Every Day is Press Freedom Day

Hiren Pandit: A free and independent media is an essential element of democracy. Citizens can get information about economic development and the information they need to hold their leaders accountable. By protecting media freedom, we collectively uphold our values of democracy and the protection of human rights. The media supports good governance and ensures the public is fully informed about an issue. Journalists must also have access to information and be able to protect sources of information. A double standard can be observed in our national and international organizations and the world’s superpowers regarding democracy and free media.
All these national and international institutions and powerful countries always interpret free media and democracy differently to serve their interests. We also think that providing objective news with necessary data is everyone’s expectation. There is no opportunity to create any obstacle in publishing this news. On October 28 last year, several journalists were attacked while performing their professional duties in the Police-BNP clashes at Nayapalton and Kakrail intersections of the capital. Journalists of daily media, Ittefaq, Somoy TV, Jamuna TV, Kalbela, etc., were attacked. Many journalists were seriously injured in the Kakrail clash. Many reporters were seriously injured.
We have not noticed any role of international institutions, including the United States and the United Kingdom, and have found no statement about them. Breaking News’ crime reporter, Breaking News’ reporter, Inquilab photojournalist, and many others were injured. Even though ID cards were hung around their necks, they were beaten up. Many people were injured in the attack. Apart from this, attackers also took away many people’s mobile phones, but human rights activists and human rights peddlers noticed no concern. A review of the political history of independent Bangladesh clearly shows that coexistence has always been absent or weak in the political arena.
This time, journalists and media workers were at the center of attack by the agitators. Attacks on the Chief Justice’s residence, ambushes on law enforcement personnel, attacks on hospitals, as well as torture and harassment of journalists, and obstruction of professional duties are unprecedented. But it is not that easy to work for journalists or media workers. Sometimes, not only opponents of political power but also influential people in society make journalists and media workers targets of attack. At least 30 journalists were brutally attacked on October 28 while carrying out their professional duties. The democratic rights the opposition has repeatedly spoken about, the bullies for freedom of expression, can ask themselves how committed they are to this issue.
The media will criticize the government, so the government must ensure the freedom of the press. Public opinion comes up in the media. Therefore, if the freedom of this media is assured, it is possible to maintain democracy. The responsibility of mass media is to collect information and convey it to the people. Media freedom and democracy are inextricably linked. Without media freedom, democracy is dead. Freedom of the media is a constitutional right. The 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression.” This right includes the freedom to hold opinions and seek information and ideas through any media. Article 39 of our Constitution states, ‘Freedom of the press is guaranteed’; freedom of the press is well established nationally and internationally.
There is no doubt about it. Respect for the opinions of others is an essential condition of democracy. Freedom of expression is a fundamental right of the people. Article 39(1) of the Constitution of Bangladesh guarantees freedom of thought and conscience, and Article 39(2) guarantees freedom of the press and media. Discussion, expression, and unity are essential steps of democracy. Where the press is more potent, the democracy is more robust. Herbert Spencer’s words should be remembered: freedom is to do one’s own will without interfering with the rights of others. The development of a state is a process. Fair media practice can help the overall development of a democratic state. In the modern era, media is recognized as one of the pillars of a state.
Social justice and injustice, lousy culture, superstition, citizens’ hopes, aspirations, rights, duties, public opinion formation, and good and evil are reflected in the welfare of mass media. Media is one of the accessories for the development of a nation. The press impartially and accurately conveys these people’s message to the government. It is possible to easily measure the democratic situation in a country by the freedom of the media and the freedom of thought of the citizens. It is vital to prevent media incoordination. Democracy will be established only if freedom of expression, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press are guaranteed. Despite various limitations, mass media has and continues to contribute significantly to socio-economic and political achievements.
