www: Socratic Quest for Freedom

March 23, 2010
By

As a student of English Literature I found the avenue to journalism wide open. It was easy to anticipate this kind of hurried literature. I started my civil service career as a public broadcast executive. The National Broadcasting House in Dhaka stood like Satyajit Ray’s Jalsaghar, under the shadows of colonial hangover and with a casted image of being the rulers’ trumpet, thus corroding the credibility of state-owned news media. People started switching to ATN Bangla, Channel-I and of course Ekushe TV, headed by famous British journalist Simon Dring.

Yet the programming side of Bangladesh Radio was still quite popular and its role in the development of mass media well appreciated. However, one bored afternoon after watching English August, a movie on the summer of discontent in civil service, I made up my mind to escape from such media melancholy. I started diversifying myself by taking up attachments in Bangladesh Television, Department of Film and Publication and the Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs. Leaving the passivity of my environs I also took up writing columns for Bhorerkagoj and hosting programs for Ekushe Television and Channel-I.

Private media was heading towards a boom, as was my relationship with journalism. All this while, instead of rambling about political polarization and wasting time with red tapism, I enjoyed the light and shadow of civil service. Most of my seniors were encouraging of my extra-bureaucratic activities. One person deserves special mention: a fatherly information secretary who signed my release letter so I could go and work for Deutsche Welle in Germany, popularly known as Radio Germany.

It was while working as an international broadcaster at Deutsche Welle that I got the shocking news that the BNP government had shut down Ekushe TV, without doubt a step in the dark for Bangladesh. Following in the footsteps of print media, the electronic media launched a struggle not only for press freedom, but also to restore the already fragile democracy and to fight militancy in Bangladesh.

It was also in Europe that my fascination for the World Wide Web took root. Day by day the potential of online journalism to change the landscape of traditional media dawned on me. Multimedia was just waiting to unleash complete virtual freedom. Public broadcast houses are known to readily compromise with the party in power, at one stage or the other private media is forced to surrender to corporate interests, but I found online media to be the only platform with the ability and scope to act independently.

I returned to Dhaka to take advantage of this neo-media trend. Amazed by the large number of hits and page-readings of bdnews24.com and the-editor.net , I knew then that Bangladesh would soon minimize the digital divide.

Dhaka was quick to respond to the virtual world. While TV and radio continue to suffer from clichés and stereotypes in news, entertainment and infotainment, people are switching to virtual browse modes. However, to be fair I must say that some TV channels continue to successfully maintain their Unique Selling Points like the BBC, CNN and National Geographic etc. Sadly none of them originate in Bangladesh. Indian channels too have quite a following but that is limited to entertainment. When it comes to unbiased and uncensored news or just news itself, people opt to go online.

‘5 Ws, 1 H’ have been replaced by 3 Ws: World Wide Web. It’s this online media that has embraced citizen and community journalism; the ultimate in democracy watch dogs. And finally, blogging and micro-blogging are posing a worthy challenge to the monopoly of traditional media as the fourth pillar of state. We can no longer afford to doubt that PCs, laptops, notebooks, iPods and mobile phones will be our ultimate media carriers.

Bangla blogs like somewherein.net and amarblog.com ; online writers’ forum sachalayatan.com and English news and opinion websites like e-bangladesh.org , and the bilingual priyo.com are riding high on the wave of blog-media movement of glocalisation, leaving in their wake a much strengthened Bangla language & culture.

Social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Buzz etc are making and breaking news & views. Unlike traditional media they are giving due voice to peripheral subjects. Taking a cue from them, mainstream journalists, too, have stealthily started writing blogs to minimize their pathos of compromise. While millions online check out citizen uploads, traditional media still hasn’t been able to find a way out of covering the same old political circus, nor has it gotten past pointless talkshows.

An almost one-way traffic in newspapers, radio and television nurtures mere feudal stardom of politics and showbiz, with the audience left on the sidelines as an unimportant numeric existence in TRP ratings. It’s nothing more than a ruler-ruled, elites-masses and Robinson Crusoe-Friday relationship. Though traditional media has been instrumental in fighting for democracy and human rights, media-owners themselves have failed to develop a democratic mindset; they continue to remain businessmen.

Online media has changed all this. In a virtual world Obama’s interview gets fewer hits than a video clip of a young MIT researcher or a child’s innocent laughter or a rare opera performance of an unknown middle-aged woman.

As dictated by successive rulers, electronic media in Bangladesh has tried to guard distortions in our history. But again video footages of 1971, Bangabandhu’s speeches and other such historical material on YouTube or in the form of digital documents on blogs are definitely a counter hegemony in favor of the information-have-nots.

This is, in all likelihood, a decisive time in terms of media paradigm shift, almost like going back to the Socratic quest for freedom: fleeing from the castle of Machiavelli to a virtual world without borders.

One Response to www: Socratic Quest for Freedom

  1. Mehreen
    April 21, 2010 at 11:25 am

    Fantastic article!
    A very interesting read! I’ll surely be sharing this with those who live in the world of TRPs and GRPs :)

    Best of luck!

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