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Biased TV coverage of parties, leaders identified

David Bergman

Significant levels of political bias in the reporting of news by the state-owned Bangladesh Television have been identified in the ongoing monitoring of the channel by the international NGO Democracy International.
The NGO, whose Democratic Participation and Reform programme is funded by the American and British aid bodies USAID and UKAID, has captured and analysed all news broadcast on BTV and five private channels since the beginning of September and placed the results on a web site-based database that was this week made publicly available.
The interrogation of the database by New Age found that the NGO had judged an overwhelming majority of statements made on BTV news bulletins in the three months between September 1 and November 30 concerning Khaleda Zia, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, and the caretaker government to be negative or very negative.
In contrast, the vast majority of similar statements made about Sheikh Hasina and the Awami League were considered positive or very positive.
Similar but less significant levels of apparent political bias were found by the NGO in its analysis of the news programmes of five private television channels, with many more negative statements in the news being made about the BNP and Khaleda than those about the AL and Hasina.
On the issue of the caretaker government, however, the statements made in the news broadcast by the five private stations were all much more positive than negative.
The five private TV channels chosen by the NGO to monitor —  ATN Bangla, Channel I, Somoy TV, NTV and Ekattor — are those which the organisation found to have the ‘highest audience interest and penetration’ based on its own opinion polls.
The NGO, which uses internationally recognised systems of media monitoring, employs about six people to monitor the news of these channels and to identify ‘mentions’ of certain key words.
When the key word is used as part of a ‘statement’ — rather than simply mentioned in passing — the statement is then assessed to be either a ‘very positive,’ a ‘positive,’ a ‘neutral,’ a ‘negative’ or a ‘very negative’ statement towards that person, organisation or issue.
The research found that BTV, the only terrestrial channel which covers 95 per cent of the country, mentioned Hasina twice as many times as Khaleda in its news reports — 241 mentions of the prime minister to 109 mentions of the leader of the opposition in the parliament.
Out of the 67 mentions of the BNP leader which Democracy International defined as a ‘statement,’ the NGO found that not a single one was ‘positive’ —  with 27 being ‘very negative,’ 26 ‘negative’ and 14 being ‘neutral.’
Out of 25 ‘statements’ that BTV made about the AL leader and prime minister, not one was, however, considered to be ‘negative.’ Ten were ‘very positive,’ 12 were ‘positive’ and 3 were ‘neutral.’ None were negative.
The monitoring project found a similar situation in the way BTV dealt with the two main political parties.
Out of the 122 times that a ‘statement’ about the BNP was made in BTV news, 15 were found by the NGO to be ‘very negative,’ 85 were ‘negative’ and 22 were ‘neutral.’
In relation to the 42 ‘statements’ made about the Awami League, 10 were, however, ‘very positive’, 29 were ‘positive,’ with only 2 being ‘negative’. None of the comments were ‘very negative.’ 1 was considered to be ‘neutral’
BTV mentioned the caretaker government 22 times, 10 of which were identified as ‘statements’ out of which 9 were ‘negative’ and 1 was ‘very negative.’
M. Hamid, BTV’s director general, was forwarded the research results and said, ‘Until I have seen the full parameters of the research, I do not think it appropriate to comment.’
Three months of monitoring by Democracy International has also found some apparent bias in the way the five private channels covered the two parties and their leaders.
All the channels were found to broadcast more negative than positive statements about both leaders and their parties but broadcast far more negative statements about Khaleda and the BNP than about Hasina and the Awami League.
According to the Democracy International database, whilst ATN Bangla, broadcast three times as many ‘negative’/ ‘very negative’ than ‘positive’/ ‘very positive’ statements about Hasina (32 to 10), the channel made eight times as many negative than positive comments about Khaleda (52 to 6).
NTV broadcast 55 negative and 16 positive statements about the prime minister but 43 negative and only 3 positive comments about the leader of the opposition in the parliament.
Out of the four private channels, Channel I and Ekattor news coverage had the most disproportionately negative coverage of Khaleda.
The NGO’s analysis suggests that Channel I broadcast 57 negative comments about the opposition leader to 3 positive (a ratio of 20 to 1), and Ekattor broadcast 45 negative comments to 3 positive (a ratio of 15 to 1).
Whilst both channels also made more negative than positive statements about Hasina, the ratio between the two was much smaller.
Channel I broadcast 24 negative to 16 positive comments about the prime minister (a ratio of 1.5 to 1) and Ekattor broadcast 39 negative to 15 positive statements (a ratio of 2.5 to 1). Somoy TV broadcast nearly equally balanced comments about Hasina (20 negative to 16 positive) but in relation to Khaleda, it broadcast 48 negative statement to 7 positive.
A similar situation exists in relation to comments about the Awami League and the BNP.
Whilst the channels broadcast more negative than positive statements about both of the parties, all of them were far more negative towards the BNP.
In comments made about the leader of the BNP, ATN Bangla broadcast 94 negative and 9 positive statements; NTV broadcast 79 negative and 7 positive; Channel I broadcast 96 negative to 4 positive, Somoy broadcast 88 negative to 6 positive and Ekattor broadcast 67 negative to 3 positive statements.
The survey, however, found that unlike BTV, the five private channels were much more positive than negative in their comments about the caretaker government Out of 60 statements which ATN Bangla made about this form of government, 53 were ‘positive’ or ‘very positive’ and only 4 were ‘negative’ or ‘very negative.’
Ekattor made 41 ‘positive’ or ‘very positive’ comments about the caretaker government and only 6 which were negative.
The database can be found at www.di-bangladesh.com/mediamonitoring.

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