The information ministry's recent order to all online news portals, and online editions of national dailies and television channels to registrar separately will ensure the government's total control over the news media, fears the Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB).
In a press release on Tuesday, the civil society organisation said such an order before finalising the National Broadcast Commission and the online media regulations will secure the government's power to intervene in the media.
The TIB opined that the order was actually another suicidal step on the road to realise different government authorities' attempt to control the media, which they have been trying to do for a long time.
Executive Director of TIB Dr Iftekharuzzaman said, "The information ministry is saying the order is a strategy to bring the registered news media under the government facilities and to prevent yellow journalism, but it will mainly ensure the institutionalisation of the government's control over the country's media."
Dr Iftekharuzzaman further said, "It is not comprehensible to us in any way how the government is taking initiatives to block the path of courageous journalism against corruption, arbitrariness, and mismanagement by establishing control over the media while the top level of the government has been promising to ensure transparency and accountability."
The TIB executive director said the media outlets are struggling to survive amid the Covid-19 pandemic, and the hasty order to register without finalising the draft of online media regulations in this situation is a sign of the state's attempt to establish authoritarian control.
"The people involved in the media think that the online portals of the national dailies and the television channels which are running for a long time should be allowed to operate under the current registration, but such an opinion was disregarded completely," said the TIB executive director.
He feared that the order to register without finalising the formation of a registration authority or a commission according to the online media regulations might become an effective threat to unhindered journalism.
Besides, the regulation allows the formation of a commission, but the commission will have no power to implement any recommendation, so there is a risk that the commission itself will become an authority carrying out the government's – especially the information ministry's – order.
So, the TIB expressed its hope that the decision regarding such a sensitive and nationally important issue will be taken only after holding open discussion with all the stakeholders concerned.
Stressing the importance of realising the government's election promise of allowing the online media to operate in a free and unhindered way to realise "Digital Bangladesh," Dr Iftekharuzzaman urged the government to prevent options of making personal gains by misusing journalism, but at the same time, to keep the option to do journalism freely in the online media.
The TIB expressed its hope that the information ministry will promptly withdraw its order to separately register the online portals of the newspapers and the televisions, which are published under the current law.