As in other countries, there are two categories of mass media in Bangladesh- print media and electronic media.
Bangladesh has made good progress in its struggle to establish democracy. Progress is also there in the newspaper industry. During 2004 and 2005 there are a good number of electronic media came to entertains the viewers.
Print Media: As on March 17, 2003, declaration had been given to 496 dailies, of which 330 are being published. Declarations were granted to 806 weeklies, of which only 470 are coming out while out of 212 fortnightlies, only 168 see the stands.
However, this is an encouraging sign that so many newspapers and weeklies are coming out in this country. Capital city Dhaka tops the list of daily newspapers published from any particular city of Bangladesh.
Newspapers in Bangladesh are, in fact, pluralistic and most of them are owned by big business firms or by political parties. Once there were a number of government-owned newspapers - The Dainik Bangla, a vernacular daily, and The Bangladesh Times, an English language daily. In 1998, the government pulled out from the two newspapers and they were closed down.
There are also many privately owned news agencies in Bangladesh although their activities are limited. Of the news agencies, only two - one is state-run Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS) and another is privately owned United News of Bangladesh (UNB) - are in the mainstream.
Compared to the electronic media, the print media in Bangladesh is more vibrant, but the environment is still far from ideal. There are many laws and several sections under the Bangladesh Penal Code that affect functioning of the press. The most important of them is perhaps the Official Secrets Act, a 19th century law that remains to be a stumbling block to the development of free media in Bangladesh. Increasing public access to information by amending the Official Secrets Act will be a significant step in Bangladesh's democratic evolution.
The demand to repeal the Official Secrets Act is growing among journalists and media rights groups. The Official Secrets Act is seen as one of the major roadblocks in Bangladeshi journalists' quest for full freedom. This also prevents journalists from investigating into government corruption. Government officials can always resort to this law to stop journalists from getting information.
Apart from the Official Secrets Act, there are libel laws that are often misused against journalists who try to expose corruption, political patronisation of gangsters and religious fundamentalism. Government ministers, officials and ruling party politicians have in recent years taken journalists to court on defamation cases. Such defamation cases are filed mainly to harass journalists, editors and owners of newspapers. A law allows court to issue warrant of arrest to journalists facing defamation charge. In many cases, editors, journalists and publishers had to appear before the court in person and get ball. No trial is held, but such cases are filed to harass journalists with the vengeful objective of "teaching the _journalists a good lesson." This intimidates journalists and prevents them from investigating powerful people or organisations. There are physical threats too. The past five years saw the murders of a good number of journalists who tried to expose corruption and dons' involvement in smuggling. Hundreds of journalists were attacked and wounded or faced threats. Some were put behind the bar.
However, newspapers mainly published from Dhaka have undergone a major transformation. Most of them have got a new look. Imported newsprint, coloured pictures and introduction of computer technology have done the trick. Technically, newspapers are not better produced.
Since the fall of the government of HM Ershad and installation of a democratic government in the early part of 1991, the print media has been enjoying considerable freedom. Amendment of certain clauses of the Printing and Publications Act of 1974 by the Caretaker government of Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed made it possible. Following the newfound freedom, newspapers started coming out from every nook and corner of the country. The mushroom growth of newspapers left an impression that the newspaper industry must be very profitable. But the ground reality is just the opposite. Barring a few dailies and weeklies published from Dhaka and Chittagong, newspapers have financial problems. Most of them do not regularly pay salaries and wages of journalists and employees. The Wage Board Award has not been implemented in these newspapers and journalists and employees are substantially underpaid.
The newspaper industry is in an uneven competition. Except one or two, no newspaper published in recent years could create its own readership, every time a new newspaper comes out it eats up certain part of circulation of other newspapers. Though the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) under the Ministry of Information estimates the total circulation of about 200 dailies, published from all over the country, at 2.2 million, the actual circulation of these dailies will not be more than 0.6 to 0.7 million according to insiders' estimates. The owners of the newspapers allegedly give an inflated circulation figure to the ABC to get better amount of government advertisements.
The Bangla dailies published from Dhaka have an estimated circulation of about 0.3 million while English dailies about 60,000 in total. It may sound incredible that the combined circulation of the Bangladesh Observer (then Pakistan Observer) and the Morning News (now defunct) was about 100,000 in the late 60s. A sharp decline in the circulation of English dailies, now numbering five, since independence in 1971 is attributed mainly to repatriation of non-Bengalis to Pakistan and negligence of English education during post-liberation years.
One may wonder why so many newspapers are published in such a small and fiercely competitive market. Some say newspapers, to many owners, are "Broad-sheet visiting cards" that ensures standing in the society and help promote other businesses. They are owner-editors, who before entering the newspaper industry, had no experience in journalisin.
