Within few days, bouncers in the name of MLSS will be recruited in every department. But the state will be in trouble if the fourth pillar of the state is torn down. The government and the people will be deprived of information. Besides, a case has been filed against Rozina under an expired law and instead of granting bail, there is a collusion between the judiciary and the administration that will drive the balance of the state to the verge of collapse.
The journalist community and civil society are vocal against the harassment of Rozina Islam. It does not matter in which newspaper Rozina works. The matter is bigger than that. It is a question of the existence of the state and democracy. In the case of any journalist or any media outlet, everyone would register protests and take to the streets simultaneously.
Yet the role of the Daily Star and Prothom Alo has evoked many questions. Why did they suppress this news for six hours despite being experts at instantly publishing any news as 'breaking news'? If editors and journalist leaders could have been informed about the incident, they would have immediately reached the spot and tried to resolve the issue.
The health ministry is 50 steps away from the National Press Club and many journalists were there for lunch. Did Prothom Alo want gain anything politically by allowing the situation to reach a certain level and take it to the international arena?
So far the Daily Star and Prothom Alo have blamed the government for blatantly targetting them in many instances, such as being involved in the 'minus-two' conspiracy of 1/11, joining hands with Dr Yunus to form a political party to take over power, actively trying to thwart the 5 January 2014 election and make communal insinuations the next day by publishing a front-page picture of women voters with 'sindoor' (vermilion) on their foreheads, instigating attacks by religious zealots on missions all around the country by mentioning Ramkrishna Mission as the venue for the Gonojagaran Mancha gathering in Jashore, trying to grab the market of the right wing newspaper Amar Desh by publishing unsavoury stories about the women demonstrating in Shahbagh, and trying to suppress the news of the death of schoolboy Abrar electrocuted in one of their events,
They are now using the incident of Rozina's harassment as proof of their claims in this regard. Did the demonstrators create this opportunity for them or what? And why would the government create such a big opportunity for them?
In a video clip being circulated on social media, Rozina is being heard to say she would sign a bond. If that was so, why wasn't this proposal accepted at the time? What would be the purpose of keeping her confined for six hours instead of handing her over to the police if she was caught red handed?
The lack of political leadership and the audacity of some bureaucrats have given birth to this incident. Unwarranted inclusion of some ministers to this government and excesses of some bureaucrats, who passed PSC during the 'Ershad-Khaleda Zia regimes' have been a cause of concern for quite some time.
When the journalist community took the attack on Rozina as an attack on all journalists and independent journalism and took to the streets, the Editors' Council issued a statement and termed the incident as a conspiracy to silence the voice of a particular newspaper.
Some directly went to the foreign friends instead of shaping opinion within the country. They have so far have been alleging that the government is creating an obstacle against publish advertisements in the Daily Star and Prothom Alo.
While journalists boycotted the press conference of the health, the Daily Star went ahead to to publish the health ministry's press note as an advertisement. Was this a ploy to brush aside the ban on government advertisements?
This is not the first time. The health ministry earlier published an advertisement for a huge amount of money against a report of private TV channel Ekattor. The corruption in the publicity budget of this ministry has been exposed by different media outlets.
Would the Daily Star and Prothom Alo or their journalists stand by any victim if he or she was from any other media outlets? They have an elitist attitude! Prothom Alo's statement of 'thanks and gratitude' to demonstrating journalists also seemed to ring false to many ears. But despite all these things, the position of the journalist community was very clear that Rozina came under attack while performing her professional duties, the incident must be brought to book in interest of journalism and free flow of information. If Rozina violated any boundaries, the government could easily draw the notice of Press Council. It is now necessary to form an independent investigation committee under the leadership of human rights commission. The conspiracy to bring journalists and bureaucrats in confrontation has to be thwarted at any cost. Those who want to tarnish the image of Bangladesh in the international arena would not be given the opportunity to muddy the waters. We do not need the crocodile tears of the political parties who question Bangladesh's independence and sovereignty. The journalist community has taken leadership of the movement so that they (Daily Star-Prothom Alo) or others cannot channel this unfortunate incident towards a different direction.
The control of 'quota' or 'safe road' movement fully went to the hands of conspirators as students' political organisations were not out in the field. When people want to know information and the mainstream media is under censorship, everything goes under the control of rumours. This time, journalist leaders were alert so that the movement did not lose pace.
The liberal part of the government and Awami League political leadership instantly condemned the incident and sought justice. Foreign minister AK Abdul Momen has already said how the image of Bangladesh has been tarnished in the international arena. At last Rozina has been granted bail after five days. We must keep trust in the wisdom and kind consideration of Bangabandhu's daughter. But all of us have to take a lesson from here. The commitment not to use Digital Security Act against journalists has not been kept. Although there are existences of 'the Right to Information Act' and 'Whistle Blower Act', the Official Secrets Act has been used.
There is no room to relax when the sheaths have been removed from this sharp laws. How will journalism survive if there is a fear of attacks from extremists on the one hand and on the other there is the knife of black laws held at the throat? If we do not do anything about this, the next generation will not forgive us. Another question has come to the fore. Media outlets are more active in concealing their offences and that of their owners, than in exposing the faults of the government.
* Mozammel Babu: President of Editors Guild and chief editor of Ekattor Television
*This article, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam