Mass Media in Bangladesh has been facing several challenges for so long. Pressure for government parties through different legal and non-legal actions, domination of businessmen in the media industry, partisan between journalist associations and the controversial role played by civil society groups are hampering the effectiveness of the media industry. Considering such circumstances, the Centre for Governance Studies felt the necessity to organise an online discussion event under its running project named The Fourth Estate: Under the Shadow of Restrictions and the Search for Ways Forward, supported by Asia Foundation Funded Ukaid. The agenda of the webinar was "Friends and Foes of Mass Media."
Zillur Rahman, the executive director of the Centre for Governance Studies, hosted the webinar. While talking about the media ownership in Bangladesh, Zillur Rahman quoted, "The owner will be at a distance from the star" this is how it was supposed to happen. Before introducing others, he also added that the vibrant history of journalism is no longer present nowadays as the media industry faces multi-dimensional problems. The discussants of the webinar were Nayeemul Islam Khan, The editor-in-chief of Amader Notun Shomoy, Former Minister of State for Information Prof. Dr Abu Sayeed, Editor of The Financial Herald Riaz Uddin Ahmed, Acting Editor of the Daily Dinkal Dr. Rezwan Siddiqui, Regional Director for South Asia at Article 19, Faruq Faisel and CGS Chairman Dr. Manjur Ahmed Chowdhury.
During his speech, Nayeemul Islam, who is both an owner and editor, stated, "I have never seen such crisis in the media industry of Bangladesh in my lifetime," While talking about the corruption and nepotism in media houses, he said, although around 700 newspapers are licensed in Dhaka city, only 50 newspapers are being distributed through hawkers. Although e-tendering was introduced to bring transparency, the results have been the opposite. Newspapers have suffered instead of eradicating corruption. In this way, the newspapers of Bangladesh are being cornered gradually. The tendency to lobby among journalists has increased so much that it puts the editorial board at risk. No initiative is being taken to resolve these crises. Newspapers leaders have become more trade-oriented which is unfortunate, he added. He proposed to constitute an independent body with a journalist who is not politically biased. Besides, he suggested initiating advocacy program for junior journalists to guide them on coming out from self-censorship and a series of discussion events on such agendas.
It would be more essential to find out whose enemy and friends mass media is instead looking for the friends and foes of mass media, quoted Faruk Faisal. He also said, the monopoly of ownership in the media industry has dramatically affected the freedom of journalism in Bangladesh. When we see in developed countries, there are certain limitations in media ownership, here in Bangladesh, we see mushroom growth of media houses. In his opinion, another reason for this low standard, he said, the journalists' union is now divided into two. To overcome this stalemate, he emphasised the need to create an environment of open discussion.
During his speech, Rizwan Siddique said, in the absence of democracy, everyone is the foes of media. He compared the Digital Security Act with the post-liberation Special Powers Act, which only harmed the journalists. On that note, he suggested tightening the limitation of such acts. Referring to the bureaucracy as the enemy of the media, he said, "There is no neutral newspaper in our country at present because every media outlet is owned by the government or anti-government people." He added that the people could be allies of the media, but they cannot express their voices due to a lack of democracy. As a result, the media became friendless, which was detrimental to the government.
The enemies of the media are those who are in no favour of democracy, said Dr. Manjur Ahmed Chowdhury. He sees the use of information technology as a threat to newspapers. He said that everyone is getting news from social media. In such an age of competition, it has become difficult for newspapers to survive financially. He suggested taking a lesson from the history of vibrant journalism during our pre-liberation days in the likes of ABM Musa, Tofazzal Hossain Manik Mia and so on.
Riaz Uddin Ahmed said, none of the media owners are directly involved in journalism, some are politicians, some are businessmen. None of them are allowing journalism to be independent. The owner is the editor. The editor is not in the judgment of merit, but in the judgment of power. While criticising the media owners, he said that owning a newspaper is like bringing a visiting card to access the ministry. The businessman invades editors. There was a time when journalists, civil society and trade bodies used to work together but partisan between them affects journalism.
Former Information Minister Prof. Abu Sayyid said that those who are enemies of the people are the enemies of the media. Again, these enemies of the people are those who want to usurp the entire state system, those who want to centralise the system of government and establish the system of looting. He also said, journalists are being divided into different groups that cause journalism questionable. Journalists themselves are becoming enemies when they cannot be united on any issue to protect their own interests. He addressed the issue of media ownership where he proposed the monopoly of media business should be stopped. Abu Sayyid emphasised the value of democracy, saying that in a country where there is no democracy, there is no freedom of the press. Although our constitution mentions freedom of speech, no one is abiding by it. Instead, control over the media has reached a stage where truth-telling is being hampered. The journalist's pen is not independent, it is working under the direction of the upper house. He emphasised on the practice of democracy in ensuring freedom of the media.
Lastly, speakers in their concluding remarks emphasize creating more environment of discussion and urged relevant groups to accelerate the practice of democracy in every stage of society.