Mozammel Babu has raised the question as to why Prothom Alo suppressed the news instead of breaking it after Rozina was confined at the secretariat? He questioned whether Prothom Alo did this deliberately to give the incident an international exposure and attain some political advantage.
First, Prothom Alo is a news media establishment. It is not a political organisation seeking political advantage or conspiring to such an end. Secondly, Prothom Alo never has been in the 'breaking news' race. Its editorial policy is not for speed, but for providing accurate and objective news in the shortest possible time.
Third, Prothom Alo never contacted anyone in the international arena. We only spoke when any international organisation contacted Prothom Alo for a statement regarding this incident.
Understandably, we were not only journalists in this case, but also concerned colleagues of Rozina. It was unimaginable that this incident regarding a professional journalist in Bangladesh would go this far.
Although several parts of the incident were revealed in various ways later, accurate information regarding the incident was unavailable at the time. Right after being informed about the incident, journalists of Prothom Alo rushed to the secretariat. The higher authority of Prothom Alo was relentlessly contacting various quarters for Rozina’s release. As soon as we received information about the incident, we published the news.
Mozammel Babu has raised several complaints about Prothom Alo. Let's look into those one by one.
Mozammel Babu has accused Prothom Alo of being involved in the “minus two” conspiracy during the tenure of caretaker government after 1/11. Prothom Alo had no political motive other than publishing news at the time, nor today. Therefore, there can be no question of Prothom Alo being involved in any conspiracy. On the contrary to the allegation, Prothom Alo had repeatedly reminded the caretaker government of their commitment and responsibility to democracy by holding a free and fair election.
It may be recalled that Prothom Alo was under immense pressure at the time. A section of the caretaker government was actively endeavouring to close down Prothom Alo’s publication. Distribution of our newspaper was obstructed all over the country by organisations like Hizbut Tahrir.
They published the name of late Latifur Rahman, chairman of Prothom Alo’s parent organisation Mediastar Limited, on the list of corrupt people. We even published that news in compliance with our editorial policy of practicing objective news. Later, he was acquitted from the charges as allegations against him were proven false in the investigations.
Prothom Alo had nothing to do with the political party that Muhammad Yunus took the initiative to form at the time. There was no reason for Prothom Alo to be involved in this either.
Mozammel Babu further complained that Prothom Alo published communally insinuative news in the front page by putting 'sindoor' (vermilion) on the foreheads of the female voters in a photo a day after the 5 January election in 2014. In reality, no such image has been printed on the front page of Prothom Alo. Some influential quarters wanted to use the generic image of the election published on the online version of Prothom Alo as a tool of propaganda against us at that time. There can be no question of adding or subtracting anything on the image as it is against the editorial policy of Prothom Alo. There was no communal intimation in the published news either. Secularism is also an integral part of our editorial policy. Prothom Alo never took a stance to stop the 2014 election as alleged by Mozammel Babu.
Mozammel Babu has further accused Prothom Alo of publishing a story insulting women during the movement of Gonojagoron Mancha in February 2013. We must admit that such a story was published by mistake. Prothom Alo sincerely published an apology on the front page for this. Besides, the authority took stern administrative actions against the person in charge of the supplement which published the story.
Mozammel Babu also mentioned that Prothom Alo tried to hide the incident of Naimul Abrar’s death by being electrocuted during a programme of Kishore Alo at Dhaka Residential Model School and College. If he looks into the pages of Prothom Alo of that time, he would find his allegations not to be true.
In his article, Mozammel Babu has tried to portray Prothom Alo and the Daily Star as an integral entity in various contexts. In reality, Prothom Alo and The Daily Star are two separate and independent organisations. Their editorial policies are different. Their board of directors are different. These two organisations are in no way dependent on each other in making any decision. They are individually responsible for their respective editorial policy and stance. Mahfuz Anam, the editor of The Daily Star, has explained their stance on publishing an advertisement of the health ministry over the incident of Rozina.
Mozammel Babu raised the question whether Prothom Alo would come forward in the same way if a journalist from a different organisation was the victim. He would find the answer upon turning over the pages of old editions of Prothom Alo. Actually, we strong highlight news related to torture and oppression of journalists as we believe in the practice of objective news.
Let’s give a specific example. On 6 April, 2013, Ekushey Television’s journalist Nadia Sharmin was harassed by the activists of Hefazat-e-Islam. Prothom Alo not only published the news, but also published an editorial on 8 April strongly condemning the incident.
On 10 April, Prothom Alo’s supplement “Adhuna” published their lead report on Nadia Sharmin including her picture. Later on 11 April, Prothom Alo published a an op-ed about 'just for being a woman' (Kebol Meye Bolei) by veteran professor of journalism, Sakhawat Ali Khan. Coincidentally, Nadia Sharmin now works as a journalist at Ekattor Television.
Right from the beginning, Prothom Alo’s goal has always been objective journalism for the last 22 years. This is the reason that readers at home and abroad have put their trust in us. This confidence of the readers in us as a news media outlet has taken us to the top position in print, online and social media. Our publications, including monthly magazines on young adults and science affairs, reflect that confidence. Our aim is to take Bangladesh forward by building up creative youth through various activities including journalism, the Math Olympiad and the Physics Olympiad.
Every news media has its own editorial policy regarding different significant national issues. Everyone has the right to criticise that policy and we are respectful to that. Mozammel Babu has done just that. We may disagree with his opinion, but we respect his right to freedom of expression and we thank him for that.
Prothom Alo has always been vocal in the practice of objective journalism and freedom of expression. We never hesitate to publish different opinions along with the accurate information to avoid creating any misconception among the readers.
*Sajjad Sharif is the managing editor of Prothom Alo. This article, originally published in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten for English edition by Ashish Basu