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A Deadly Kitten on Prowl

August 27, 2014

The National Broadcast Policy (NBP) is an innocent-looking kitten that can turn into a mediaeater. It aims to ensure accountability of the media. How can a government that itself lacks accountability ensure the accountability of the media?

This is the latest of a series of repressive laws and policies that the incumbent government introduced in its ongoing and past tenures. Earlier, it had brought amendment to ICT Act 2006. In February this year it gave a fresh life to Speedy Trial Law, introduced by BNP-Jamaat govt, for another five years. When I’m writing this, government has just extended the controversial ‘Speedy Supply of Power and Energy Act’ by 4 years. The Act says companies seeking to set up power plant will negotiate directly with a committee formed by the government instead of going through a transparent tendering process. Bureaucrats who will award such license are also given immunity from prosecution. Clearly, this is just an unjust Act introduced to protect partisan officials and cronies.

Predilections for draconian laws and policies are signs of a paranoid government. Introduction of New Broadcast Policy, full of good talks and intentions, is the act of a deeply nervous government. Though it tries to address people and media rights, it is introduced in order to have a firm grip over the free media that is playing a crucial role in the absence of an effective opposition. Government is perhaps not happy with media’s role of informing people about government wrongdoings. Instead of rectifying its mistakes, it decides to shoot the messenger.

Emptiness of the policy becomes apparent when one looks at the ambiguous clauses. I picked up few of them for analyzing the policy. I apologize for the poor translation of the clauses.

In one clause it says “anything that is seditious or anti-public should not be broadcast”. However the policy did not spell out what is seditious and what is anti-public. In a deeply politically divided country, political parties have their own definition of ‘sedition’ and ‘anti-public interest’. Imagine a new party forms the government in future. Then this policy, with some changes, will become a harassing tool to subdue opposing voices. Examples of this are aplenty in this country. Remember the Special Powers Act. It was introduced in 1974 by this Awami League government that wanted to consolidate power. That government was gone but subsequent governments did not abolish the Act. They retained it and applied it to opposition parties. Take also for example the Speedy Trial Act, which I have just mentioned few lines earlier.

One of the key features of this policy is that it also has some clauses about broadcasting advertisement. One clause states that broadcast content should not hurt religious, political and secular sentiments. With the change of government this political sentiment will also change. A religiously conservative government will wield the term ‘religious sentiment’ to sensor ad contents while a centre-left government will use the term ‘secular sentiment’ to shackle the free media.

In the section titled other matters to be considered in broadcast, a clause says “one should avoid broadcasting any scene and statement that mock at national ideology or national objectives, Bangladeshi people or jeopardize territorial integrity and harmony of Bangladesh as a sovereign country”.

In the same section another clause says” one should be barred from broadcasting personal or confidential or maligning information of an individual.” Imagine, if an authoritarian government wants to implement it fully on the ground, there will be no reporting on corruption or crime.

And the one that drew most attention says “no program or ad that may mock at or spoil the professional image of Armed Forces, law-enforcement agencies and their personnel should be broadcast”.Again we have a vague clause. Despite information minister‘s explanation about the clause in a TV talk show, it remains a highly controversial clause in NBP. According to him, media should not call the whole agency ‘land grabber’ when it is broadcasting reports or programs on the corruption of a personnel or the agency. But the problem is minister’s explanation is not included in the policy. There are enough holes in the NBP that one can use to harass the media.

The NBP also recommends to form a broadcast commission that will oversee whether the ‘kitten’ is doing its job. There is no doubt that most of the members of the commission are going to be incumbent party loyalists. In the end, the kitten will go after the media house that incurs the wrath of party bosses.

Now it seems mediapeople have to grin and bear NBP. I encountered an East European saying while leafing through a book by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. It says :”If I’m going to be forced to eat pork, it better be of the best kind.”If the media is going to be forced to follow NBP, it better be of the best (and unambiguous) kind introduced by a truly representative government, not by one that came to power in a sham of election.

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From → Analysis

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