Mostafa Kamal Majumder
A group of people of Bangladesh’s northernmost district of Gaibandha the other day protested the killing of a journalist by unidentified assailants. The journalist was kidnapped, remained missing for several days, and his body was found floating in a water body. Such types of killing have become common of late in the country, though rarely happening to journalists who are assaulted or murdered. A politician of an important party recently made an impolite remark about journalists by saying that ‘these people are in the profession of journalism because of the problem of unemployment’. These developments have taken place in the country against the backdrop of a global report on the death of 109 members of the profession in the year 2015. The situation of journalists in not only Bangladesh, but also many other countries of the world is not good as many of them have been victims of brutal murder or assault during the year. The practice of journalism is facing a hostile atmosphere in certain countries of the world, although the news media is called the fourth estate of a country. Unlike three other pillars of a state which have law making or enforcement powers, the media do not form constitutional entities, although they contribute a lot to better-functioning of three state organs – the executive, the legislature and the judiciary – through proper assessments and analyses of their activities.Eminent Indian journalist Khushbant Singh did once remark, in olden days journalists used to run after politicians to get news, but these days the situation has changed and politicians run after journalists to get information. Revolutionary changes in the field of information and communication technology (ICT) are a major factor contributing to this. More important, journalism has now been taken as a full-time profession by a new breed of young people than those of the past who used to end up in journalism after crossing their job-age limits by doing full-time politics without much success. Most of the earlier generation journalists of our country did not rely fully on income from the profession for their sustenance, but were quite qualified, efficient, dedicated men of integrity. Today’s journalists are full-time, have joined the profession just after completing their university education, and fully rely on emoluments to meet the costs of their living.
Political leaders, in or out of power, share their ideas and plans through the media which help the common people to form of their opinions about them. This process helps enlightened decision-making by those who are in charge of the three state organs. When matters like upholding human rights, smooth maintenance of law and order come to the fore, the media points out the loopholes at length. Nowadays the role of the media has expanded even more to the promotion of development, protection of rights of people of least developed areas and the underprivileged. Most importantly, while playing such multi-dimensional roles, media also take the position of judge for those people who sometimes fail to get justice from elsewhere. Although the role of media varies, in keeping with the political and economic context of a particular country, their services are very important in developing a balanced society. Journalists function by taking this challenge to their shoulders with courage.
In some circumstances, it is not unlikely that because of mass proliferation of newspapers, radio and television, journalists do not have time for adequate training. But they can be no different from the society that they emanate from. As products of the society they reflect it. Former editor of now defunct Eastern News Agency (ENA) AZM Haider once remarked at the press gallery of the Bangladesh Parliament, ‘How journalists can present high quality analyses of proceedings of the House out of not-high quality debates on the floor. Even a short intervention by men like Husseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, Sher-e-Bangla AK Fazlul Huq, would have given journalists points to write stories of high standard,’ he told his junior colleagues of the profession. Quality of debate on the floor is bound to reflect on the quality of the report on and analysis of the same. Viewed from this angle the second Parliament elected in 1979 and the third formed in 1991 had relatively better composition of parliamentarians who could generate lively debates and thus create the ground for quality reporting on the proceedings. In the second Parliament which is termed as the best in terms of composition representing most of the political parties and groups, there were MPs who were known for their brave fights in the War of Liberation as well as those who were equally known for their opposition to the War. The freedom fighter MPs did make no secret of this when they used to make interventions, often directly accusing those who did oppose the liberation of Bangladesh. But when some of the frontline MPs of the Muslim League used to take the floor and speak, rest of the members used to listen with pin-drop silence as they were charmed by their reasoning and the style of delivery. In the fifth Parliament that had created history through the adoption of the 12th amendment by consensus, there were many enlightened debates. Debates on Awami League’s demand for repeal of the indemnity ordinance that had debarred the trial of the August 15 Killing of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman along with member of his family, and the reply given by the renowned jurist Mirza Golam Hafiz a former speaker of Parliament, who then served as the Law Minister of the Bnp government are examples. The running of the Parliament by then speaker Shaikh Razzaque Ali giving the opposition more than its due had set a trend. Under the able conduct of House by Shaikh Razzaque Ali it was possible for the opposition to get a private member’s resolution for setting up the Coast Guard passed by defeating the government as the presence of treasury bench MPs, otherwise having an overwhelming majority in the House, was inadequate. The chair did not apply any technique to help the treasury bench overcome the setback. Another glorious example set by the fifth Parliament was the allowing of a no-confidence motion in the house even though there was no scope of its passage because of absolute majority of the treasury bench MPs. These deliberations gave reporters and editors make high quality reports and opinion pieces.
However, if political leaders cannot win over people with their ideas, razor sharp reasoning and the leadership quality of owning not only the people they lead but also those they oppose, they cut a sorry figure and rely only on abusing others to hide their shortcomings. Political leaders of this genre rely on threats, abuses, physical assaults or even murders to make themselves heard, feared, and obeyed. Threats or lack of security in the practice of journalism is bound to hamper the practice of democracy and the collective progress of a society because journalism under duress cannot promote healthy debate on issues for enlightened decision making and their implementation in a society. All well-meaning members of the society should thus uphold the right for journalists to work without fear or favour, raise voice against their harassment for protecting peoples’ right to freedom of expression and access to information. The society can only have pity for those making irresponsible remarks about journalists and their profession.
How one can keep one’s eyes shut? Almost all preliminary assessment of performances of the society on economic, political, technology, social, education, health, human rights, poverty reduction and women empowerment fronts are based on news items and opinion pieces published in the pages of newspapers and aired by radio and TV channels. The media also serves a very useful intelligence purpose of the government and other relevant agencies. Most often media reports are more reliable than reports of agencies because the former have to observe a fair measure of objectivity and lack of bias in order to attract readers and viewers to stay in the job.
(The writer is the editor of GreenWatch Dhaka)
Mostafa Kamal Majumder