The newspaper industry in Bangladesh had not been much capital intensive till the early 90s when two business houses - the Beximco Group and the Globe Group - made the industry capital intensive. Beximco Group, one of the country's leading business houses, established the Beximco Media Publications in 1995, apparently to build a media empire. It first brought out the daily Independent introducing high quality foreign newsprint and colour pictures. The Globe group brought out the Janakantha publishing it simultaneously form Dhaka and four other out stations.
Bangladesh Betar, previously known as Radio Pakistan until 1971, started its journey during 1940’s. It had several relay stations all over the country, so it covered almost all the population of the country. It was the only electronic media until Bangladesh Television went on air in 1965 in its makeshift studio housed in a room in the DIT building, now known as Rajuk Bhaban as the terrestrial television channel. Since then BTV quickly earned a reputation for excellent sets and excellent dramas, but in recent years it has not been able to maintain the same standard of quality and has thus lost many viewers.
Bangladesh Betar and Bangladesh Television are the country's two state-own TV and radio channels. These are considered the mouthpieces of the government. Opposition news is hardly broadcast by these two electronic media.
BTV and BTV World
With the launching of BTV World, it has a chance to regain its lost glory. In other words the decision to go global has given it a new life and newer opportunities. Whether or not BTV can live up to the challenge remains to be seen because if the trial run was anything to go by, overseas viewers are likely to be served up with the old mix that has consistently driven home viewers away. If they cannot live up to expectation, and if producers cannot put in their sincere efforts to give people dramas and programmes to remember, this venture may collapse before it has truly begun.
The Prime Minister while inaugurating the BTV World's satellite channel also focused on quality. She said top priority should he given to telecasting programmes for the large number of' expatriates who arc starved for Bengali programmes.
With transmission covering a large area in a number of countries that include Japan, the Far East, Cyprus, Egypt, Australia, New Zealand and Russia, the number of people who will tune in to BTV World, should increase but as the Prime Minister said, "BTV will need to produce splendid and innovative programmes catering to the demand."
Private Electronic Media
There was no private electronic media in Bangladesh until 1998 when the Awami League government allowed for the first time the operation of private television channel, Ekuskey Television (ETV). The country's first private and terrestrial TV channel ETV gained popularity for its style of news presentation. It was shut down after the High Court found its licensing process illegal, dealing a serious blow to the growth of private electronic journalism in Bangladesh.
Sources close to the electronic media named a good number of organisations that applied for permission. These are Media One, Liberty Television, Dhaka TeleFilm, Telebangla, Bishal Multimedia, KTV, Bengal News, Janata Televsion, Daffodil Multimedia, Bishal Music, Bijoy Broadcasting Univision, Bangla Television, Maxel Multimedia, Development Media TV Channel, SAS World, TV Bangla, Bangladesh Channel USA, Nationwide Communication, Bangla TV London, Probashi Television Network, National Television, Baishakhi Television, Sonali Television, Gazi Satellite Network and Movie Tone Media Communication.
Experts say the new channels will create more jobs, more competition and more exposure.
At present ATN Bangla, Channel i, Baishakhi, Bangla Vision, Channel 1, NTV, ITV and RTV are now on air, but UTV and JTV have failed to broadcast programmes even a year after the permission. Meanwhile, a Supreme Court verdict cancelled ETV's contract. In the wake of the ETV episode, the Information Ministry worked on a set of regulations that will be signed into a law to control the electronic media.
There is at present two privately run radio stations.
Role of Electronic Media
In leading a nation towards a new height of development, electronic media can play a tremendous role. Electronic media in Western countries does more than what their people expect, supporting their national development efforts, expanding their markets, selling their cultures and imposing their political ideologies on other parts of the world. In South Asia, India is another example where over a hundred satellite TV channels are being operated, promoting their culture and economy.
But in Bangladesh radio and television are monopolised by the government. Monopolised news media is the main reason why confusion grips the society. This form of news media does not serve the interests and views of the vast majority of the people or the mainstream ideals.
A free media is the key to promote good governance and make democracy meaningful and effective. As per the country's constitution, the media should be totally free in investigating government and powerful corporations. In reality, the media is far from enjoying an environment conducive to carrying out such journalistic job.
Electronic media in Bangladesh can hardly reach the people the right information at the time due to various types of state restrictions and political interference. Monopolistic news media, in theory, can become so powerful that an important national news or event can be suppressed from the general mass by not publishing it. In other words, the incident did not occur and hence is not news. This is an extreme example but a possible one. In fact, such a condition can be called white-collar terrorism and its outcome can breed confusion and violence. Freedom of speech is a constitutional right of citizens but in case of a monopolistic news media that right cannot be fairly exercised.
