Media the worst enemy!
The government in Bangladesh, not the media, is responsible for negative images of Bangladesh in the world, writes A.N.M. Nurul Haque
The Daily Star
Tuesday, August 2, 2005
By A.N.M. Nurul Haque
At last, the Finance and Planning Minister M Saifur Rahman has identified the media to be the worst enemy of the country. He branded the local media as the worst enemy of the country for projecting only negative images of the country. "Bangladesh has made a lot of progress and substantial achievements in all the fields compared to other South Asian countries. But the media do not reflect our achievements," he said while addressing the concluding session of a two-day workshop on July 25.
The finance minister, who in recent days has become noted for bashing the media, blasted the national newspapers for publishing "false news" and thus tarnishing the country's image abroad. He stated in a seminar on March 12 that some 100 to 150 newspapers caused maximum damage to the country. Not the finance minister alone, some other ministers such as Moulana Nizami, Barrister Moudud Ahmed, and Barrister Nazmul Huda hardly miss any opportunity for bashing journalists. Moudud Ahmed has termed the freedom of press as the "freedom to lie" and Nazmul Huda on October 21, 2004, publicly mused as to "whether the journalists should be brought under the jurisdiction of the Rab for their information terrorism."
Bangladesh has been ranked 17th in the global ranking of failed states by American magazine Foreign Policy. The magazine published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, based in Washington, made the observation in its July-August issue, which grouped Bangladesh with 20 countries deemed most critical and vulnerable. The Failed States Index was prepared in collaboration with the Fund for Peace, and used 12 social, economic, political, and military indicators to rank 60 countries in order of their vulnerability to violent internal conflict. In the two indicators of uneven development and criminalisation, Bangladesh scored highest.
Bangladesh has been termed "the most dysfunctional country in Asia" by the Asia Times in its issue of April 15, 2004. World Bank Country Director Christine Wallich has termed Bangladesh a "fragile state." Torkel Patterson, the US Deputy Assistant Secretary for South Asian Affairs, who visited Bangladesh in September 2004, expressed concern at the incidents of violence and terrorism taking place in Bangladesh, and said that our democracy is fragile. The US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said that Bangladesh is becoming "quite troubling" and there is more that the US and India could do. US Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca, who visited the country in last May, also made similar comments.
Ranking of Bangladesh as the most corruption-afflicted country in the world by Transparency International for the fourth successive year, has caused maximum damage to the country's image abroad. Frederick Temple, the former country director of the World Bank in Bangladesh, stated in unmistakable terms on many occasions that the present rate of reduction of poverty in the country would double if the government could control the unabated corruption in the country. The development partners of Bangladesh, in their two-day meeting held in Washington, expressed their serious concern over poor governance, deterioration of law and order, and political violence. The issue of poor governance in Bangladesh that dominated the agenda of the Washington meeting does not require any elaboration. The whole mechanism of governance in the country has been vitiated owing to lack of accountability and transparency. Inefficiency coupled with ever increasing corruption in most of the government departments is no doubt the consequence of lack of transparency and accountability in the mechanism of governance, which has also considerably eroded the country's image aboard.
The New York Times on January 23 published an article entitled "The Next Islamist Revolution?" by Eliza Griswold. Ms Griswold specifically mentioned Bangla Bhai and the JMJB who are working for an Islamist revolution in Bangladesh. The government at one stage said that Bangla Bhai was a figment of the media imagination and did not exist. But against the backdrop of rising concern among the development partners, the government was compelled to take action against the Islamic extremists and banned two Islamic extremist organisations.
The Economist published an article entitled "Bangladesh: State of Denial" in its June 18 issue, with a comical picture of Begum Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina, suggesting a brawl between them. Such a comical picture of our country's top leaders published in an international weekly of wide circulation, is not only regrettable but also shameful for the nation.
The story in the article, however, presents a different picture altogether and a few lines are quoted hereunder. "Bangladesh is also among the most sparsely covered by the international press. This is in part the government's choice: it makes it hard for foreign journalists to visit. When they do, it tends not to like what they write, especially recent suggestions that Bangladesh is witnessing a rise in Islamic extremism, and becoming a haven for international terrorists."
Regarding the foreign diplomats working in Dhaka, the article said: "Foreign diplomats say outfits like Bangla Bhai's do have links to international Islamic groups, but that they are not extensive. Of greater concern is the attitude of the BNP government: at first utter denial that the Islamists even existed; then, since February, when it banned the group, a half-hearted effort to eradicate it."
In view of the denial by Bangladesh of India's allegation of harbouring separatist groups fighting in India's North-East, the article stated that: "Even Manmohan Singh, India's mild-mannered prime minister, is exasperated: 'We can choose our friends,' he commented recently, 'but we cannot choose our neighbours.'
The journalists of the country have become our "worst enemy" for publishing news of the presidential pardon granted to a person who was convicted of a double murder, only because the convict happens to be a ruling party man. The newspapers reported the price hike of essential commodities and the eventual denial of such realities by the commerce minister as well as by the prime minister. The newspapers also reported the persecution of the Ahmadiya community by an Islamic extremist group. These are the truth. The government cannot escape from this fact. The finance minister recently said: "Corruption has gripped every ministry of the government." A country that came into being after the supreme sacrifice of millions now stands as a failing state in the international arena. It is really a matter of great regret and shame for the nation.
It is very unfortunate that many of our ministers foster an attitude that the journalists are "the root of all evil" and are always out to destroy the image of the country by publishing false news. It is small-minded for ministers to expect that journalists would always laud the government, ignoring their ethical responsibility to uphold the truth. It is really most unfortunate when a respectable person like the finance minister maligns journalists by stating that educated people getting no job engage in this profession and continuously write reports on the price of commodities to criticise the government.
The government has decided to get some supplements published in ten important dailies and weeklies of the US and UK, at the cost of our hard earned foreign exchange, in order to improve its image and publicise its "successes." The supplements will be published from October 1, on the occasion of the fourth anniversary of the government. An "Image Salvaging Committee" comprising selected journalists and intellectuals is preparing articles lauding the "successes" of the government.
There is no denying that Bangladesh suffers from a poor image abroad for various reasons. Earlier, the government formed a committee headed by the foreign minister to suggest ways to improve the country's image. The recent spate of bomb blasts and killing of some important political leaders and extra-judicial killings by Rab have severely damaged the country's image abroad. The poor journalists, who do not lack in patriotism, are not to blame.
The author is an assistant general manager, Sonali Bank.
Date Posted: 8/2/2005