The Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) has expressed grave concern about the government directive to separately register all online portals of the country, particularly those of long-serving national newspapers and TV channels.
A press release was issued in this regard by the anti-graft organization on Tuesday.
They said this directive comes at a time when the National Broadcast Commission and online regulations are yet to be finalized and will establish total control and intervention of the government over the media, marking yet another deathly step in completing the efforts of a section of the government to control the media.
TIB Executive Director Dr Iftekharuzzaman, said: “It has been reported in the media that even the newspapers and TV channels that have been in operation for many years have been asked to seek re-registration of their online portals.
“Although it is being explained by the Information Ministry as part of an attempt to provide the media the advantages of being registered with the government and as an attempt to control yellow journalism, this will in reality only establish total control of the government over the media in the country.”
“Questions will arise whether despite the presence of laws and regulations relevant to the media, this new directive is intended to serve the interest of the media or in fact it comes as a tool in the hands of the government to increase pressure on the media and thereby ensure vested quarters remain above criticism and accountability.
“While the government is expected to do everything possible to uphold the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of information and opinion, we witness the government is ironically establishing further control over the exercise of such rights,” he added.
Dr Iftekharuzzaman said: “It is absolutely inexplicable that while from the highest authority of the government, pledges are being regularly made to ensure transparency and accountability, those who are supposed to implement such pledges are desperate to create all possible barriers against independent and courageous journalism that could expose corruption, abuse of power, and mismanagement.”
“It is disappointing that the government has ignored media stakeholders and experts’ views that the long-serving newspapers and TV channels are by their very right and legal existence already entitled to keep their online portals active.
“The imposition of the decision, without setting up the Broadcast Commission and finalizing the online media regulations, is bound to be a big threat to free media. On the other hand, the failure to entrust the proposed commission with authority to implement recommendations poses the risk of making it yet another toothless tiger,” said the TIB executive director.
TIB, therefore, calls upon the government to directly engage with all stakeholders for views and opinions instead of rushing to decisions on a subject of such highly sensitive and national importance, read the release.
Referring to the importance of free and uncontrolled prevalence of online news media for meeting the government’s high-profile electoral commitment of Digital Bangladesh, Dr Zaman added: “Control if you can, the promotion of personal interests by vested quarters, but do ensure free online media at the same time.
“Please don’t further undermine the freedom of media pledged as part of national independence. Failure to ensure free media in Bangladesh will convert pledges like ‘free flow of information,’ freedom of expression, and ‘Digital Bangladesh’ to only rhetoric.”
The anti-corruption body in the release said that it earnestly expects that the government will abandon this new directive of re-registration of online portals of long-running newspapers and TV channels, and rather would ensure free media in the country by a set of positive initiatives for the media, including the scrapping of the regressive provisions of the Digital Security Act (DSA).
It is also the responsibility of the government to control fake news sources and yellow journalism through the due legal process, but nothing justifies any restriction on independent media, the release added.