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Tuesday, July 14, 2020 08:00:11 PM
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Press Freedom Need To Rethink From History

By Dr. Forqan Uddin Ahmed
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Bangabandhu, the father of the nation believed in the freedom of press, speech and expression. The role of media was part and parcel in the life of Bangabandhu . He considered media as his co-partner and friend. Different media agencies had their vital role in disseminating the news and information to home and abroad. As a matter of fact the different media as a tool of strengthening his activities and struggle brought him to a great height of leadership. Bangabandhu too expanded his heartfelt love and feeling towards the media personnel. From the very day of his politics, Bangabandhu had his relationship with media as its correspondent or one of close associates. He realized that only the media could play a very significant role as a spokesman of the deprived Bangalees against exploitation and misrule of the then British and Pakistan. When Ayub Khan lodged the Agartala conspiracy case against him, different news agencies, daily papers and journalists stood beside him. History tells that "The Azad" of the then Muslim League supported Bangabandhu and came for his help. This reflects the close affiliation of Bangabandhu with media.
Undoubtedly, freedom of information is extremely important for the proper functioning of any economy. Access to government information is now seen as a human right. The principle of freedom of information means that the general public and mass media have access to official records. However, a major challenge to open access to information is "overreach in governmental society. States should be able to keep some information confidential in line with legitimate purposes and processes set out in international human rights law," as per a concept note of UNESCO observing World Press Freedom Day. It also states that information from administrative and executive authorities - concerning, for example, laws and public expenditure - should generally be accessible to everyone. "Hence, freedom of information both helps provide oversight over governmental bodies, as well as the possibility to hold them accountable, and this right strengthens the relevance of press freedom and independent journalism."
For citizens, freedom of speech means having the courage to speak out for what they believe, without resorting to violence -- against journalists or against the representatives of any religious belief. To shoot journalists in cold blood for printing a cartoon is a hideous crime. But so is attacking a mosque or assaulting a Muslim because of his or her faith. There is a place for debate, even passionate debate, on the deeply moral question of how to balance freedom of speech with respect for religion. But the weapons of this debate should be words, not arms -- the keyboard, not the Kalashnikov. Every one of us has the right to our opinion. None of us has the right to kill those with whom we disagree.
The march of millions in Paris on January 11 was a magnificent expression of solidarity and peace. Every leader and legislator should strive to live up to those ideals as he or she responds to the threat of extremism. The terrorist attacks in Paris will, one hope, are a game changer in the defense of press freedom, and freedom in general, because millions of people have realised what is at stake. We cannot take freedom of expression for granted. We must stand up for it and defend it, even -- and perhaps especially -- when we disagree with what is being expressed.
That freedom of expression is no longer an inalienable right in Bangladesh. According to Article 19, a UK-based human rights organisation, in February 2020 alone, there were at least 50 incidents of violations of freedom of expression - four involved serious bodily injuries, nine assaults, one abduction, five destruction of equipment, two defamation cases and one involved gender-based violence. Despite widespread criticism of the Digital Security Act which essentially authorises state agencies to pick up whoever they want without so much as a warrant or approval of any authorities, under various vague and misleading sections of the law, more than 1,000 cases have been filed under the Act since October 2018 - sometimes for as little as disapproval of government decisions on social media. The systematic way in which freedom of expression has been, and continues to be, throttled has created an environment of fear, uncertainty and self-censorship, which has caused irreparable damage to the democratic fabric of this country. The disappearance and custody of Shafiqul Islam are more the example of threats against freedom of press and free flow of information.
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was very intimate with many of the journalists. He maintained personal relationship with many of them and knew them by name. For news and views, many of them reached Bangabandhu directly. Home and abroad wherever Bangabandhu went, a group of journalists accompanied him. The foreign journalists tried to face interview with him. To them he was an appealing figure. For his historic 7th March speech, 'the London Times' and 'News week of Newyork' called him a poet of politics which is a rare honor in the world erina. David Frost had a long interview in the Bengali department of VOA and BBC communicated to Bangabandhu and made comments on him. In the midst of such congeniel atmosphere, some media people used to write column and made news of criticism about his state role policy and governance. Even Bangabandhu was highly applauded by them. He wanted to see the journalists to be honest and independent and silultaneously advised them to broadcast news on nation's interest and invited them for neutral and substantial criticism. The media industry was ranked with high dignity. During liberation period, many media personnel were badly affected and duly they were given necessary support and cooperation after liberation.
The whole world is passing a transitional time for corona crisis. We are getting updated news and views from all over the world from media sources. Even at the time of critical juncture many news are broadcast with the highest freedom by the blessing from our honorable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the successful successor of the father of the nation. Our prime minister is very cooperative and cordial about the free flow of information. He takes all Corona report with a very liberal heart. We can assess that our freedom of press, speech and expression is undoubtedly bringing diversification in the media world.

(Former DDG of Bangladesh Ansar & VDP, writer, columnist and researcher).

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