Govt guidelines on talk-shows must go

Editorial, NewAge, September 21, 2007

The decision of Fakhruddin Ahmed’s administration to lift the ban on televised talk shows comes accompanied by a series of ‘guidelines’ that have been provided to the broadcast media in plain paper and which the information secretary has described as ‘informal.’ The government’s guidelines specify the maximum number of talk shows a channel can broadcast in a given week, and even what sections of society can be invited, and stipulates that talk shows cannot have interactive discussions through live phone-in or messaging services. The guidelines warn against ‘statements that can create resentment towards the legitimate government of Bangladesh’ etc.

At the very outset, we would like to point out that these guidelines contradict the very spirit and content of chief adviser Fakhruddin Ahmed’s recent claims to the BBC that the media is operating freely in Bangladesh without any government intervention. More importantly, it becomes a significant symbol of the curb on the freedom of expression that the state of emergency is forcing on public views and opinions, once again contradicting Fakhruddin’s claim that the emergency is not affecting the general public in their day-to-day lives. Prohibiting dissenting views and opinions with vague and sweeping criteria such as those prescribed by the government allows for arbitrary actions against the media and creates an environment of fear and intimidation that will no doubt hinder their mission in representing the differing points of view that make up a democratic polity. Governments across the civilised world recognise that the media plays an important intermediary role in keeping the channels of communication open between the rulers and the ruled. Only a government that refuses to recognise the sovereignty of the people would want to isolate itself from public criticism.

Bangladesh had one of the most free and vibrant media environments in South Asia for the past decade and a half. The freedoms that the media enjoyed were no gift from any government; they were the fruit of a long nine-year struggle against dictatorial regimes that saw democratic process restored in Bangladesh in 1991 through a mass uprising. Since the military-driven interim government assumed office in January this year, the media has time and again been straitjacketed with guidelines and advisories, not to mention the intimidation of journalists by the different government agencies. This government’s legitimacy, in the eyes of ordinary Bangladeshis, lies in its promise to ensure greater transparency, accountability and democratisation in the country. It is absurd that the public must now accept that this mission requires the government to impose draconian guidelines to curb press freedoms.

We, therefore, suggest that the government immediately withdraw its ‘guidelines’ that are bound to obstruct airing of different social, political and economic views necessary for the people at large to form their informed opinion on matters of national interests.

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