The Bangladesh Press Council has been operating according to the law passed in 1974 with the aim of preserving the freedom of the press and improving the quality of newspapers and news organisations. The need to update the Press Council to keep pace with the changes that have taken place in the field of newspapers and media over the past 48 years is widely recognised.
Although the process of amending the act has been going on for several years, the draft has not been released to the key stakeholders or any opportunity has been given to share their views. This has caused concern among the editorial board, journalist organisations and related stakeholders.
Last June, the cabinet gave approval in principle to the draft of The Press Council (Amendment) Act, 2022. If it is passed in parliament, the Press Council will also have the power to impose fines. The agency has only reprimand powers under the existing law. After approving the draft, the cabinet secretary said, the same Act of 1974 has been presented to the cabinet in the form of amendment.
The basic issue is improving the standard of newspapers and news agencies, upholding these and elimination yellow journalism. That is why the clause is being included for fines against the violation of state protection, public discipline, ethics, etc. Apart from this, fines can also be imposed for disobeying the relevant provisions of the law.
The first concern and confusion about the revised draft of the Press Council Act arose after what the president of the organisation, justice Nizamul Haque had said. He said that a law is being made with a maximum fine of Tk 1 million if journalists commit any crime. However, the information minister said that there is no new law. But within a few days the revised draft of the Press Council Act was approved by the cabinet.
Recently, the Editors' Council held a meeting with the president of the Press Council, justice Nizamul Haque Nasim, and expressed concern about the amendment of the Press Council Act. When the representatives of the Editors’ council requested the Press Council to disclose the revised draft of the law, the authorities refused to do so.
In a press release, the Editors’ Council said that it is necessary to take the opinion of the concerned parties into cognizance in case of amending such act. It is also important to be informed about each stage of revision. In view of this, it is strongly demanded that copies of the revised draft of the Press Council Act be supplied to the stakeholders and published on the website.
Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) in a statement demanded the release of the revised draft. The organisation's statement said, "The law directly involves the interests of media and media workers, freedom and ethics related to free media. Therefore, it is necessary to inform these stakeholders at each step of this amendment and coordinate it after receiving their opinions.”
In recent years, the practice of publishing the draft in public interest and taking the views of the participants is followed in the case of making and amending any new law. But the Press Council has a different position in amending the law. The freedom of the press has gradually been narrowed down by various regulatory laws and regulations including the Digital Security Act, Data Protection Act and so on.
In this context, conferring the power to punish journalists in the hands of the Press Council is not in any way in the interests of the media. Just as there is no option to updating the Press Council, there is no opportunity to amend this law by keeping the stakeholders in the dark.
The revised draft of the Press Council Act should be published taking into account the concerns of the Editors’ Council, journalist organisations and journalists. Necessary corrections should be made with the opinions of the media, media personnel and other stakeholders.