It is essential to ensure the country, nation, democracy and democratic values, human rights, media freedom, and the rule of law. According to PID data, more than two thousand new newspapers were registered during this period for the development of mass media. In the private sector, 28 FM radios and 32 community radios and 44 new satellite television channels have been approved. The total number of daily, weekly, fortnightly, monthly, quarterly and six-monthly newspapers is two thousand 855. Bangladesh Television, BTV World, Sangsad Bangladesh Television, and Bangladesh Television with Chattogram Center are four government and 44 approved private satellite televisions.
According to the Press Information Department report, there is no substitute for the free flow of information to make the country’s development sustainable, dynamic, and participatory. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting is working to implement this one of the main principles of the current government. Part of that work is to ensure people’s participation in development and the right to get the necessary information and strengthen the country’s media. There is no intention to interfere with the freedom of the press. However, action will be taken against those who spread misinformation about the government’s development, said Mohammad Ali Arafat, Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting. There have been many lies about Rampal. The biggest lie is the lie about India. Reporting must have integrity. We welcome any criticism, but not lies.
According to the Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting, when it is misused in the name of freedom of the media, the consequences are dire, and caution should be taken. In the last 15 years, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has played a significant role in expanding media and its independence. The government is committed to ensuring media freedom. We are committed to protecting nature and the environment. In this regard, we welcome everyone who wants to cooperate with various information. We don’t just want to develop; we want to do sustainable development to protect our environment. State Minister for Information and Broadcasting Mohammad Ali Arafat said after the above discussion,
“The country’s media is not only free but open.” However, the government wants to keep those opposing the state under surveillance. He said, “The government has no intention of interfering with the freedom of the media.” However, action will be taken against those who spread false propaganda about the country’s development. The government is committed to protecting media freedom.
Media is not only free; it is open. Instead, many journalists told the government to stop unregistered online. The media asks for a list of employees who work where. But we are not doing that. We want everyone to come in a systematic process. There are no barriers to healthy journalism. However, it is necessary to be aware of using the freedom of the media so that the law is not misused. There are documents against correct facts and no opportunity to speak against them. Freedom of the press does not mean serving a purpose of its own. The consequences are dire when it is misused in the name of media freedom. Be careful in this case. In the last 15 years, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has played a significant role in expanding media and its independence.
The government is committed to ensuring the freedom of media. We are committed to protecting nature and the environment. Want to protect the environment? The government always welcomes criticism. But when the systematic agenda is implemented, we are against it. Any report on environmental degradation or corruption is welcome. We are still saying that with this type of journalism. Regarding Bangladesh lagging behind the world free media index, the state minister said, ‘The report published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in May 2023 contained wrong information and did not reflect the reality. Bangladesh is ranked 163rd out of 180 countries in the World Free Media Index based on false, half-truth and insufficient website information.
We wrote a letter about it, but they deleted the wrong information. But the ranking is not fixed. Incidents of attacks, lawsuits, or harassment of media workers due to publishing news are often seen. Sometimes, journalists are targeted to collect news or news. The number is low, primarily due to personal disputes and family hostility. Apart from this, the opportunity for journalists to get information is narrowed daily, and this complaint is also not actual. This allegation that various activities are going on to block journalists’ access to different institutions and create obstacles in gathering information is incorrect.
The unwritten ban on journalists entering Bangladesh Bank has raised concerns among media workers, but it is also true that Bangladesh Bank is a sensitive place. The Right to Information Act of 2009 clearly states what information can be given and cannot. All government, autonomous, and private institutions have an information officer to provide information. That is why the Right to Information Act has gained a lot—citizen’s right to information. Government institutions are accountable to the people. It is confirmed that there is no ban on the entry of journalists anywhere. However, sensitive offices and information should be considered from that point of view.
There is no bar to entering the profession in government, semi-government, autonomous departments, or any institution open to the public. Journalists’ access to government and autonomous institutions can be regulated. In that case, when someone asks for information, there should be a system to get it. Citizens have a right to information. Government institutions are accountable to the people, so everyone should act.
Hiren Pandit is an essayist, researcher and columnist.

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