No black law in the name of coordinated policy

EditorialProthom Alo illustration

The election commission on Monday exchanged views on drawing up an integrated policy for journalists the for collection of news on voting day. This is a laudable initiative. But what the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) said at the meeting is at the same time contradictory and confusing. On the one hand he promised to remove the hindrances that bar journalists from carrying out their duties at the polling centres; on the other hand, he remarked if the actions of media need to be controlled in the interests of the people, they will keep an eye on that too.

There is a necessity of an integrated policy for the journalists for collection of news related to election. But the policy will never be followed if it hinders the professional duty of journalists. A policy does not mean limiting the freedom of journalists. Mentioning the role of media extremely important, the CEC said transparency can be established more if there is unhindered scope of collection of information. But the journalists would think “there is something fishy”, if they are barred from collection of information.

The question is, who has the responsibility to dispel this “fishy” situation. It is the EC who has to take an effective initiative if it wants to hold a fair election. Apparently the CEC’s remarks on slowing mobile network and internet speed on the voting day might seem positive, but it actually shows a tendency to avoid responsibility. He said he does not know whether the election commission or the government or any ministry does that (slows the internet speed). The EC must know and take action in this regard for the sake of fair election. No such advice like “we do not slow the internet speed” or “it is better not to do so” will work. Those who slow the internet speed must be identified. At the same time, the EC has to ensure that no one will do that in the future.

The most objectionable remark of the CEC in the meeting was about hinting at controlling media “in the interests of the people”. The ruling quarters often use the term, “in the interests of the people”. This is not only unwarranted, but also worrisome that the CEC is echoing the speech of the ruling quarters. The “in the interests of the people” defined by the ruling quarters and the CEC could not actually be the “in the interests of the people” defined by the common people and journalists.

All the successive governments had issued various black laws against the journalists in the name of “the interests of the people”. Whatever be the context of those laws, their only objective was to curb press freedom. Digital Security Act is one of the finest examples of that. The question is whether the Kazi Habibul Awal election commission has been trying to impose any such black law in the name of “the interests of the people”. Otherwise, why the terms “public interest” and “overall interest” were raised in the discussion on drawing up a coordinated policy for the journalists for collection of news.

No policies and regulations can be issued that hinder journalists during their electoral duties. We have been observing with deep concern that the language pattern of the EC officials has been changing as the parliament election is nearing. They have not been putting emphasis on participatory election like the past. Rather, they have been saying that they have nothing to do if the opposition do not contest in the polls. Could they prepare a level playing ground, which is extremely necessary for a fair election?