Unity among journalists is a must to overcome challenges stemming from an increasing digital surveillance by the authorities backed by oppressive legal instruments like the Digital Security Act (DSA), said editors.
Terming DSA a "dark and uncivilised" one, the editors on Saturday told a programme in Dhaka that the act targets dissidents and journalists and threatens freedom of speech.
The Editors' Council organised the programme titled "Journalist Under Digital Seize".
"If you write anything critical of the government or even tagged in such social media posts, you may end up in jail. It is absurd," said Dhaka Union of Journalists (DUJ) President Kader Gani Chowdhury. He called for waging a united movement against the law.
Bangladesh has slipped ten notches in this year's World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders. The country ranked 162nd out of 180 countries as Bangladesh's position on the index is the lowest among the South Asian countries.
Stressing on journalists' unity to improve on the press freedom index, Dhaka Reporters Unity (DRU) President Nazrul Islam Mithu said splits among journalists are ultimately leading to the deteriorating media freedom.
Newspaper Owners' Association of Bangladesh (Noab) president AK Azad said the entire industry has been under a strain due to DSA. "Intelligent, skilled and courageous journalists are hard to get nowadays. Our revenue has fallen too."
"We continue pressing the government to revoke the law, but to no avail. Now the journalist, media owners, business people and civil society members need to join in the chorus against the law," he added.
Editors' Council President Mahfuz Anam who presided over the event said, "Why are there too many laws against journalists? What do we do as our hands and feet need to be tied so hard?"
"DSA has caused a bar to local journalism to flourish further. There are too many non-bailable provisions in the law. In the past four years, the law was particularly used against journalists as well as the freedom of speech.
"The law goes against democracy and the spirit of the liberation war," he said, adding DSA helps the government remain out of accountability and transparency.
Citing a study, Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists (BFUJ) President M Abdullah said that 169 journalists were tortured in 2020 and 182 in next year. As many as 45 journalists were killed in the last 13 years as no trial took place for most of the cases.
A sense of impunity fuels the frequency of such abuses against journalists, he alleged.
New Age Editor Nurul Kabir said, "Journalists are barred from criticising the government, which is a deviation of the constitution. Democracy is absent in the country."
Editors' Council Treasurer Matiur Rahman Chowdhury said DSA has introduced a culture of "self-censorship" as reporters cannot write what they actually want to write.
He called for unity to overcome the situation.
Claiming there is no freedom of speech and free press in the country, Daily Bhorer Kagoj Editor Shyamal Dutta also emphasised journalists' unity.
Referring to several international press freedom rankings, Former BFUJ president Manjurul Ahsan Bulbul said, "Bangladesh is the most dangerous country for journalists. No trial take place here for killing or torturing a journalist."