'Honest journalism can overcome the crisis in media'

On the second day of the series of events commemorating Prothom Alo's 23 founding anniversary, Syed Manzoorul Islam speaks at the discussion on 'Media, democracy and Bangladesh'. Seated beside him are Manjurul Ahsan Bulbul and Matiur Rahman. 14 November, Nalinikanta Bhattashali Gallery, National MuseumKhaled Sarker

In recent times in Bangladesh, there has been an escalating crisis in both democracy and the media. There are all sorts of pressures, but there lies hope in the future of both the country and media. Senior journalists and academics commented that carrying out objective journalism with honesty is the way to overcome the crisis.

The discussion on 'Media, democracy and Bangladesh' was held on Sunday at the Nalinikanta Bhattashali Gallery of the National Museum as part of the weeklong series of events, 'Aloy Adhare' (In Light and Shade), starting from Saturday to commemorate the 23rd founding anniversary of Prothom Alo.

Speaking at the start of the discussions as moderator of the event, Prothom Alo managing editor Sajjad Sharif said, "Many inherit democracy, freedom of expression, non-communalism and such as part of their legacy of civilisation. But we had to earn this through a long struggle and bloody war. Today's discussion aims to understand the overall state of democracy and media freedom in the country."

Educationist and columnist Syed Manzoorul Islam said, news media can never be the enemy of the government. Media will tell the truth. If appropriate measures are taken according to this truth, crime and corruption can be controlled. The people will benefit. The country's development and democracy will be consolidated. The people's faith in the government will increase, the government's popularity will increase. It is the government that will benefit at the end of the day. But this does not happen in reality. Journalists are obstructed from investigating the truth. All sorts of laws are enforced to put up obstacles in their way.

Referring to the recent repression of Prothom Alo's senior correspondent Rozina Islam while collecting information on corruption in the health department, Syed Manzoorul Islam said people would have received more health services if initiative was taken to prevent the corruption and irregularities in the health sector, and if the reports on corruption were not suppressed and journalists were not repressed.

Syed Manzoorul Islam also pointed to the importance of responsibility and integrity of journalists. He said that the pressure on democracy and the media was not just in Bangladesh, but in neighbouring India, Pakistan and Myanmar too. But strength lies in honesty and truth. Media must go ahead armed with this strength.

Senior journalist and former president of Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists (BFUJ) Manjurul Ahsan Bulbul, throwing light on various problems, said that media faced two types of pressure, one from within and one from outside. The media is now in the hands of corporate houses. They have their ambitions, likes, dislikes and requirements. This creates a sort of pressure. And from outside there is pressure from the ruling or opposition elements, various social and religious groups. Media also has major problems with various laws. Old laws are not keeping up with the times, yet no appropriate new laws are being created. A broadcast policy has been made, but no laws. There are many objectionable points in the policy and journalists have protested. However, the situation hasn't changed. That is why the journalists cannot say what they want to say, they cannot work as they want to. The lack of personal security of the journalists and the prolonged process for justice has created a sense of fear.

He went on to say that over the past 50 years since the independence of the country, 48 journalists had been killed in the country. But there is no instance of any exemplary action or punishment in any of the incidents. Journalism must forge ahead with all these challenges. Manjurul Ahsan also put stress on objective journalism to face all challenges, saying there was no alternative to good journalism. And alongside good journalism, he said it was also needed to present new topics, come up with new modes of presentation and fresh commitment.

Taking part in the discussions, Prothom Alo editor Matiur Rahman said Bangladesh has advanced in many sectors. Many possibilities lie ahead. At the same time, the slogans of the sixties for democracy and freedom of press, still resound loud today. What does that mean? If we evaluate the overall situation, such puzzling questions arise. However, it is a matter of hope, he added, that the people like objective news. Prothom Alo endeavours to publish objective news. And that is why it could win popularity among the people and achieve huge success.

Baul artiste Suchona Shelly
Prothom Alo

The programme ended with songs by Baul artiste Suchona Shelly. She began with Lalon's 'Shotyo bolo shupothey cholo, ore amar mon', ending with 'Khachar bhitor achin pakhi...'