Bangladesh is only recently a democratically-elected country, and is therefore still feeling the growing pains of development. The nation’s plight can be illustrated through an inspection of remaining political oppression of the media. But understanding that country’s media system is difficult, at best. Now, at last, comes a new media study that clears away a lot of confusion.
The article has just been published in Media Asia, the respected journal out of Singapore’s respected Nanyang Technological University. Titled “Official Secrecy, Self-censorship and Political Parallelism: A Study on the Bangladesh Press,” author Abul Mansur Ahmed sheds light on the inextricable link between media and government, and how this relationship is hindering rather than helping the young democracy.
In his article, Ahmed lays out the journalistic and political histories of Bangladesh. He explains the country’s system of colonially inherited regulations and, furthermore, their unsuitable nature in a country that is no longer under the rule of an autocratic regime. Such regulations include the Official Secrets Act, which allows public officials to deny any information to the media that might be deemed detrimental to the safety or interests of Bangladesh.
The Act does not, however, explicitly define what information might be considered harmful as public information, and consequently, all government information is included under this legislation “…no matter how trivial it may be, or even if that information has no effect on national security or public order.” With such vague limitations on the freedom of press, it is difficult for journalists to accurately report government information. Once they are able to acquire what little information is allowed, the government often intimidates or harasses journalists who receive it.
It is this Act, along with other loosely defined regulations and constitutional provisions related to the press, that endanger the safety of journalists and the accurate disclosure of public information. In addition to such obstacles to free press, there is also the issue of the media’s divided party affiliation, in which the “owners of the press are directly or indirectly involved with political parties,” therefore limiting journalists’ content choices. Journalists and editors are therefore forced to practice a method of self-censorship as a means of preventing the publication of reports that could be considered harmful to the government.
It is no wonder then that there are such barriers to the freedom of press when regulations and subsequent practices like these fester. As Ahmed concludes “… [the regulations’] intentions are not suitable for a society striving for a democracy…and should be redefined to rightfully protect official information that is sensitive for state interests.” Such an implementation would be undoubtedly helpful to Bangladesh’s freedom of press and consequently, its continued advancement as a democratic state.
Media Asia has produced the best and most up-to-date overview of this new democracy’s media system. We applaud.
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Ahmed, Abul M. “Official Secrecy, Self-censorship and Political Parallelism: A Study on the Bangladesh Press.” Medua Asia: An Asian Communication Quarterly 39.1 (2012): 23-31. Print.