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Critics call Bangladesh media bill a 'black law'

Concerns that new bill will curb press freedom

Critics call Bangladesh media bill a 'black law'

Journalists protest against the proposed new broadcast bill in front of the National Press Club in Dhaka (Photo: Shahadat Hossain)

Rock Ronald Rozario, Dhaka

August 6, 2014

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A draft Bangladeshi broadcast media law has drawn fire from journalists, media experts, political and rights organizations who consider it a tool to curb freedom of the press.

The National Broadcast Policy 2014, the first of its kind, was drafted by the Information Ministry and received approval from a cabinet body on Monday.

The policy stipulates formation of a National Broadcast Commission which would guide and advise the government to formulate a broadcast law for country’s electronic media. But it includes some clauses that opponents see as a government attempt to control broadcast media.

Among them are rulings that military, civil and public information that may compromise state security and national interests must not be broadcast. Anything demeaning the armed forces, law enforcement agencies and government officials who can punish people for criminal offenses are also off-limits.

In addition it states that incidents of mutiny, chaos and violence which may affect the public interest cannot be broadcast.  

Protesters have branded the policy a ‘black law.’ On Tuesday, members of two major journalists’ bodies, the Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists (BFUJ) and Dhaka Union of Journalists (DUJ), protested and burned copies of the draft policy in front of the national press club in Dhaka and demanded the policy be scrapped immediately.

Leaders of the factions, allied with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, the country’s second largest political party, also termed Information Minister Hasanul Huq “an enemy of freedom of the press”.

“This policy is unacceptable because the government is trying to snatch the freedom of the press away. If the policy is not scrapped, we will launch tougher movements to press home our demands,” said Shawkat Mahmud from the BFUJ during the rally.

In a press conference on Tuesday BNP leaders also trashed the policy.

“It’s a heinous black law. In the name of broadcast policy the government wants to control and suppress the media,” Mayeen Khan, a senior BNP leader said on Tuesday. “If we are voted to power we will abolish this policy.”

The government says the policy is intended to maintain standards of news, programs and advertising in electronic media in the country.

“The government wants to bring discipline to electronic media, not to control it. We would like to ensure that false, discriminatory and misleading information and statistics are not in the media,” Information Minister Huq said in an interview with Ekattor TV channel this week.

Huq added that his ministry has consulted journalists, media experts, academics, lawyers and rights activists in the course of drafting the policy, which was on the website for six months in order to receive opinions from various quarters.

Apart from disciplining electronic media, the policy has the potential to be misused, says Golam Rahman, a professor in Mass Communication and Journalism at Dhaka University.

“This policy was supposed to be a good philosophic guideline for future broadcast commissioning, in order to formulate a free and fair broadcast law, but it turns out to be strict set of rules which might threaten freedom of the press,” said Professor Rahman.

“If journalists live with fear of a lawsuit for revealing the truth, they won’t be able to work independently and people would suffer for it,” he said. “With journalists and lots of people dissatisfied with the policy, I don’t think the government can ever implement it in its current condition.”

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