Bangladesh falls 17 notches in press freedom index over five years

RSF website

Bangladesh continues to slip in the World Press Freedom Index for fifth successive years. In the latest index published by Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders) on Wednesday, Bangladesh slipped one notch to 163 out of 180 countries.

Bangladesh was ranked 146th in 2017 and 2018, but since then maintained consistent fall slipping 17 notches over last five years.

The country was ranked 150th in 2019, 151st in 2020, 152nd in 2021 and made a big fall of 10 places to 162nd last year.

This year’s position, 163rd, is one of the lowest for Bangladesh since the index was introduced in 2002. Only 17 countries were placed below Bangladesh in this year’s ranking. However, this is not the worst position if how many countries are placed below Bangladesh is taken into consideration.

Bangladesh was ranked 151st out of 167 countries in both 2004 and 2005. That means Bangladesh was 17th from the bottom in those years while 18th from the bottom this year.

Bangladesh was also marked one of the 31 countries with ‘very serious situation’ in the index, along with countries like China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Turkey, Syria, Egypt, Belarus,  Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, India, Myanmar and Vietnam.

This year, Bangladesh was the worst among South Asian countries. Of the neighboring countries, India made a big slip of 11 notches at 161. Pakistan and Afghanistan was in 150th and 152nd positions respectively.

According to the report, published on World Press Freedom Day (3 May), the environment for journalism is “very serious” in 31 countries including Bangladesh, “difficult” in 42, “problematic” in 55, and “good” or “satisfactory” in 52 countries.

This year, the index was compiled for the second time according to a new methodology devised in 2021 by a panel of experts from the academic and media world, says RSF on its website.

The methodology is based on a definition of press freedom as “the ability of journalists as individuals and collectives to select, produce, and disseminate news in the public interest independent of political, economic, legal, and social interference and in the absence of threats to their physical and mental safety”.

It uses five new indicators that shape the Index and provide a vision of press freedom in all its complexity: political context, legal framework, economic context, sociocultural context and safety.

RSF termed the Digital Security Act (DSA) as one of the world’s most draconian laws for journalists and says that editors routinely censor themselves in the country under the existing legislative environment.

Bangladesh scored 35. 31 out of 100 based on these five indicators. The score was 36.63 in the previous year’s ranking.

In political context indicator, Bangladesh was down to 154th place from the previous year’s 140th scoring 39.06 out of 100.

Bangladesh saw a fall of 6 notches to 154 in legal frame work indicator. The country was placed in 142nd from previous year’s 138th position in economic indicator and 157th in social indicator from the previous year’s 149th position. The country saw progress in only security indicator, climbing to 167th position from the previous year’s 172nd.

RSF termed the Digital Security Act (DSA) as one of the world’s most draconian laws for journalists and says that editors routinely censor themselves in the country under the existing legislative environment.

“Exposed to police violence, attacks by political activists and murders orchestrated by Jihadist or criminal organisations, Bangladeshi journalists are all the more vulnerable because this violence goes unpunished. The DSA is often used to keep journalists and bloggers in prison, in appalling conditions. And in a profession that is still predominantly male, women journalists are exposed to a deeply rooted culture of harassment and are subjected to online hate campaigns when they try to defend their rights,” it adds.

About the political context, the RSF mentioned that Bangladesh’s successive governments have treated the media as a communication tool and the current government is no exception. Members and supporters of Awami League often subject the journalists they dislike to targeted physical violence, while judicial harassment campaigns are carried out to silence certain journalists or force media outlets to close.

“In such a hostile environment, editors take care not to challenge anything the government says” it adds.

The report also mentioned that as most of the leading private media are owned by a handful of big businessmen who have emerged during Bangladesh’s economic boom and they see their media outlets as tools for exercising influence and maximising in profits while they prioritise good relations with the government over the safeguard of editorial independence.

“Although defined as a secular country in the constitution, Bangladesh recognises Islam as the state religion. This ambiguity is reflected in the media, where anything involving religious issues is off limits,” the report said.

It also accused the mainstream media of never addressing the issue of religious minorities.