Published:  12:52 AM, 09 November 2018

The media must push back

There are complaints we generally make about the restrictions to which the media are subjected in Bangladesh, which is normal given the laws which have been in operation since the times of Pakistan's Ayub Khan. In all the decades since then, Bangladesh's journalists have waged a consistent and constant struggle to keep their heads above the water as they try presenting the truth to citizens. Our worries about Section 57 of the ICT Act as well as the Digital Security Act are a matter of record.

But even as we speak of the circumstances in which the media operate in Bangladesh, we have before us all those instances of journalists in countries beyond Bangladesh's borders going through their own difficulties. The White House has just withdrawn the entry pass of the CNN journalist Jim Acosta after he and President Donald Trump engaged in a testy exchange on Wednesday.

It was a bizarre moment when, in behaviour that was not at all presidential, Trump engaged in a verbal duel with Acosta and instead of answering his questions tried to shout him down. He also would not let a woman journalist speak at all. The upshot of it all was that at the end of the press conference, the White House revoked Acosta's security clearance. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders' explanation behind the move was less than the truth.

In Turkey, much as one appreciates the efforts of President Erdogan's government to expose the role of the Saudi royal family in the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the fact is that a large number of Turkish journalists have been in prison on questionable charges of involvement in a failed coup against the President. One would have expected a tsunami of protests against the authoritarian behaviour of the Turkish authorities in this regard. That has not happened.

A similar situation prevails in Egypt, where the military regime of President Abdel Fattah al Sisi has made it clear that it has little reason to be media-friendly. Some journalists of the Al-Jazeera television network have been persecuted by the regime. In Malta, inquiries into the murder more than a year ago of a woman journalist reputed for her investigative reports have stalled, thanks to the reluctance of the government to go after her killers.

Obviously, those killers were patronized by the government because the journalist was busy investigating corruption at the highest levels of political authority. In Rwanda, journalism is as good as dead because of the repressive measures exercised on the media by President Paul Kagame's government. In Russia, the media remain cowed before the government.

In effect, journalists nearly everywhere are under threat from both state and non-state actors. In a world where political liberalism has been getting increasingly eroded by the rise of intolerant and extreme conservatism, the dangers can be imagined. And the only way in which journalism can reclaim the old space is by pushing back, harder than before. A frightened or suppressed media are a sign of impending darkness for humanity everywhere.

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