The government is now working on a new stringent ‘Private Broadcasting Policy 2011’ to be announced soon in an apparent move to control any dissenting voice.
Expression of views in the media is therefore coming under increasing government scrutiny making it more difficult for the media practitioners to ensure freedom of expression complying with the government regulations. Once the new restrictive policy comes in force, it will adversely affect press freedom.
Meanwhile, as a part of this restrictive policy, two politicians and a programme moderator of Ekushey TV has already been summoned to a High Court bench last week to explain their remarks on the judges in a case relating to Islami Oikya Jote leader Mufti Fazlul Haque Amini. They have been asked to appear before the court on August 18 to explain. The politicians include BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia’s advisor Ahmed Azam Khan and a central leader of Bangladesh Samajtantrik Dal (BSD) Raziquzzaman Ratan and the moderator of the talk show Anjan Roy.
The suo-moto rule was issued by the High Court bench of justices A H M Shamsuddin Chowdhury and Gobinda Chandra Tagore on the three in this regard. Deputy attorney general A B M Altaf Hossain brought the issue before the notice of the court.
It is also happening at a time when the editor of weekly Shirshaw News is already under police custody on charges allegedly for money extortion. Earlier, the Amar Desh Editor Mahmudur Rahman was put in jail for almost one year in a contempt case. A senior reporter of the daily was sent to jail for one month despite his pleading guilty to avert the sentence.
While airing public opinion, media outlets like TV channels, radio and newspapers have to take extra care now whether their views are likely to cause any unwilling slander to the government or the judiciary.
“We are at a fix,” said a news editor of a popular channel expressing the volume of pressure in running the daily news programme.
It may be recalled that the two politicians reportedly said, “The judges wrote an essay on cow while writing on river,” Altaf Hossain told reporters later on. The talk show participants apparently made the reference as the judges brought BNP chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia in their comments in a judgement on a case relating to a charge of contempt on the constitution made by Amini.
The court has also directed the ETV authorities to submit a compact disc (CD) of the programme before it on Aug 12.
Police earlier arrested Akramul Haque, editor of the weekly ‘Shirshaw News’ on charges of three money extortion cases. The fact was that he printed some reports on irregularities of a state minister responsible for the ministry of forest and environment.
The government action initially came on Haque in the form of cancellation of 10 accreditation cards of the newsmen working for his weekly and its online version. As they were agitating for restoration of the accreditation cards, three cases were suddenly lodged against him, one by a secretariat employee, another by a businessman having false address at Kolabagan and the third one at Ashulia thana in the outskirt of the city.
The secretariat employee, affiliated to the ruling party,lodged the case at least one week after the cancellation of the accreditation card and Haque wondered how he could demand money inside the secretariat when his permission to enter into the building complex was snatched earlier.
The veracity of the Kolabagan businessman also could not be ascertained as the presence of the complaint could not be identified in the given address. The third case at Ashulia was reportedly lodged in the same day as the one lodged against him at Bangladesh secretariat address.
Haque’s family wondered how all such things could happen when the government’s anger on him directly resulted from some critical news reports published in his weekly in the recent past. Moreover the cancellation of the accreditation cards of 10 newsmen and his arrest have in fact knocked out the weekly and its online version from functioning sending about 40 newsmen out of job.
Meanwhile, the new Private Broadcasting Policy 2011, is lying with the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the ministry of Information for vetting, has formulated a comprehensive guideline on what private TV and radio stations can’t telecast in greater interest of state security.
It said they will be barred from airing programmes which could cause deterioration of relations with friendly nations. Under the new policy, once adopted, TV and radio stations will also be barred from telecasting footage that may show disrespect to the members of the armed forces, law enforcing agencies and public servants engaged in punishing criminals.
They can’t telecast programmes which may bring dishonour to father of the nation in one hand and heap praise and sympathy to ‘rogue elements’ and people having no moral character. Programmes distorting the country’s history also can’t be telecast.
Besides, “no programme on campaign on behalf of a country having conflicts with Bangladesh can be aired to result in influencing the issue. Again programme on a campaign against any friendly country can’t be telecast which may hamper the country’s relations with that country”.
Private satellite TV channels backed by the opposition parties will not be allowed to air programmes portraying India as not a friend of Bangladesh. They will not be able to release secret government documents or military documents, the disclosure of which may endanger the state’s security.
Among other things, it will also prohibit showing footage of rape, adultery, violence against women and children and scenes of violence, severe injury, blood stains, horrible pieces and other distasteful incidents. TV channels and radio stations will be asked to follow the new guidelines in addition to Censorship of Films Act 1963, the policy outlines said.