This time we have seen the use of Official Secrets Act, a hundred-year-old law, to send a journalist in jail. Does this create any impression that the government is trying to suppress investigative journalism through laws?
I don’t know whether the case was filed after taking permission of the government. By lodging the suit, the health ministry has taken the incident into its responsibility and embarrassed the government. I’m not aware whether anyone was earlier sued under this act since the creation of Bangladesh. Journalism is not espionage. Neither did Rozina Islam resort ti espionage, nor are the health ministry’s information secret. And, why should any file of secret information be kept on a table. What the health ministry did with Rozina is injustice. Under which act did the ministry officials seize her mobile phone? A case should be filed against those who took her photos and video and spread those in social media.
Despite objections from different sectors the government has not amended the Digital Security Act. The law has created an environment of fear. Is this a means of the government to keep journalists and media under pressure?
Journalism is risky profession in every country. At the same time, it is also true that despite all this, journalists have been carrying out their responsibilities. It is the duty of the media to publish reports of corruption and irregularities. Publishing corruption reports cannot be stopped by enacting laws. Journalists investigate taking risks. People are benefitted when they publish the truth. The government also gets to know the truth and takes action. The digital act is being misused. Journalists are being harassed in many ways including facing cases and arrested. This law needs to be amended. The way the journalists have been safeguarded in the defamation act, the same has to be done in Digital Security Act. There has to be provision of summoning a journalist before arrest if anyone is made accused under this law. And, provision has to be added asking to require a written approval of the IGP or home ministry to arrest a journalist.
In general, powerful people and bureaucrats have an anti-media attitude. Could this be the reflection of recent incidents of torture of journalists?
Those who stay in power always ask journalists to be “responsible” and the opposition asks them to be “brave”. Incidents of corruption and irregularities of those in power are published in media more. For this the corrupt officials consider journalists as their “enemy”. They always look for a chance to suppress the journalists. Not the government officials only, big business conglomerates also put huge pressure on journalists for writing against their interests. Different quarters are taking advantage as the journalists are not united. Journalists need to be united to end this situation. Objective and responsible journalism has to be practiced even under pressure.
* This interview, originally published in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten for English edition by Shameem Reza