A new policy for broadcast media in Bangladesh is raising questions about controls on free expression. The new policy prohibits broadcast outlets from disseminating any news, photos, or videos that could tarnish the image of law enforcement agencies and armed forces.
The policy also commands broadcast outlets to telecast programs of national importance, including speeches made by the heads of state and government.
According to the country’s Constitution, every citizen has the right to freedom of speech and expression. But this new policy is contrary to people's constitutional rights, sources say.
“This policy is a frontal assault on media freedom, which is essential as a check on government power, corruption, and human rights abuses, among many other issues,” Brad Adams, Asia director, Human Rights Watch said. “It empowers an increasingly authoritarian state with tools to go after critics. It needs to be revoked if the government is serious about its commitment to freedom.”
In Bangladesh, there are about 30 privately owned TV stations, 14 private radio stations and 300 magazines. The country has 50 national daily newspapers, of which eight are English-language. But publishing news against the government comes at a high price.
Perhaps the most high profile case is that of Mahmadur Rahman, the editor of Amar Desh, a major pro-opposition newspaper, who criticized the government’s activities. He was arrested on charges including sedition and remains in prison. Two Islamic TV channels, which broadcast images of violence by security forces against Islamist protesters, have been taken off the air.
“Government forces committed serious abuses both leading up to and after the January 2014 general election, while members of opposition parties impose economic blockades and to enforce a boycott of the January polls,” according to a Human Rights Watch report.
These conditions have allowed people to be arrested and imprisoned for disseminating or even merely reading material disapproving of the government.
There is no place for such restrictions in a democracy. Amnesty International has frequently highlighted the shrinking space for freedom of expression in Bangladesh.
According to Reporters Without Borders, Bangladesh is now ranked 146th lowest out of 180 on the World Press Freedom Index, its worst ever position.
Human Rights Watch, “Bangladesh: Revoke Draconian Media Policy.” Sept. 9, 2014. http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/09/03/bangladesh-revoke-draconian-media-policy
Amnesty International, “Conviction of Journalist Chills Free Speech.” Dec. 8, 2014. http://www.noodls.com/view/CD66CD2E17DFF4C4DFCB1F398850C90B62A82388?9779xxx1418043585
Reporters Without Borders, World Press Freedom Index, 2015. http://index.rsf.org/#!/
Student researcher: Rafique Bhuiyan (University of Regina)
Faculty advisor: Patricia Elliott (University of Regina)