Many people are seen in social and mainstream media for a couple of days, trying heart and soul to prove that they are the prime minister's men. Some people are framing their Facebook profile picture with the words, "We are the prime minister's men."
People from different professions irrespective of gender making such a declaration are trying to prove that they are the prime minister's men. It is not like that this is being done as part of the party programmes. It is not difficult to understand that this is being done in response to Al Jazeera's controversial video clip 'All the Prime Minister's Men'.
The matter is not limited to only the personal level. Although Awami League or the government did not advise so, pro-AL professional bodies have come eager to prove their loyalty. An organisation of journalists has surprisingly demanded the ban of a global media. It is not my purpose to discuss about the position of those who have made the similar demands and condemnations. My aim is also not to analyse the good and bad or flaws and mistakes or standard of Al Jazeera's report.
Many things would be clear from the documents and evidence submitted to the court if the government files a case. But it will be difficult to get remedy because before the video went on air, the opportunity was not taken of the right to self-defence. Such a case is not a matter of international court, the case will be settled at the courts of the countries where Al Jazeera works. So it is expected the case will be fought in Doha or in London. According to website, two main offices are established in those two cities.
The demand for a ban on Al Jazeera is rather surprising as the demand was made by some journalists. What an instance have the journalist leaders set by making such a demand when the government itself did not shut the broadcasting of the video clip and reached a consensus that it would have been wrong if the broadcasting had been stopped?
What principles of journalism support the silencing of voices? It is not acceptable to silence the voice of media on any excuse, like for publishing controversial or wrong information, so-called propaganda or tarnishing image. The response to wrong information is to publish right information. Genuine information has to be exposed to restore image and to thwart propaganda. Counter arguments are the answer to dissent. Instead of giving good advice to the government, these elements are encouraging it towards a path of fascists. The rights of all to speak, as long as it is to my liking, is a mindset that is not only anti-democratic but also autocratic.
Despite rejection of information of the video clip, politicians experienced in diplomacy and international affairs are taking about the investigation, so everyone should concentrate as to how the investigation can be done transparently and credibly. On the plea of sensitivity, any kind of ambiguity in the investigation on big allegation will raise controversy.
An official explanation from the government has not been made on the video clip in the last one week. There was nothing in the instant reaction of the foreign ministry other than the contention of the theory of political conspiracy. The foreign minister, however, later said, "credible information" will be investigated and the government will file a case. Gowher Rizvi, one of the advisers of the prime minister, who joined a programme 'Head to Head' of Al Jazeera several years agom also said, "An investigation has to be carried out and it would be clear what actually happened." He, however, said, "This report has not been prepared on the basis of information and evidence. It has been done for criticism and humiliation. The report is directly an attack on the prime minister."
With the help of TV and online portals, millions of people watched the video clip and the report is no more a secret. Regarding the controversies surfacing in the video clip, two partial explanations have been given - a statement from the police association and another explanation from Inter Services Public Relation (ISPR) on behalf of Army Headquarters.
In this context, it has become necessary to discuss about the controversial issues. The police association has talked in favour of the home minister, the inspector general of police and commissioners rejecting the allegation of taking bribes for recruitment, transfer and postings. The allegations surfaced from a convicted and fugitive accused, but answers of all questions were not found in the partial statement of the police association. Answers to the allegations of issuing passports on false information and allowing the convicted fugitive accused pass through the immigration into the country are not found in the statement. And taking credit for tracking down a rival in the criminal world by his telephone location and having him arrested, is not a matter to be overlooked either.
In the statement of ISPR, there was an effort to explain about purchasing device and technology for surveillance on telephone. But there is no explanation in response to the new questions raised in the explanation of UN spokesperson.
UN spokesperson said there was no agreement that Bangladesh Army will use that sort of equipment in the peace keeping activities. It was expected that the matter would be made clear if there was any deviation. But the statements of half dozen human rights organisations, the statements and reactions of UN spokesman found in the media, have demanded investigation and review of the report.
The issue of undeclared and invisible obstacles in the free flow of information is widely discussed. A fear to express opinion independently has been created due to random use of Digital Security Act. According to statistics, cases have been filed against around 50 journalists under DSA. Assaulting and attacking journalists are a common phenomenon. There are incidents of enforced disappearances. It is painful for journalists to be jailed after returning alive. Due to such an unfavourable environment, although a huge number of people watched the video clip, only partial information or marginal issues are being discussed rather than the main issue. It is natural that there will be a politics regarding this major allegation, and the political opponent will try to get benefit from it. But the condition of the opposition is so pitiful, that will not happen. Despite that, the issue of political conspiracy is being discussed mainly.
If people are suffocated, they search for open air. They do not shut the windows. Professional journalists should demand the restrictions to be relaxed. They should be vocal about revoking the repressive sections of DSA. They should talk about editorial independence. In the talk show organised by pro-government TV channel Ekattor, bdnews24.com editor-in-chief Toufique Imrose Khalidi said if "the owners of TV channels are in charge of editorial," the credibility of media will be harmed and people will move to social media. According to him, these owners spend 95 per cent of their time lobbying either at the prime minister's office or the secretariat or other government offices.
Kamal Ahmed is a senior journalist.
*This article, originally published in Prothom Alo print and online edition, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam.