What Rozina was accused of doing is what most investigative journalists do all over the world. At one point it's not legal but uncovering, or scouring the state's secret documents for anything untoward obviously falls in a grey area. Many of the best media stories have been done this way. As long as one can get away with it, it's fine but if caught difficulties arise. In a way, spies do the same, steal secrets. They also need to have friends inside who will tip them off and often hand over documents. Happened in case of Rozina also.
It's not a black and white issue but a grey one. We accept it morally but legally, it's not kosher. But in the "greater public interest", breaking the law in case of secrets is considered acceptable. The key to all these is secrecy. If there was transparency, there would be no investigative reporting. So what Rozina was doing was not legally legitimate but professionally acceptable. It's a strange paradox but we live with this.
She has broken several stories before and they were also based on classified documents. In less tolerant societies it would have resulted in the punishment of those exposed but in Bangladesh it didn't happen. No court cases began and nothing moved. So what she had done before was gather evidence. Police don't need permission to do it, media does. Often media doesn't do so and the difference between her work and that of the investigating agency is largely that- the official status. So it's not media freedom because the person about to be exposed has the legal right not to hand over self-incriminating documents. And Rozina has the moral right like media everywhere to expose him/her. It's a conflict that may never be resolved. And the conflict will go on.
Of media and crony capitalism
However, the issue is not about media because like it or not, our media is owned by people who gain from their connections with the Government. In fact most are here with a nod from the top. The permission to start up a media on any platform is given only when they are considered loyal. So taking a hardline is not the intent. Since l'affaire Rozina came to light it has been notable that it is mostly the working journalists, or reporters who have taken a very strong and visible stance in favour of their colleague, not the editors or even the owners and publishers. The most telling action was on the part of her fellow reporters on the health beat, who boycotted a briefing called by the Health Ministry the day after her arrest.
Rozina is a leading reporter on corruption in the health sector. She is known for using leaked and stolen documents to report. Covid has seen a crisis in corruption as it has exploded but several have been caught though mostly from the private sector. Pressure is building on the Government to ensure higher budget to access goods and services but capacity is limited to generate fund. Covid economics is not suffering but there is uncertainty about "procurement" economics, a major source of corruption which has led to increased competition among cronies.
Health Ministry is known as a major corruption hot spot and this reputation has increased during Covid, as the alliance between the business and the amla sector (bureaucrats)is strong and amlas remain well protected. This protection is based on the understanding of minimum performance by the ministry which has faced scrutiny as the health sector is seen as weak performing.
Meanwhile, the private sector has proven to be inefficient and cynically money making which has reduced any chance of competition based on health services. Covid has reduced many economic opportunities for the connection class forcing them into competition with each other. The vaccine import and manufacturing scenario has also shown that there is increasing pressure from producers and importers who are less linked to power. Corruption hasn't been affected but information about corruption has increased. Impact of this isn't known. To top it all off, Rozina herself has been accused of corruption
The finance minister has recently said after passing a request to buy oxygen production units without public tendering that such purchases can cause corruption. He added that it was allowed because of the emergency during the pandemic. They had been told to propose to ensure public tendering but despite warnings, the Health Ministry often continues to do so. It was as much of a rebuke that could be given by one minister to another but shows that the Health Ministry's procurement policies and methods are indeed an internal issue of governance concern. It's here that the problem lies. The economic system that is in place is facing a challenge, however small, due to the unusual circumstances caused by Covid. The old methodology for money making is slightly wearied. Secrets are less and less secure due to greater digitalization, internal competitions for contract as well as resentments within the amlas for many reasons causing leaks to the media.
The urban middle class public is up in arms as one of their own - someone using her platform at the country's biggest media brand by far to keep them informed on the health sector during a pandemic -has been affected but as events are showing the sector is vague too. Media is being trashed as weak and cowardly but calls are being made to the same media too to salvage the situation. It's Facebook that is dominating the voice and that is significant because it means the conventional political space has been digitalized almost entirely. The old street movement as the final arbiter is declining or gone. It's a bit of a middle class issue- not perceived as a national crisis. It's one of the first signs of a post-political society.
That means a new economic state is certainly coming into being. As more and more people enter the transaction space and increasing digitalization takes place, the pressure to change the tender free purchase system will gain traction. It will not come from Facebook but from within and the new ways to deal with money making with competition and not just connections.
The Rozina case is a sign of this transition that hasn't happened yet but is knocking softly on the door.
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