Eminent citizens have said it is not possible to ensure an independent media, an essential to ensure democracy and justice, without being free from the influence of government, political parties and certain people and groups.
The newspaper's responsibility is not to protect the interests of any individual or group. Besides continuing efforts to ensure freedom of expression, newspapers must continue to raise awareness on issues related to the public interest, justice, good governance, good education, environment, women's protection and the interests of marginalised people, said Syed Manjurul Islam, former professor of English at Dhaka University (DU), at a meeting titled "Bangladesh in 50 years: Achievements of media and future Challenges" on Saturday.
The Editors' Council, a national organisation for newspaper editors, organised the programme with Mahfuz Anam, editor of The Daily Star, in the chair.
"In Bangladesh, the media is still trying to be an [professional] industry. Compared to foreign media, the salary and other facilities are very low. Even then, youths are still more inclined towards journalism," said Manjurul Islam.
The veteran teacher added that the gains are big when the limitations are high. In this consideration, the achievements of newspapers in Bangladesh are very big. Yet, questions remain about how objective the print media is in publishing the truth.
There are many challenges, including the division of journalists based on political affiliation. The Press Council needs to be taken to a place to earn everyone's confidence in it. Care should be taken so that yellow journalism does not affect the profession, he said further.
Mahfuz Anam said though the Digital Security Act (DSA) was introduced to ensure cyber security, allegations of harassment of media personnel by misapplying several controversial sections of the law are high. The views expressed by the editorial board during the enactment of the law were not taken into account.
Also, the Official Secrets Act, enacted during the British rule, is supposed to be automatically revoked after the enactment of the Data Protection Act but its application is still there, he added.
He further said that in the case of defamation cases, the law makes it clear there can only be one case for one incident, and only the aggrieved person can sue. But it turns out that there are multiple cases against journalists based on the same incident and by people who are not the victims.
He said the constitution provides for the protection of only two professions – judiciary and media – as the society has understood from its experiences that independent journalism is essential.
Mahfuz Anam urged the judiciary, especially the High Court and the Supreme Court, to look into the development of journalism. He also demanded the repeal of the Official Secrets Act, a divisive section of the DSA.
Drawing the attention of newspaper owners, he said, "When you are producing any other product, you control the quality properly. But that is not the case with media. If your other product is degraded, the market will be ruined. The consequences would be the same in the case of a newspaper too."
Shakhawat Ali Khan, an honorary professor in the Mass Communication and Journalism department of DU, said there should be no division among journalists. Besides, more attention should be paid to training journalists for professional excellence.
New Age Editor Nurul Kabir said the country's journalism has had to struggle even 50 years after the independence. The media experienced a relatively good time from the '90s to 2001.
Bhorer Kagoj Editor Shyamal Dutt said it is impossible to ensure freedom of the media under authoritarian rule. The existing institutions for monitoring and protecting the media are completely ineffective. He called upon all to come forward to strengthen these institutions.
Prothom Alo Editor Matiur Rahman, News Today Editor Riaz Uddin Ahmed, Chattogram's Daily Azadi editor MA Malek and others were present at the discussion meeting conducted by Editors' Council Acting General Secretary Dewan Hanif Mahmud.