Before the polls, press freedom more crucial

Expressing concern over the two proposed media freedom laws, US Ambassador to Bangladesh Peter Haas fears that some of the bills’ provisions could be used to intimidate journalists.

“We are concerned about the draft ‘Regulations for Digital Platforms, Social Media and Over-the-Top Platforms’ of the Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission and the draft ‘Data Protection Act’ Although neither draft has been finalized, we are concerned that they contain provisions that could be used to further intimidate journalists and others wishing to speak out,” he said.

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Addressing a discussion titled “Commemoration of World Press Freedom Day 2022” at the capital’s EMK Center yesterday, he said the United States had made clear its concerns about the Digital Security Act ( DSA) – both in their annual human rights report and at meetings. with government officials.

“As you all know, this law threatens journalists with criminal prosecution if they publish anything the government finds to be false, offensive, derogatory or defamatory.”

Referring to the “Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index”, Haas said Bangladesh ranked 162nd out of 180 countries, down 10 places from the previous year.

He said one of the reasons Bangladesh scored so low was the DSA, which the report called “one of the world’s most draconian laws for journalists”.

In the same report, the United States ranks 42nd out of 180 countries. “Yeah, it’s in the top 25% but it’s nowhere near the top. Frankly, the United States needs to do better,” he said.

Stating that a free press is a key ingredient of a legitimate and free democracy, he said: “We all have an obligation to protect the free press and to allow journalists to seek and report the truth without fear, harassment or censorship.

Regarding the upcoming general elections, he said that the US policy on elections in Bangladesh is that the people of the country should have the opportunity to choose their own government through free and fair elections conducted in accordance with international standards.

Ito Naoki, Japanese Ambassador to Bangladesh, said that since freedom of speech is protected by Bangladesh’s constitution, it should not be restricted by any particular law, the DSA.

Referring to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s statement that “in this country you can express your opinion, whatever it is,” Naoki said, “I think this is a very important statement in light of the fact that Bangladesh will graduate from LDC status; Bangladesh will achieve inclusive growth and achieve the goals of the SDGs. This is therefore a very basis for the further democratic development of this country.

Calling Dhaka a hub of regional diplomacy, the ambassador said he was clearly there to see that Bangladesh needed to be better at all aspects of democratic development.

“So I’m sure freedom of the press should be part of it. It’s related to the brand image of Bangladesh. As Bangladesh develops, I hope it will be able to ‘ensure freedom of the press in a more perfect sense.’

Canada’s High Commissioner to Bangladesh, Lilly Nicholls, said the role of journalists is unique and absolutely essential for a just and democratic society.

Praising the Bangladeshi media for their work despite enormous pressure and difficult situations, British Deputy High Commissioner to Bangladesh Javed Patel said a free and credible media is essential for good governance.

“As the election is slated for next year, it is essential that Bangladesh maintains space for the incumbent party and the opposition to campaign so that people can make their own choices and most importantly for their choices to matter on the day. elections”.

About the DSA, he said: “We share our concerns about the use of the Digital Security Act and note that the government has declared an interest in changing the law to prevent its misuse. We continue to encourage the government to follow through on its commitment.”

Commenting on new communications laws that are in the works, he said: “We will encourage continued dialogue with media professionals and civil society to pave the way for a more inclusive and permissive news environment, particularly before the elections next year.

Delivering the keynote speech, the former president of the Federal Union of Bangladesh Journalists, Monjurul Ahsan Bulbul, said freedom of the press is guaranteed in the constitution, but in some cases freedom of expression is restricted. by certain laws in Bangladesh.

“There are more than two dozen laws that sometimes create barriers to free speech.”

Highlighting the challenges for journalists, he said, “Doing journalism in Bangladesh is like swimming in a pond infested with crocodiles.”

Presenting a series of recommendations, Bulbul said it was necessary for Bangladesh to have a tolerant society and media literacy and see the end of the culture of impunity to uphold press freedom.

Matiur Rahman, Editor-in-Chief of Daily Prothom Alo, shared his experience of five decades as a journalist and said the media in Bangladesh is progressing despite various kinds of pressures and risks.

Referring to the 1962 movement against then-military leader Ayyub Khan, he said, “Even after 60 years, we are talking about media freedom and doing journalism without fear or intimidation.”

Matiur shared his experience as editor of Bhorer Kagoj and Prothom Alo, and said that sometimes government ads and sometimes private ads were stopped. There have also been instances of harassment through lawsuits in different districts during the tenures of the BNP and Awami League governments.

He said the DSA had become a major obstacle to press freedom in the country.

A minute’s silence was observed in honor of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, tragically killed in the West Bank on May 11.

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