Reporters Without Borders’ report doesn’t reflect reality: Ali Arafat

State minister for information and broadcasting ministry Muhammad Ali Arafat held a press briefing at the information ministry on the RSF report over the freedom of press in Bangladesh and the RSF ranking at the information ministry on 19 February in 2024BSS

State minister for information and broadcasting ministry Mohammad Ali Arafat has said the report of the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on journalism and freedom of press in Bangladesh contains wrong information and doesn’t reflect reality.

The state minister said this during a press briefing on the RSF report over the freedom of press in Bangladesh and the RSF ranking.

He said they had officially sent a letter to the RSF for reconsidering the ranking again.

The state minister for information further said the common people and persons relevant to Bangladeshi media are frustrated with the RSF ranking and its report on journalism in Bangladesh and freedom of press. Bangladesh has been ranked 163rd among 183 in the world press freedom index based on information that are wrong and partially true.

Through this, the RSF has undermined the continuous efforts by the government to foster a proper environment for free and unbiased journalism. The government considers this RSF report against the real scenario of journalism and freedom of press in Bangladesh as unacceptable, biased and deviated from the actual truth.

Mohammad Ali Arafat further said there are mentions of six newspersons on the RSF website – Sirajul Islam, Ahmed Khan, Golam Mostafa, Khalilur Rahman, Mohammad Akhtaruzzaman and SM Yusuf Ali. According to the RSF report they all are imprisoned at the moment. As per the latest information, this claim by the RSF is irrational and baseless.

The state minister stated, “Bangladesh was ranked on the basis of numerous incorrect, half-true and false information mentioned in the RSF report. Many people from different countries, while talking to us, try to establish that there is no democracy, human rights and freedom of press in our country using this index or ranking as a reference. The RSF has been issued a letter officially to reassess the ranking.”  

“The latest RSF report on Bangladesh's press freedom was based on incorrect, half-true, insufficient and misleading information,” the state minister reiterated.

On the contrary of the claims made in the RSF report, the government led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has stressed most on the extension of private TV and Radio channels as compared to the state owned news media since 2009.

The government media – the Bangladesh Television (BTV) and Bangladesh Betar (radio) relays different programmes on various issues including education, public health, empowerment of women and rural people and the ongoing development programmes.

These two media highlights the development programmes for people’s welfare which have been accomplished by the government so far. So these two media are playing the role of a bridge between the government and the people. However, the RSF report reads the opposite.

Mohammad Ali Arafat said the Bangladesh government enacted the Digital Security Act (DSA) in 2018 to save the cyber space from the terrorists, communal activists and miscreants. However, the government cancelled the DSA as concerns were raised over a few of the sections of the law. The newly introduced law has provisions of summoning the journalists instead of arresting them in case of a defamation case. So the concerns raised in the latest RSF report are not relevant at the moment. The RSF should reconsider these issues, which should be reflected in their next report.

The state minister for information further said like many countries in the world, Bangladesh too is facing several challenges to maintain the maximum level of freedom of press. However, the current government is putting on multifaceted efforts with the people relevant to mass media to overcome these challenges.

The government under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has finalised the Press Accreditation Guidelines, 2022 to re-establish the dignity of the newspersons and to uphold their dignity. Besides, the government legislated the National Broadcasting Law in 2014 and formed the Bangladesh Journalists Welfare Trust.

The government has formed the ninth wage board for the journalists to improve their living standard and to ensure a standard salary and allowances for them. The formation of the 10th wage board is also underway. These initiatives were not reflected in the RSF report.

The state minister for information remarked that the ranking of Bangladesh as mentioned in the latest RSF report is completely unrealistic. These sorts of reports from the RSF cannot be considered completed, the state minister said.

Muhammad Ali Arafat further said, The Bangladesh government wants the RSF to highlight the complete scenario of news media in Bangladesh to reflect the reality and reconsider the report prepared based on partially true and incorrect information.

In response to a question from the newspersons, the state minister for information said, “We want to fight the false with the truth. The government will never neglect any aspect where there are scopes of really making some improvement. We truly want to improve our ranking in the RSF press freedom index.”