When conflict kills moderation, media suffer

Journalists form a human chain in front of Saarc Fountain at Karwan Bazar, Dhaka on Tuesday, July 7, 2018, demanding immediate arrest of those who attacked some of their colleagues during the ongoing student movement. Photo: UNB

The sight of my friend Shahidul Alam been taken from police custody to the court held up by the police as he appears unable to walk is a very painful sight for all. He was picked up on Sunday night by over a dozen DB policemen and kept overnight. Initially we were worried if it was a Goom case or night as the modus operandi of his “arrest” was very reminiscent of similar cases. However, by late midnight news agency UNB had confirmed that he was picked up by DB. By late afternoon Monday he was charged under 1CT 57 and given a 7 day remand for questioning.

We hope he is safe and healthy. We are afraid that the reputation of remand which is using force to extract confession is proven to be false. Shahidul Alam or for that matter no one should be tortured. It will put a stain on Bangladesh’s reputation that will be global as he is a global personality.  Allegations are already in public that he was tortured and international bodies have protested and called upon the Government to investigate. If true, this will be a serious problem of credibility and a case for moderation.

Having said that we also wish that moderation should be on the mind of all even as we pass through an unusual conflict ridden monsoon.

Moderates are seen as cowards

But rarely has conflict been so pervasive as it has been now in the last few months.  The malady must have deep roots just as the road safety crisis shows.  The tendency to ignore a problem till it becomes a crisis is common. It’s happening even now.

Almost all the parties involved are in for confrontation and those not seeking are dubbed as “cowards”.   Sadly, this has been the case relating to media as well.  It’s not just in case of how media workers are being treated but in the attitude of some media workers as well.  The result is a situation where media sees itself as a confrontational rather than a tool for information.

Shahidul Alam’s charges relate to the use of social media where he is supposed to have posted materials that have inflamed the situation. This is of course the Government’s position while those opposing the government will claim that right in the name of freedom of media.  There is inherent contradiction between the two positions but what we may be seeing is the escalation of this relationship to a violent level.

Media under attack

Many journalists have been attacked and many injured, far too many for any situation. The journalists have begun to protest and some have stood on the streets to protest.  The Editor’s Council have stated their position on the issue by saying that: “Nearly two dozen photojournalists and reporters of newspapers and TV channels were physically assaulted including one from AP and a freelance photographer who were mercilessly beaten up, by stick wielding activists in the presence of police who did nothing to protect journalists who were carrying out their professional work. These violent opponents of the movement for “Safe Roads” broke cameras and video equipment and took away mobile phones of several working journalists. Sampadak Parisahd condemns these attacks on journalists and the role played by the police who allowed the attacks to continue without making any attempt to stop it.”

The blame is squarely falling on the ruling party activists rather than the police. The police are prisoners of orders and unless told to act will not do so. And that is why another worry is boiling loudly in the kettle of high concern.

The use of political activists to exert muscle is not a new phenomenon but the fact that it is continuing till date is very disturbing. It means that the moderate space even if sought for is not in sight.

But some media workers themselves are turning to activism in their reporting expressing a bias that damages the profession much more than goon attacks. Many journalists are also passing off fake news items and see themselves as part of a larger political cause.

Media in politics

The result is the positioning of media not as an observer but participant in politics. When that happens the chances of a credible media declines and it no longer can be called a reporter of governance, good or bad, but a political tool. That’s also when media dies.

Ultimately all these factors lead to a situation where conventional agencies of state system begins to weaken and some fall apart and the forces of immoderation take over. Just as social media gives space, it also generates lack of moderation as no code of conduct applies to it.

In the end, its only natural that in a society like our where moderation is seen as a weakness by all, social media with all its fake news, rumours and endless possibilities of facilitating many kinds of violence should become such a major player in this time of acute conflict.

We hope Shahidul Alam is safe and is set free. He is a national asset of international repute and deserves better than the treatment he is getting now.

  • Issue 5
  • Vol 35
  • DhakaCourier

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