Dhaka Courier

AL can ignore media criticism at all levels

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Gowher Rizvi, international affairs adviser to the PM of Bangladesh, discusses the state of the country’s democracy in an interview with Al-Jazeera

The public media mauling by Al-Jazeera of PM’s adviser Gowher Rizvi and the Bangladesh envoy to the United Kingdom shows the weakness of many positions of the Government. Some of the noted ones are a. an election that hints at a one-party state, b. loss of human rights, and c. arrest of dissidents, d. weak democratic structure and several other issues.

The encounter looked poorly for Dr. Rizvi and the Government of Sheikh Hasina, not to mention the regime which has completed a decade. It also shows that some people are good at certain things and not good at some. This is particularly true when it comes to media and obviously the Bangladesh party was unprepared in more ways than one to respond to Al-Jazeera.

But given by the reaction of the AL Government, It seems the entire episode really didn’t matter much to it. The impact of the show in Bangladesh is making anti-AL happy and the pro-AL miffed. But this is the English understanding audience, a very narrow band of people. A more media savvy person could have done the job better in defending the regime but that’s another matter. The point is there are many issues that are floating in Bangladesh that keeps people busy. How Bangladesh looks in international media is not one of them.

Decline of international media impact

International media is itself very different now compared to the cold war days when it had clout as it was the sole ‘good media’ and the Soviets had no media at all. The result was the capacity of media as an agent of ‘transition’. BBC, CNN, etc. mattered in those days but they no longer do. Media in fact doesn’t matter much anywhere particularly paid/professional media. The replacement is social media and they have already said what Al-Jazeera tried to extract from the Bangladeshi duo. As long as it lasted, Bangladesh/Hasina/AL looked negative but once the show was over, the show was largely forgotten.

Social media did pick it up and it circulates on various posts and online media but the lack of impact on public opinion and politics is obvious. It has not resulted in any embarrassment private or public and nor any activism, local or international. Some were depending on such encounters to have political impact but they were overestimating the power of Western or West proximate media.

It means that the world as it once existed where a major Western media story would shake corridors of vernacular power is over. That is why even after what was hoped would be an ‘expose’ is now gone off the shelf. And this reality is known to Dhaka’s power cluster who were criticized.

AL Government’s media policy

The questions raised in the Al-Jazeera are regularly raised in Bangladesh media. It’s true that censorship and self-censorship operates at various degrees and levels but these points are put forward by many media and political persons on the TV Talk shows and several media outlets. BNP activists have more or less said everything that was meant to be said by them. And social media, the media that matters have said it all.

The difference is that the Oxford encounter was on an international platform and those participating were senior government officials. In Bangladesh it’s local variety goods.

Internationally, internal policies are being overlooked in every space if the government is in line with their international policy. Increasingly Western world is under pressure as they face global jihadism, its main enemy and the only problem that matters to them.

In this case, Bangladesh is way ahead of most and the US Government Counter-terrorism forces are very happy at the way Bangladesh has handled it. BD has effectively broken the back of the Jihadi presence which was never big though. Bangladesh has gained significant support for many of its anti-insurgency operational machinery which is used for political management as well.

Bangladesh knows this well and is therefore not concerned about criticism in international media.  And it has managed to pacify local opposition as well. In the last decade or so, it has learnt the art of ignoring media, a kind of ‘benign neglect’ of criticism of those who don’t matter. Paid/mainstream media   has no tooth and no matter how rough their comments or reports, they can be safely ignored as they are always done. The result is a local media without impact.

Ignore media but recognize social media

The strategy to mobilize international public opinion has limited impact as well. Even Shahidul Alam, our most globally known prisoner, has many supporters all over but international protests had less impact compared to the scale of international protest as far as his release through bail went.

The Government of Bangladesh has three main strategies in dealing with media criticism. a. Ignore national media criticism. b. Ignore international media. c. Focus on social media which has direct impact.

These are the reasons why it has ignored the Al-Jazeera episode knowing its limited impact will not affect its policies and gains. It is however far more sensitive about political criticism from within but seeing that its objective of reducing the political space has the approval of the ruling class as a whole, barring something dramatic , the chances of a scenario change of this policy is remote.

  • AL can ignore media criticism at all levels
  • Issue 36
  • Afsan Chowdhury
  • Vol 35
  • DhakaCourier

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