.

Mr. Mahafuz Anam told in the TV show, He committed wrong as an editor in publishing at that time those reports concerning Sheikh Hasina in the Daily Star. With humble submission I maintain a different view with Mr. Anam. This was not a matter of right or wrong. He simply did not dare to disobey the order of DGFI or military government. As an editor himself or other editors, it was the failure that time; it was not a fault. The only exception was the editor of New Age newspaper, Nurul Kabir and the owner of this newspaper. The owner and the editor of the newspaper could take bold decision not to publish the news reports. I congratulate them.

During Emergency or Martial Law period if any editor or any person of other occupation does any offence under coercion in the face of barrel of the gun, it should not be termed an unjust deed. He did not want to take life risk. Several Awami League leaders (now Ministers and MPs) made many allegations of corruption against their leader Sheikh Hasina under pressure of compulsion. These were published in almost all newspapers. Has Awami League tried those leaders for this offence after the departure of one-eleven government? Have they been expelled or punished in any way? Awami League did nothing rather all those leaders have been made Ministers and MPs. If that is so, why today Mahfuz Anam is an anti-state element for almost same offence? Why his trial is sought? Indeed, how a many-colored this country is, Selucus!

This is a game of sick politics. The editors should now start thinking what they would do in future when its reports are sent to newspaper or TV by a DGFI or from any other such powerful office. From the owners and Editor Forums holding of talks-discussion in this respect should be started. What might be the consequence of refusing printing or televising should also be thought of. None of the editors are revolutionary or Jehadi. They have not come up for running newspapers with mine fastened in the chest. It should also be discussed how many editors are ready to become martyred for the cause of honest journalism.

I may propose a minor solution. If all the newspapers, and TV channels can remain firm in respect of not publishing or televising this kind of news, in that case no government could be able to do any harm to any editor. But in the present vitiated politics of Bangladesh such a unity is almost impossible. Whatever bad the situation in the country may be, the unity of the mass-media only can keep the strength of mass media alive. No evil power can subdue the united mass media whatever big might be the barrel of the gun. Editors-owners may discuss on the possibility of such a unity even if I know it to be hard.

Let us make a test. Now here in the country there is a kind of democratic government. Free journalism grossly persists in the country. But still, it is found that information is supplied to the newsmen with reference to the statement given about the persons in remand by Intelligence or other Agencies of the government which is one-sided. No newspaper or TV authority has the chance of cross-checking this statement. Now the editors please declare, We would no more publish or televise this sort of exparte report; we want to talk with the person who has given the statement. We would publish or televise the two statements side by side. We wont publish the government statement only because the ethics of journalism does not approve this practice.

The Editors may kindly make one more test. Side by side the government version on the death by crossfire a complete report with own investigation can be published. Till now the readers can go only through the statement on the death of any person by cross-fire. That is not an honest journalism.

In the present democracy by these two tests let us see how far honest journalism we can persue.

* Media and Development Worker.

** Translated into English by The Economy Analyst.