Even as Bangladesh battles the corona virus which is yet to surge into the fourth and most destructive phase, the conflict with media and the powers that be goes on. This is not a good sign as the problem seems to be structural one and integrated into the governance system. Hence the chances of an early rift healing is low at a time such conflicts can hurt everyone.

Conflict at the field level is being reported everyday. The case filing against the BDnews Editor Towfique Imrose Khalidi, Jago News and several others on a news on relief theft is case in point. That there is relief misappropriation is a fact and the Government accepts that but reporting them is an issue too.

If local powerful appears tempted by access to relief goods, media appears tempted by sensationalism and many cases of irresponsible reporting are noted. Media must be aware of its extra responsibility for accuracy. And actions by the authorities should be based on what enhances public confidence more than a desire to warn media that it can get very tough.

The Government and media need each other

The Government says it needs the DSA law as a tool against fake news, rumour mongering etc. Several people have already been taken in. But these people had criminal intent but the heat that is on, on professional media is hardly the same kind of a problem.

Media has been aggressively reporting on theft of relief goods whch is significant. The Government has arrested several so theft reporting is obviously going to be high when the problem is huge. However, this is also the most proper time to be fair and accurate. Aggression without accuracy is bad media and counter acts which may affect the general media is wrong too.

The Government recognizes the problem but seems to lack the political resources to ensure that theft is kept down. However, if it goes on for long, decline of confidence in the official ability to manage the crisis may happen which is why the priority.

What needs recognition is that media is a player and not a supporting actor in the situation. No matter what the criticism is against professional and social media, fact remains they reflect the voice of the people particularly in times lockdown. They can't be seen as an enemy by the authorities but as an ally because the state can't afford enemies now, within and outside.

hence, allowing DSA cases to be filed sends a wrong signal to everyone. This is no time to play 'us and them'. In fact, it's such a desperate time that all we can afford is one side for all. Filing cases, threatening media workers, beating them up is not helping anyone, least of all the Government.

How is media doing?

Media on the other hand, has been hyper critical of the government and its efforts and often not comprehensive. Its granted that the authorities were not ready for the crisis. But it would have been fair to mention that no global government was ready anywhere else. That would make for a balanced assessment.

It's true, the performance of the authorities leave more than much to be desired but the idea that 'panic' creation followed by negative reporting is a 'positive' act by media is a flawed idea. This attitude has hurt conventional media practices more than helping.

A lot of the reporting and comments were frankly sensational and inadequately informed. Instead of explaining the situation to the media consumer, scare mongering became the inevitable result. But again, in all fairness to Bangladesh media, this is how media everywhere has behaved. Both governments and media have come up short and public confidence in both institutions face the great challenge of survival in a world of transition.

Media faces existential threat in Bangladesh

Media faces threats to its existence which the crisis has sharpened even further. Bangladesh media is not a professional sector which survives on a rational business model. Most are product of extra-media needs of the owners. The rise of online media is another indicator of that.

Printed paper media is facing a crisis that has halted or disabled their long run. Not only is it impossible to run such operations in lockdowns but the steep decline in the economy has ensured, at least a temporary death of several print outlets. The long term prognosis is obvious.

Online media is even more fragile as it has been kept running on the disposable surplus of the owners which threatens to shrink dramatically now and many are drying up. Staff haven't been paid in many online outlets and as the crisis doesn't promise to be over in at least two years, things are grim. The media boom we had seen in the last decade may well be heading towards an end.

But the internal lack of capacity of media to report on a complex technical issue such as public health is also clear. Media workers don't have the skills needed to report on a pandemic let alone its impact. The result is unintended misreporting, misunderstanding and fear spreading.

Media hasn't come out looking great though media had many good intentions. Lack of capacity was transparent and indicates that media needs much more professional personnel now. Till date going by media reporting many would not pass a tough test of professionalism.

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