Draft broadcasting policy poses threat to media freedom
THE new national broadcasting policy that the Awami League-led government has drafted seems to betray what could be called the incumbents’ inherent antagonism towards the media in general and the electronic media in particular. While the draft policy supposedly aims at ‘making the broadcast system strong and dynamic’, the restrictions it proposes suggest otherwise. In fact, an information ministry official, quoted in New Age on Wednesday, aptly sums up the ultimate objective of the policy when he says it would help the government keep the media under pressure. Not surprisingly thus, some experts and broadcasters have decried the proposed policy as an attempt at curbing media freedom. As with any other such draconian policies, the draft broadcasting policy deals in abstractions and absolutisms. For example, it proposes restrictions on airing talk-shows that disseminate ‘inconsistent’ and ‘misleading’ information. Moreover, it says, airing programmes that could pose threat to national security and sovereignty or appear satirical to national ideology should be prohibited, as should any programmes against a friendly foreign country that might harm its relationship with Bangladesh. Besides, the policy proposes restrictions on airing ‘politically motivated programmes’ that might cause ‘anarchy’ or ‘rebellion’.
Questions naturally arise as to what constitutes ‘inconsistent’ and ‘misleading’ information, or ‘politically motivated programme’, and, most importantly, who makes the distinction or frames the definition. As one Dhaka University professor of mass communication and journalism points out, such provisions make the policy open to subjective interpretations and thus abuse and/or misuse for partisan purposes by the people in power. The provision for establishment of a statutory broadcasting commission, which will be tasked with the responsibility to prepare a set of comprehensive guidelines for the electronic media, offers little consolation. After all, such commissions hardly have the desired or required autonomy—financial, functional and administrative—and more often than not end up toeing the lines of the government, regardless of whichever party is in power.
The motive and motivation of the AL-led government to formulate such a policy may not be too difficult to discern. Since its assumption of office in January 2009, the incumbents have consistently displayed their intolerance with any criticism of their policies and actions, which, needless to say, have often proved undemocratic and anti-people, and been rightly dissected and described as such by the conscious and conscientious sections of the media, both print and electronic. Particularly, the private television channels seem to have been a thorn in the side for the government, not least because of their live coverage of many an instance of excesses and atrocities by leaders and activists of the ruling party and its front organisations, that too, with direct and indirect support of the law enforcement agencies.
Ultimately, the draft broadcasting policy looks to be yet another attempt by the government to restrict the freedom of the media. While the policy targets the private television and radio channels, the print media has hardly any reason not to feel threatened; after all, a similar draconian policy for newspapers and news magazines could very well be just around the corner. Most importantly, the restrictions that the draft broadcasting policy envisages seems to be indicative of a government ploy to limit, if not deny, people’s rights to freedom of expression, conscience and thought that are enshrined in the constitution.
Hence, not only private televisions and radios or newspapers and news magazines but people at large, too, need to raise their voice against the policy, and sustain pressure on the government so as to rein in its autocratic impulses and intents.
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