"The International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists" is being observed today (November 2) across the world. The United Nations General Assembly Resolution A/RES/68/163 urged the member states to implement definite measures countering the present culture of impunity. The date was chosen in commemoration of the assassination of two French journalists in Mali on November 2, 2013.
This landmark resolution condemns all attacks and violence against journalists and media workers. It also urges the UN member states to do their utmost to prevent violence against journalists and media workers, to ensure accountability, bring to justice perpetrators of crimes against journalists and media workers, and ensure that victims have access to appropriate remedies.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres says, "When journalists are targeted, societies as a whole pay a price. Without journalists able to do their jobs in safety, we face the prospect of a world of confusion and disinformation".
Now the question is: How safe are journalists in Bangladesh? We all know that journalists in Bangladesh operate in an environment that is not really enabling and safe. The situation is actually highly paradoxical. We all are aware of the growth of the electronic, print and online media here over the past two decades. The midnight television talk shows are vibrant, the newspapers and online portals are running huge number of reports and opinions giving a notion that there is considerable freedom being enjoyed by the journalists in this society.
But international non-governmental organisation Reporters Without Borders says, Bangladeshi journalists have been among the leading collateral victims of unrest in the political and social fronts. It said Bangladesh has ranked 150th in the 2019 World Press Freedom Index, dropping by four notches from last year's 146th. The index, an annual review of 180 countries and their relationship with the media, was released in April this year.
The scribe, being a leader of the Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists, gets regular information from different parts of the country about attack and harassment of journalists. The situation is grave in the periphery areas where the journalists are regularly threatened and attacked. Either they are sued under the Digital Security Act or they come under physical attack by the local influential quarters. The situation is not so healthy in the centre, I mean in the capital too. The suspected perpetrators include non-state actors as well as state-sponsored elements.
Many journalists were killed across the country during different regimes. On paper, the government said in the past and is still saying that they would investigate and prosecute all cases where journalists are killed or attacked. But the reality, unfortunately, is that the country has failed to demonstrate any resolve.
The ultimate result is the practice of undeclared censorship. Bangladesh's media environment is under increasing control not only by the ruling party and the government but also by the corporates, by the religious outfits and many other pressure groups.
Media freedom in Bangladesh is largely for the owners who are using the media houses for protecting their businesses and political interests. Journalists in Bangladesh are working under a climate of fear, which is affecting their coverage and operations. Journalists are increasingly practicing self-censorship to save both their jobs and lives. They are bullied on social media by politically motivated groups of different ideologies.
A free and independent media is the cornerstone of democracy, and plays a critical role in ensuring the fairness and transparency of the governance system. We know it well that without press freedom, the truth disappears.
What is to be done then? The journalist organisations, irrespective of their political affiliations, need to go for a sustained media freedom campaign. It is imperative that all sections in the society lend unequivocal support to the relentless struggle of journalists for their freedom. Strong collaboration among various media platforms and concerted advocacy with rights groups, media house editors and owners can highlight the seriousness of efforts to safeguard the journalists' watchdog role properly.
Syed Ishtiaque Reza is the Editor in Chief of GTV and sarabangla.net He can be reached at [email protected]