NEWSLINE

Post-truth political economy in the 'periphery'

Khawaza Main Uddin | Update:

In the political lectures replete with claims of 'waves of development', essence can hardly be discovered. If anyone has any scope to question the claims vis-a-vis the actual state of the job market, investment, infrastructures, social equity, transparency and accountability, quality of education and so on, the incumbents are supposed to be embarrassed.

But they do not relent to prove whatever they say as true. ‘Banking sector passes a steady year’ reads the heading of a Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS) story released on 1 January 2017.

What did the country’s banking sector facts of the year 2016 expose?

Sonali Bank’s UK operations were at stake due to corruption, a Feni gold trader withdrew Tk 1.51 billion from Rupali Bank without required documents and the year witnessed swelling of default loan to Tk 1 trillion. Forgery with ATM cards in February was a shock, followed by the world’s largest cyber heist of Bangladesh Bank’s $81 million.

Despite these developments, the BSS, a news agency which is run with taxpayers’ money, wrote that there was “no report of any big corruption.” Rather, in the year, the government took initiative to inject Tk 3.5 billion capital into Sonali Bank UK and another Tk 26 billion into the scam-hit BASIC Bank.

While pursuing journalism, a dilemma of the professionals is the constant struggle with "What is true?": It's not just about realities at the opposing ends, but more these days about organised campaign of make-believing a falsehood as truth.

It needs research to ascertain whether the Western world pioneered the process of guiding public opinion through rhetoric or whether the Afro-Asian politicians in the post-colonial era offered alternative models of propaganda for replication.

Whatever the case may be, the most visible dividend of creating false notions at the moment is "Donald Trump", two most wasted words even in the mainstream media that might have otherwise instilled confidence in those in the third world who see their own embodiment in his notorious approach.

The pattern of centre-periphery relation has also changed. Globalisation has presented the opportunity to import ideas of manipulating opinions, from countries, be it Bangladesh, to Trump, who received a felicitation message from Dhaka immediately after his election victory.

The Trump team used mainly the social media for its campaign to instigate anger among frustrated segments in the US politics; elsewhere it may be the very mainstream media that act to keep itself subservient to the political masters in quelling public opinion hostile to them.

Where a major portion of the media do not question what development is when democratic governance is missing or the stories of deaths in 'gunfights' when victims' families later say otherwise, the people cannot take "informed decisions" to act whatever way they feel right.

Such status quo encourages the incumbents and their sycophants to conclude that the people are bound to believe or at least remain confused about what they preach. What Western pundits call post-truth politics has already been extended to the economic arena in our context.

We have no dearth of schemes. One of them is aimed ostensibly at bringing down Bangladesh’s position in the World Bank’s doing business ranking below 100 from 176 by 2019-2020.

Why by that time? It will be the year when a new government is expected to take office. The electorates should be offered some ‘carrots’ through the manifesto.

How will it be done? The cabinet secretary said they planned programmes to implement 10 sub-matrix of ‘ease of doing business’ to create investment-friendly environment.

Does it not sound too technical when you are not focussing on the country situation and governance that created barriers to business or lack of confidence? Certainly the issues are not so complicated, if you admit realities.

If the cabinet secretary can guarantee that there will be no corruption, the WB’s sub-indices such as construction permits, getting electricity, registering property and paying taxes are no longer any problem in ranking. If investors are well protected from extortion, the country’s position improves overnight.

However, all these schemes of development look like political advertisements to justify the rulers’ clinging to power. Advertisements do not attain the credibility that serious journalistic reports do, but they leave more impacts on the consumers’ minds at least for a certain period of time. Many are scared of the man of advertisement, Donald Trump.

Wall Street Journal will not call Trump’s lies as “lies”, its editor-in-chief Gerard Baker reportedly said. His argument is that doing so would ascribe a “moral intent” to the statements, a position with which the New York Times effectively differed, using lies to describe “Trump’s rampant abuse of facts”. Unfortunately, Hillary Clinton’s fact-checking approach failed to outsmart his ‘falsehood’.

Given the global trends, some in the media may fear, repeated use of the word ‘lie’ involves the risk of developing immunity about its sensitivity.

This does not, however, end the journalists’ responsibility to people and history to report the disturbing truth fearing backlash from those who hate free media. Truth is always a better option.

 

*Khawaza Main Uddin is Head of Prothom Alo English (Content). He can be contacted at khawaza@prothom-alo.info.

 

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