In most developed countries, governments and media maintain a kind of cooperation among themselves when it comes to national interest. They are untied on the question of public interest irrespective of their coterie interests. But this practice is absent in Bangladesh.
Since the Pakistan era, the government, be it civilian or military, has pursued policy to control the press. More often than not the military junta or the party in power used the country's media as a propaganda machine in its favour besides suppressing the voice of dissent. Freedom of press or expression has not developed due largely to this fact. Sometimes laws and regulations controlling the press were relaxed, but those were enforced strictly again to serve the purpose of the ruling clique. Every government tried to realise political and party interests by using the print and electronic media and imposing censorship on them in various ways.
Those who came to power through democratic process also broke their promises to guarantee press freedom. They did not fulfil their commitments of granting autonomy to radio and television either. Besides, censorship on newspapers and harassment of journalists marked a rise. Their hostile attitude has resulted in the following:
A. Newspapers have failed to take an institutional shape.
B. Real professionalism has not developed. (Bangladesh is 20 years behind neighbouring India and 50 years behind developed countries like Europe and America in the field of profession)
C. Uncertainty in the profession.
D. Journalism here often reflects one side of the coin.
F. People have had less confidence in the local press in 23 years of erstwhile East Pakistan and 33 years of independent Bangladesh. They depend on foreign media like BBC, VOA and CNN to get the "real news" concerning different important issues or events.
G. Some vested quarters as well as individuals have infiltrated in the media in the controlled atmosphere.
H. Blackmailing and yellow journalism are the outcome of this situation.
I. Fundamental national issues are not treated with due importance by the newspapers, and
J. Ethics of journalism are not always followed.
For these reasons, the press and electronic media cannot play their due role in the national development. This can be more visualised with the evaluation of the post-independent press.
This period can be divided into four phases;
A. First Phase: December 16, 1971 to August 15,1975
B. Second Phase: August 16, 1975 to March 23, 1982
C. Third Phase: March 24, 1982 to December 6, 1990
D. Fourth Phase: December 7, 1990 to till date
Bangladesh came into being on December 16, 1971 after a bloody nine-month liberation war. In the post-independence period, the Bangladesh press enjoyed freedom in real terms only for one year. But both radio and television were fully controlled and used as propaganda tools by the then ruling party. The post-independence government tried to control the newspapers in the beginning of 1973 when they began focusing on the government failures and inefficiency. When a terrible famine struck the country in 1974, the newspapers became more critical of the government. They even ignored the government's censorship/control and published news on the famine as well as the government failure to tackle the situation. In order to check the press, the government promulgated the Special Powers Act, 1974. Under this law, anybody can be detained in jail without assigning any reason. Critics branded it as a "black law". The then Mujib government was not satisfied with all these rules. It closed down all but four newspapers and introduced one-party rule in 1975.
President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and other members of his family were killed in a military coup on August 15, 1975. The second phase started since then. The army began to govern the country overtly or covertly. The coup d’etat changed the government but the new administration's attitude towards the press remained the same as during the previous regime. The newspapers were allowed to resume publication, but control and censorship continued as the Special Powers Act remained in force.
Regular news monitoring and control were enforced through the Information Ministry and Press Information Department (P1D). In addition, the President's office also imposed restrictions on news. These restrictions came in the form of press advice. Press advice means the guidelines for news censorship. Such press advice usually landed in newspapers offices at midnight. They also included restriction on the publication of statements or speeches of opposition political parties and leaders.
The country experienced another army coup d'etat on March 24, 1982. The military rule continued for nine years. This was the toughest period for the press. It became a general rule to ban newspapers and harass journalists during this period. Mainly four techniques were applied to control the news media. Those are:
A. Press advice
B. Ban on newspapers
C. Distribution of government advertisements and newsprint supply according to the will of the administration, and
D. Legal complexity in obtaining newspaper declaration. Besides, then President General Ershad met the newspaper editors every now and then. Such meetings were aimed at maintaining pressure on the newspapers. New rules were imposed in giving registration to papers. It was beyond imagination to get the declaration for a newspaper by observing these rules. At one stage, no registration was issued without the consent of the President.
The autocratic Ershad government was overthrown through a historic mass upsurge on December 6, 1990. The fourth phase began after the fall of the Ershad regime. This period can be divided into two parts:
a. The rule of a caretaker government headed by Chief Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed, and
b. The government of Khaleda Zia.
Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed took over as the head of a caretaker government after the fall of the autocratic regime on December 6, 1990. According to people's earlier demands, some changes took place during this period. As the first step for ensuring press freedom, a newspaper control regulations was withdrawn from the Special Powers Act. With this measure, obtaining registration for a newspaper became easier.
The present government of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) took over from the caretaker government, which ruled the country for nine months. BNP came to power through a free and fair election held under the interim administration. But they did not take any positive step towards press freedom. The journalists had a great expectation from this democratically elected government. It did not grant autonomy to the national broadcasting media as was agreed upon by BNP and other opposition parties during the anti-Ershad movement. Moreover, direct and indirect government pressure on the newspapers, radio and television increased as days passed by.
In some cases, harassment of journalists during this regime went beyond that of the autocratic Ershad government. Like in the previous regime, the national broadcasting media was turned into a propaganda channel of the government. Opposition parties raised questions about it in Parliament. They called upon the government to fulfill the past commitments. But the ruling party did not pay heed to this issue. Besides, opposition parties statements in Parliament were twisted and broadcast by electronic media. This prompted the opposition to boycott parliament.
The journalist community hoped that a congenial atmosphere for journalism would be created and press freedom ensured under the rule of this elected government. But this remained a far cry. After assuming power, BNP started controlling the press indirectly. While indirect control was in vogue, there was no dearth of rhetoric over press freedom. The government claimed that the press was enjoying full freedom. But, in practice, it was controlling the press through indirect restrictions. Distribution of government advertisements and newsprint is another way to suppress the press. Harassment of journalists through various means is also a weapon to establish control over the media.
Internet service at villages can make a big difference
The government is working towards extending Internet service to the level soon, as today's society is being transformed on the basis of knowledge economy the world over.
Information and Communications Technology Minister Dr Abdul Moyeen Khan disclosed the plan while inaugurating a three-day South Asia Regional Network meeting of Global Knowledge Partnership (GKP) at BRAC Centre in October 25, 2003. "We'll have to ensure Internet connectivity in this global village, so we took various steps for providing Internet facility at the village level," he said.
A number of delegates from different countries, including India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, joined the conference. The meet was arranged ahead of the H I summit in Geneva.
Dr. Moyeen Khan said ICT not only could reduce poverty, but also could be a tool for good governance. "Using ICT, Bangladeshi people as well Asian people can change their lives. ICT can be the most important tool for poverty eradication."
The country's first IT Park is going to be set up in Kaliakoir, adjacent to the Talibabad Satellite Earth Centre. Preliminary steps in this regard have been taken, according to report published in The Independent. Addressing the ceremony Science and ICT Minister Dr Abdul Moyeen Khan said the IT Park would set out its journey after being well-equipped with international IT facilities through hardware, software and electronics companies in one year's time.
We are further told that the park will comprise international standard IT companies, industries, show rooms research and development centres for hardware and software, communications hardware and software, IT enabled services, human resources development institute, design and consultancy, bio-informatics, etc.
A self-contained IT facility will be an answer to an acute need. That there is serious demand for an exposition of Computer and IT is evident from the huge crowd drawn by computer fairs and exhibitions held in the city and elsewhere from time to time. But these fairs are not substitutes for a permanent institution. Although computer education is growing and more and more young women and young men are graduating with a degree in computer science and computer engineering, the institutional support has been lacking. The youths who have developed the Bengali software can claim great credit, all the more so because they have done so almost entirely by private initiative.
As for the necessary hardware, it is entirely imported although the scope and expertise for producing some hardware in the country exists. We could not yet develop operating system in Bangla due to which the less educated people in villages cannot benefit. And the most important point at this stage is what is called "outsourcing". There is wide scope for the country's unemployed youth to engage in outsourcing which may be defined as overseas online contract. But to expand outsourcing opportunity will require official support. And the Internet here is slow which may pose a problem.
Whether the submarine cable is going to make a difference remains to be when all this is considered, an IT Park is a need of the hour and let its hope in course of time this facility will be made into our own Silicon Valley.
Global support for information society
Targets set for improving access and connectivity to information and communication technologies (ICT) by 2015 at the first phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) have received strong support in a global ITU survey.
The summit approved a declaration of Principles and Plan of Action that set forth a roadmap to bring the benefits of ICT to underserved economies. The summit was organised by ITU under the patronage of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to ensure that social and economic development, which is increasingly driven by ICTs, will result in a more just, prosperous and equitable world.
The survey shows overwhelming support for the belief that if the information society is to be one in which all citizens throughout the world can equally access and use information.
