Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Media bashed in Bangladesh Parliament

SALEEM SAMAD

SEVERAL MEMBERS of Parliament (MPs) have voiced annoyance, vengeance and demanded action against four newspapers including their editors in the parliament on September 21.

The heated discussion was participated by the speaker, three ministers, and six lawmakers. The ruling party and its alliance lawmakers several times lauded and supported speeches castigating the newspapers by thumping desks. The opposition remained abstain from the session.

The lawmakers expressed their outrage over several news articles, commentaries and cartoons critiquing lawmakers and cabinet ministers for controversial practices and controversial statements.

The three ministers – Local Government Minister and also General Secretary of Awami League Syed Ashraful Islam, Jute and Textile Minister Abdul Latif Siddqui and Shipping Minister Shahjahan Khan and other lawmakers asked the Speaker of the Parliament to summon the editors for tarnishing the image of the parliament. The lawmakers named Prothom Alo, Dainik Samakal, Amadher Shomoy, and Dainik Inqilab.

The dailies recently published articles on issues of tax-free cars for lawmakers, tax-free remuneration and allowances and their “half-hearted interest” in the law-making process.

Awami League MPs Suranjit Sengupta, Sheikh Fazlul Karim Selim, Nurul Islam Sujon, Jatiya Party MPs Fazle Rabbi, Mujib-ul-Haque and JSD MP Moinuddin Khan Badal took part in an unscheduled discussion during question-answer session.

Apparently addressing the media the ministers said, they are not given licence to say whatever they like. They suggest to legal action against the fourth estate and their editors.

"Summon Prothom Alo's editor MATIUR RAHMAN (m) and ask what was his role was during the state of emergency (2007-2009)," angry Abdul Latif Siddqui demanded. He questioned many print and electronic media role during the state of emergency. "We will be harsh against them."

Informing the parliament the Shipping Minister Shahjahan Khan said that recently a human-chain was held demanding arrest of Prothom Alo's editor Matiur Rahman in connection with his alleged involvement in the August 21 bomb attack on now Prime Minister Shiekh Hasina (f).

Speaker Abdul Hamid, cited a news item recently run by Dainik Samakal on legislators' tours abroad. He said lawmakers going abroad and taking part in international conferences cannot be considered "trips of luxury".

The speaker also cited a news headline of Amader Shomoy which tantamount to "slur" on him (Speaker). He cited another article of Dainik Inqilab and accused it of distorting his comments made in parliament.

Awami League lawmaker Sheikh Fazlul Karim Selim (m), however, said time has come to enact privilege act for the parliament and its members. He said it is possible to take legal action against anybody on contempt of parliament based on constitutional provisions.

However, there is no privilege acts to punish the print and electronic media practitioners.

Defending freedom of the press, freedom of expression and democratic tolerance veteran parliamentarian Suranjit Sen Gupta (m) explained that "we do not want to take action against anybody. We want a friendly relation with the media, not enmity."

Gupta said newspapers are considered the fourth estate so "We (lawmakers) should all act responsibly". He said there may be criticism but there should not be any hostility. He urged the MPs not have animosity towards the media.

"The parliament is sovereign," he said, adding that this parliament has to protect its dignity.
He said contempt of parliament is tantamount to contempt of the speaker, and democracy cannot be protected with contemptuous attitude toward parliament.

Moinuddin Khan Badal (m), spoke differently. "I think we should accept that media will criticise the MPs as they are public figures," he remarked and said the journalists could write whatever they thought in a democratic system.

The Speaker despite his criticism on the media did not issue any ultimatum or directives as urged by the ministers and parliamentarians.

Bangladesh Information Minister Abul Kalam Azad (m) assured the media practitioners and information rights groups not to worry for some “isolated comments.” He reiterated that Bangladesh government is committed to absolute freedom of press and making best efforts to establish the right to information. [END]

Saleem Samad, is a Bangladesh based journalist, an Ashoka Fellow for trend-setting journalism and recipient of prestigious Hellman-Hammet Award. He has recently returned from exile in Canada. He could be reached at SaleemSamad@hotmail.com