What if we fail journalism …

The most critical problem in Bangladesh at the moment, as public discussions suggest, is “Russell’s Viper”. There are news stories on its fear galore, both in the mainstream and anarchic media.

Reactions to the reporting of this snake imply similitude with the rumour that ‘a falcon takes away someone’s ear, all of us are now running after the falcon’, in sprawling villages, mufassil (rural) townships and cities.

We come across the hue and cry over the social media post by an immature and imprudent influencer, reckless act of a restless person and ‘nuisance’ created by a cricketer – so much so that, it seems this nation has no other problem, on the socio-economic and political fronts.

In the turns and twists of developments like these, certain unseen hands are visible to at least some people. Why would the other side relent if the commoners can be fooled by light entertainment with silly stories?

The autocratic rulers of the past had also taken initiatives to captivate people with ‘opium’ by organising major sports events or hiring a showbiz megastar to perform.

The son of a National Board of Revenue official made headlines by purchasing a goat as a sacrificial animal before the Eid-ul-Azha for an abnormally high price of Taka 1.5 million. The story commonly titled ‘Goat episode’ generated so much discussion that it appears to be one of the major scams of corruption in contemporary Bangladesh. The excesses committed by many while joining the discussions of this story, offered some kind of reprieve to all other corrupt big fishes who have found the occasion to hide their faces.

Once one or two newspapers had tactfully or courageously published reports on corruption allegedly committed by some former officials, the pandora’s box of such news opened

Only a few days ago came to the limelight a former Inspector General of Police, Benazir Ahmed, for alleged mega-corruption, followed by, though in a lower scale, similar allegations put forward against former Commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police Asaduzzaman Miah and a currently serving police officer.

Ah! Even a little bird kicks an elephant when the big mammal is caught in quicksand. No, that’s perhaps not a suitable metaphor – it’s rather tantamount to kicking the dead elephant by civilised human beings time and again. And our Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) loves to prey on such dead elephants.

Once one or two newspapers had tactfully or courageously published reports on corruption allegedly committed by some former officials, the pandora’s box of such news opened. Otherwise, the major portion of the media suffer in times of a famine of news items these days!

That’s also similar to the plight of those who became Members of Parliament through the elections held on 7 January , 2024 as some of them had lined up to join the criticism of allegations of corruption brought against Mr. Benazir and company.

Have these news items managed to create and retain new and old readers and viewers of the mass media?

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Who cares if the same news items that busy people had read online last evening, are presented in printed versions! Why would the news bulletin that is almost replicated in all television channels, be attractive to conscious viewers?

There are frustrations in the media world as to how the newspapers are losing circulation and television channels their viewers. Unfortunately, such a feeling is limited to the group called journalists.

The perception of other groups about journalism and journalists has been reflected in the statement issued by Bangladesh Police Service Association raising questions about the justification of filing reports of corruption implicating their comrades. Finally, a statement challenging the police statement came from several media organisations.

The police might have come up with the argument that the newspaper reports based on allegations were yet to be proved in the court and the mass reactions to the reports sounded too judgemental.

In that case, could we call it any act of justice when people, who were detained on suspicion or in politically motivated cases, were produced in front of the newspersons showing them as criminals, forced to make concocted statements and photographed?

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Certainly, the practice of one-sided media reports based solely on the tales narrated by the law enforcement authorities should not have been appreciated by any individual or quarters whoever.

Now the General Secretary of the ruling Awami League and a Minister, Obaidul Quader, reacted to what he called “blanket attack” on the police force in this regard.

The untold words of Mr. Quader might be interpreted positively – all those shams of corruption took place during the reign of their political regime and that too, abusing the institutions or bypassing them. Is it any false accusation, if one makes it based on circumstantial evidence?

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So, the media as a whole cannot even claim that they had been successful in bringing the powerful elements of the establishment under public watch as remains the case in a democracy.

In the initial phase of the social media boom, serious readers often went back to the legacy media to cross-check a story they found on social media platforms. The mainstream media, in general, had enjoyed that kind of public trust those days.

The readers have in fact lost confidence in traditional media in general and they now explore social media expecting a variety of news stories that may not be available in the mainstream media.

Another sad part of the media’s own story is that the people have no empathetic view of poverty among a section of media workers, their falling into trouble or helplessness in the face of media decline. Quite a number of media professionals have become or remained unemployed in recent years, but not all of them for their dissenting views. Some of them have been victims of the suicide of the media by distancing themselves from the people.

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The people may face a disaster in case the mass media are in dire straits – such a perception could not be created among the majority of the people, by the leaders of the media organisations.

It is thus surprising to see the enthusiasm for programmes of publicity at clubs, forums or associations of journalists when it is unknown how far the profession is relevant in our surroundings.

Why would the readers and viewers accept you as journalists when what you are doing is not anything close to journalism.

Let me, in this context, recollect an essay on ‘What I will do if I fail in examinations’ in a Bangla grammar book written by Haralal Roy. The protagonist, who is an examinee and scared of failure, decides to ‘act like a hermit if I fail in examinations’.

But, in the current state of corporate hegemony, it requires a lot of money to present oneself as a hermit in society or at least there should be an arrangement for making money.

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‘What shall we do if journalism fails?’ – the answer to such a question requires an answer to who this ‘we’ are.

If this ‘we’ indicates some quarters in a section of the media dedicated to conceal the evil acts, that would be a dangerous reality. Because, those very evil elements would want to see the fourth estate of the state – another name of the mass media – is broken down. Why would the patrons of pro-establishment media appreciate the vocal newspersons to keep the media vibrant?

Who would gain if journalism loses? If professional journalists, for example, are sent as immigrants to the United States or continuously transferred to other trades, we have no idea what kind of consequences such a trend would bring to us all.

* Khawaza Main Uddin is a journalist.