The survey was released on World Telecommunication Day, which commemorates the founding of the International Telecommunication Union in 1865. ITU, the oldest multilateral organization in the world, chose to celebrate its 139 anniversary with the theme "ICTs: Leading the Way to Sustainable Development."
BANGLADESH CODE OF CONDUCT
(Adopted by Newspapers, News Agencies and Journalists of Bangladesh, 1993)
1. It is the responsibility of a journalist to keep people informed of issues, which influence them or attract them. News and commentaries have to be prepared and published showing full respect to the sensitivity and individual rights of the newspaper readers as, well as the people.
2. Truth and accuracy in respect of information available shall be ensured.
3. Information received from reliable sources may be published in public interest induced by honest intention and if facts presented therein are considered trustworthy by logical consideration, then the journalist has to be absolved of any adverse consequence for publication of such news.
4. Reports based on rumours and not supported by facts shall be verified before publication and if these are considered not suitable for publication, one should refrain from publication of such news.
5. News items whose contents are dishonest and baseless or whose publication hinges on breach of trust shall not be published.
6. Newspapers and journalists have the right to express their views strongly on controversial issues but in doing so: a. All true events and views shall be expressed clearly. b. No event shall be distorted in order to influence the readers. c. No news shall he distorted or slanted dishonestly either in the main commentary or in the headline. d. Views on main news shall be presented clearly and honestly.
7. The editor has the right to publish any advertisement in newspapers signed by proper authorities, even if it is apparently against individual interest but not slanderous or against public interest. If protest is made with regard to such advertisement, the editor shall print and publish it without any cost.
8. Newspapers shall refrain from publishing any news which is contemptuous of or disrespectful to caste, creed, nationality and religion of any individual, community or the country.
9. If a newspaper published any news against the interest and good name of any individual, agency institution or group of people or any special category of people, then the newspaper or journalist concerned should provide opportunity to the aggrieved persons or institutions to publish their protest or answer quickly and correctly within a reasonable period of time.
10. If the published news is damaging or is improper, then it should immediately be withdrawn and corrigendurn or explanation (and in special cases apology) should be issued so that the impression (bad or erroneous) created by publication of such news is removed.
11. Sensational and pulpy news shall not be published to augment the circulation of a paper if such news is deemed vulgar, improper and against public interest.
12. Newspapers may adopt reasonable measures with a view to resisting crime and corruption even if they may not in some cases be deemed acceptable to someone.
13. The extent and durability of the influence of newspapers is greater than other media. For this reason a journalist writing for newspapers shall be particularly cautious about the credibility and veracity of sources and shall also preserve his source material in order to avoid risks.
14. It is the responsibility of the newspapers to publish the news of' under-trial cases at all stages and to publish the final judgment of the Court in order to reveal the actual picture of issues relating to the case. But a journalist shall refrain from publishing such comment or opinion as is likely to influence an under-trial case until the final verdict is announced.
15. Rejoinder of the aggrieved party or parties directly involved with a news item published in a newspaper shall be quickly published in the same newspaper on such a page as would easily attract the attention of the readers; the editor, while editing the rejoinder, shall not change its basic character.
16. If an aggrieved party sends a rejoinder for the damage done to him by an editorial, it shall be the moral obligation of the editor to publish the corrigendum in the same page and also express his/her regrets.
17. The publication of malicious news is far more immoral than that of wrong news without malicious intent.
18. It is the moral duty of an editor to accept full and sole responsibility for all publications in his/her newspaper.
19. A reporter while reporting on a case of financial or other irregularity shall, to the best of his ability, ascertain the facts in his news item and must collect sufficient material to justify the truth of the matter reported. He should adopt the necessary precautions while investigating the case.
20. A responsible publication which has not been contradicted may be the source of a news but it shall be a moral duty on the part of a journalist not to avoid responsibility regarding the news on the pretext that it has been reprinted.
21. It is the responsibility of a journalist to highlight any news which projects degeneration of moral values in our society but it is also the moral responsibility of a journalist to maintain extra precaution in publishing any news involving man-woman relationships or any report relating to women.
22. Respect for the law shall be highlighted.
23. All government employees and the people in general shall be made aware of the need to preserve national resources.
24. No programmes shall be shown containing scenes of torture to human beings or animals.
25. The programmes shall eulogise the role of the genuine freedom fighters during the wars of liberation.
26. All scenes of indecent kissing must be avoided while showing local and foreign films or programmes. No programmes of terrorism, violence or other contents contrary to Bangladeshi cultural values shall be put out.
27. In the case of advertisements, no commodity shall be undermined while promoting another. Commercials shall not contain any obscene words or scenes.
Source: Communication Ethics: A South Asian Perspective, Asian Media Information and Communication Centre.