State cannot run without free media

Media has a strong role in establishing democracy, rule of law, human rights and justice in the country apart from making an outstanding contribution to every democratic movement in Bangladesh. Speakers in a meeting organised by the Bangladesh Editors’ Council on Saturday raised the question that in the 50 years of independence, whether the media has been able to meet the contemporary challenges of journalism by maintaining that continuity.

The meeting of the editors’ council took place at a time when the media outlets in the country have been facing multiple adversities and challenges at different levels. The readers of printed newspapers and revenue have dropped due to the advent of modern technology and dependence on social media. Speakers at the meeting suggested that the media must leave its conventional ways and adopt multimedia.

Moreover, big investments in the media industry instead of giving hope to journalists have caused frustration due to the unwanted and unethical intervention of a section of owners. They have not only tarnished the image of this great profession by using the media for the benefit of individuals, businesses and groups, but have also called into question the credibility of the profession. The editors expressed concern over the issue and stressed the need for journalists to unite to protect the dignity and independence of the profession.

However, various draconian laws and lack of democracy have become the main obstacles to the independent journalism in Bangladesh. Although our constitution is supposed to ensure the freedom of the press, the previous governments have imposed restricting laws one after another on the people. During the enactment of the Digital Security Act in 2018, there were strong protests and objections from various forums, including the editors’ council and the journalists' union.

At the time, government ministers said the law would not be used against journalists. But the law is being used against journalists all the time. Many journalists are still in jail under this non-bailable law. In addition, the arbitrary use of government secrecy laws, special powers laws, ICT and defamation laws during the British colonial period has put journalists at risk. In such a hostile environment, independent journalism is not only difficult but also impossible.

The government flaunts freedom of press presenting data of how many dailies and weeklies are being published in the country, how many news portals have been given clearance, how many private TV channels are running and such. But they forget, numbers do not guarantee the quality of journalism. It is important to consider how many of these media outlets have connection with the 'masses'.

These state-sponsored "newspapers" are not only hurting the newspaper industry, they are also wasting people's tax money. On the other hand, the government declared the newspaper as an industry but did not take any effective steps to help it.

Agreeing with the speakers at the discussion of the editors’ council, we also want to say that no matter how many adversities and challenges come, the media of Bangladesh will survive and develop in all glory. If the media then provides objective news, it will be able to gain the support of readers and viewers.

People always search for the truth. The leaders of the state must understand that the independent media is not the antithesis of the state. Without freedom of the press, not only the democracy is in jeopardy the state will also become ineffective.