Losing a friend is always a bitter experience. Losing a family member makes it even worse, but it's all part of life and only to be expected.

While a newspaper isn't flesh and blood, it does gain daily entry into the homes of many by invitation and becomes a fixture and part of the family, as do cats and dogs and empathy develops.

Death (BIG sigh) was the unfortunate fate of The Independent - one of the august English-language publications. At the beginning of the coronavirus epidemic, there was much advice from the medical authorities telling us we cannot contract the coronavirus from newspapers, but nobody mentioned anything about the newspapers not being able to contract it from us!

And it came to pass, the Independent did. It, too, became a victim of coronavirus.

While it was ailing at the beginning of the pandemic through the shortage of advertising (a hurt felt by many newspapers), the Independent decided to go into self quarantine and confine its activities exclusively to its website, hoping the pandemic would all blow over soon. Unfortunately, on Sunday January 30, it died in a Coronavirus coma, leaving many thousands deeply disappointed and mourning its passing.

The nation and democracy had lost a friend.

The newspaper industry/community/family mourned it passing. While the newspaper game is highly competitive - a vicious dog-eat-dog business, always wanting to be first to get to the bone and report its findings quickest to the populace. No newspaper likes to see another cease publication... even if only from the standpoint that the editorial staff may need to seek employment there one day.

The venerated, multi-award winning and beloved English-language publication was given birth in 1995 by its Beximco mother.

Initially, the printing presses stopped clanking out its print version in April 2021 and, no doubt, all hoped and prayed the hey-days of the advertising taka would again return, once coronavirus had dissipated.

Whether small or large, Bengali or English, it is always sad to see a newspaper or online news portal bite the dust. Newspapers enter the home or office by invitation, like a stray pup or kitten found in the street. Once adopted, they become members of the family and bring news of the world from outside to the dining table and enrich the knowledge of all within.

Promise Failure

Those newspapers that fail to hold up to their promise in the catchy slogans beneath their mastheads are barred from family contact and ultimately thrown back into the streets.

The demise of a newspaper or a reputable news portal should be great concern for all. It means there are lesser opportunities out there to echo the voice of the people, to bring world and local news into proximity, lesser opportunities to inform and educate the masses and uphold the principles of democracy.

In 1980, Don Chipp, Democratic leader of the opposition party in Australia, unapologetically told the press he saw the role of the opposition party very clearly. He said: "we're here to keep the bastards honest".

A noble mission indeed, one all opposition parties should adopt and not just be seen to be standing in queue, hoping to win power to take over and continue the misdeeds from where their predecessor left off.

The media worldwide plays an all essential role in promoting and maintaining democracy, lowering graft, corruption, and whenever needed to keep those in power honest, and to protect the rights of all, for the greater benefit of all. Reputable newspapers (and online news portals) are perceived to be the soul and conscience of the nation.

To achieve this honorable goal, it is essential all news is trustworthy. Credible news is essential to inform the citizenry of any democracy to permit the people to think for themselves, make up their own God given minds, and not to be told what to think or do.

Perhaps now, more than any other time in history, have people depended on the mainstream media for accurate information that they can trust, rely upon and act upon, in relation to coronavirus. No other time in history have they been hesitant and unsure. No other time in history have their expectations been aggressively met with disappointment.

Social Media

Social media is both a blessing and a curse. Anybody can be a journalist, newspaper editor or publisher (of sorts) and disseminate whatever they like, willy-nilly truth or not. Credible news reports, however, are rare to find in a social media atmosphere. There is no Code of Conduct in the social media world; no rules of professional journalism apply. Wanting to be liked silliness suffocates truth and accuracy.

There is no practice given to the Ten Commandments of professional journalism. The essential obligations of a journalist engaged in gathering, editing and commenting news, for a newspaper or online news portal are:

01. To respect truth whatever be the consequence to him/herself, because of the right of the public to know the truth.

02. To defend freedom of information, comment and criticism.

03. To report only on facts of which he/she knows the origin, not to suppress essential information nor alter texts and documents.

04. Not to use unfair methods to obtain news, photographs or documents.

05. To restrict him/herself to the respect of privacy.

06. To rectify any published information which is found to be inaccurate.

07. To observe professional secrecy and not to divulge the source of information obtained in confidence.

08. To regard as grave professional offences the following: plagiarism, calumny, slander, libel and unfounded accusations, the acceptance of bribe in any form in consideration of either publication or suppression of news.

09. Never to confuse the profession of a journalist with that of an advertisements salesman or a propagandist and to refuse any direct or indirect orders from advertisers.

10. To resist every pressure and to accept editorial orders only from the responsible persons of the editorial staff.

Social media falls way short of these obligations. It is a wild beast yet to be tamed and could never provide the security and peace of mind of a principled national newspaper. Having said that, even respected national dailies sometimes get it wrong, but the Code of Conduct obliges them to rectify it.... not that they always do.

While I feel great sorrow for the loss of the newspapers and see the valuable services they give, my focus of sympathy goes especially to the dedicated talented people behind the scenes - the Editors, Sub-Editors, journalists, photographers, page designers, advertising staff and such - who lose employment as a result of these closures.

It was with profound sadness I waived goodbye to Holiday (edited by Syed Kamal Kamaluddin and later by Abdul Rahman Khan), The News Today (edited by Reazuddin Ahmed) and now The Independent (edited by everyone's friend, now deceased, Mahbubul Alam, and later by Mr. M. Shamsur Rahman).

To the teams at Holiday, The News Today and The Independent I wish you well and know I'm reflecting the thoughts of many readers who appreciated your efforts to make this a better Bangladesh.

I thank you especially for joining with me in my campaign to eradicate corporal punishment from schools, homes and madrassas ... to make this a better Bangladesh.

If there's a newspaper heaven, rest assured there are three golden newspaper stands reserved for you.

Frank Peters is a former newspaper and magazine publisher and editor, an award-winning writer, royal goodwill ambassador, humanitarian, and a profoundly esteemed foreign friend of Bangladesh. E-mail: sirfrankpeters@gmail.com

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