Dhaka Courier

Limited freedom, limited journalism

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Few media practitioners, be they be, Editors or workers are happy with the state of media in Bangladesh. Current unhappiness is about political freedom and space.  Media is also split between those who are actively pro-current Government and those against it. Some of them have such a long record of being activists in one form of other of one party or the other that it’s useless to discuss who is close and who are distant from which one.

But the fact is one set thinks that the situation is “terrible’ and the other thinks its “terrific” is also a sign post of the issue. Perhaps the problem is not about media even. It’s not even about freedom as much as it’s about the right to be partisan. What ails media afflicts much of Bangladesh’s activist society, bred more by loyalty than logic.

Media components

There are three players in the media world: The owners, the Editors and the workers. However, these are overlapping categories meaning, some wear all three shoes and some wear two and some only one. Interestingly a few wear none at all. But each represent a section which becomes the pot in which all the stakes are kept. The media is not one monolithic world. It’s made up of many realities and what means censorship or freedom is not universal. A commitment to freedom of media as a matter of principle probably doesn’t exist.

The owners are the one who comes closest to being the principal stakeholder as he is the one who invests money. He makes most of this money from government connections so he is careful not to upset them. His media investment is not about promoting business and protecting other investments not distributing information or facilitating transparency.  Media houses, whether TV, online or print belong to such motivations so to expect any other, other than self-serving behavior would be unfair. So the first stakeholder’s objective should not be confused with any missionary zeal.

The second line would be the Editors many of whom are also owners and many are workers as well. Essentially, he is the public face of the media world. In the AV media, he is the called the CEO generally. But while filling two shoes, he has to wear a third which is to negotiate between the Government and the political world. Going by record few wear these shoes unless they are already with their feet inside the leather.

A good example is the behavior of media /Editors during the 2006-08 period when many of them did line up behind the Moeen-Fakhru government. While two of the our leading Editors are always charged with handholding many had actually joined the alliance brigade.  This is only natural as that’s how many Editors behave. It doesn’t make them small or big but just shows who they are.

Three types of media workers

As for the workers, we again have three categories of them. One, direct loyalist activists who are openly pro-government or opposition and the difference between a politician and a media worker can barely be understood. To them media freedom means the freedom to support their political loyalty. They are unabashed loyalists and make no excuses for their actions. The second group are not only more active in trade union activities but some are full time activists who also do some media work.  A few see themselves as activists for whom media is just another political space.

There is of course the rest that is media workers who have political ideas or beliefs but who are basically professionals and for them, the profile is less important as they keep the machine churning for their salary.

The point is that once media workers of whoever kind decided that playing a political role for one reason or other was important than any professional code, the issue itself became a negotiating point rather than a matter of determining how a media worker should behave.

Many of the media workers who are now complaining have reputation issues in the marker as they have many dubious connections and continue to keep them for personal benefit. A few haven’t paid their staff for long as media itself reports and many  have made deals with whichever powers that be suits them.  To speak of freedom suits few not all of them and that is the problem.

The professional code of ethics

The issue is one of professional code of ethics.  Media is not a political space but an informational one and this is not accepted by most of the Editors kind. That is why media become politics and politics translates into power and thus the problem arises. The confusion whether genuine or deliberate speaks of the real crisis which is misunderstanding the role of media itself. Having established a political identity for so long, it’s difficult for them to think of media as an independent of politics institution. And that is why the debate on media patriotism and media betrayal goes on.

In the end, unless the professional class can set the standards and formats by which media will function in Bangladesh, this idea will churn on and on without any end.

  • Limited freedom, limited journalism
  • Issue 25
  • Afsan Chowdhury
  • Vol 35
  • DhakaCourier

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