Dhaka media in despair

April 29, 2010
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Journalism is a profession which symbolizes freedom, and yet that struggle for freedom is still not over in Bangladesh. The BNP government shut down Ekushe Television and forced Simon Dring to leave Dhaka. The 1/11 administration switched off CSB. And now the Awami League has made Channel One its first victim. There may have been legitimate reasons to do so, but as these governments hold more grudges against these media outlets than they are ready to forgive, all the above mentioned closures defy the right of expression.

Simon Dring-led ETV had a strong editorial policy but the then BNP government felt threatened by the immense acceptance and popularity of the then only private terrestrial TV station. The best ever TV newsroom in Dhaka was forced into a wasteland. A group of talented and romantically motivated journalists had to slaughter their dreams and look elsewhere for survival. What they lost in dreams they more or less made up by now being the leading forces in today’s major TV channels. But those Ekushe days never came back. I believe that if they had been allowed to work without such interruptions, TV journalism in Dhaka would have claimed global standards.

But BNP failed to muster such a vision. It stunted the growth of TV journalism by a two-pronged attack: closing down Ekushe and at the same time granting new licenses to unprofessional party workers who saw this profession as a means to whiten their money; the same money and media power that was then used in favor of BNP.

Maintaining a Fox TV-type mouthpiece in a democratic society can be justified in the name of ‘liberty’ but the butterfly effect caused by the assassination of ETV led to today’s professional loopholes which allowed the Awami League government to target Channel One. Had BNP then given licenses to professionals instead of money launderers, no subsequent authority would have had the precedented means to shut down Channel One today.

On the other hand, while both CSB and Channel One had dozens of bright, young journalists, porous editorial policies could not provide any beacon of guidance. On top of that the managements of those two channels failed to ensure steady financial support. Hence, we saw the rise of meaningless talk shows and a culture of politically incorrect live feeds. In such a situation any government can be marginally excused for taking advantage of such unprofessionalism. Vulnerable channels would be wise to learn from this latest round of media witch hunting.
The present government argues that as the once jobless ETV journalists could find jobs, it shouldn’t be a problem for those left high and dry by the closure of Channel One, especially now that there are dozens of new channels floating around. But I wonder how many channels can survive on the same stagnant amount of advertisement.

Most big sponsors have their own TV channels to run their advertisements, and the few lone fish should be pragmatic enough to realize that unless you attract stable viewership no investor will part with their money.

Investors in Bangladesh generally do not have the patience for steady returns: they want instant profit and media is a slow earner. Even then media profits are more in terms of power and indirect monies rather than hard cash. So it requires a lot of skill, patience and vision to balance out owner’s interest and editorial independence. What to talk of Dhaka, even stable TV channels in rich, democratic countries cannot escape this conflict. Running a media outlet in Bangladesh has sadly become synonymous with losing a big chunk of ethics for small chunks of money. This is one reason why the post of the Head of News has become a game of musical chairs slumped under the weight of compromises.

Even the most successful of media houses in Dhaka can only afford to pay their staff half of what their contemporaries earn in India or Pakistan. They forget that our young journalists are not coal miners.

When owners are awarded licenses without proven business ethics, they are bound to turn media houses into coal mines. The wave of death surrounding young journalists in Dhaka speaks of the level and extent of their exploitation. For proof, just go through the medical reports of News Editors in Dhaka. The last one year alone has seen a dramatic rise in the number of heart attacks and deaths of News Editors.

And we should not forget the fifth columnists within the journalist community: those placed at top positions who enjoy the perks of invitations to neo elite clubs. They are the middlemen, hired with the specific mandate to facilitate media owners’ interests through the poor corridors of newsrooms. Young promising reporters give their best in this worst kind of situation, but day after day of handling egocentric palace conspiracies they become too exhausted to be creative.

Just feel the dichotomy: media owners wear designer suits, dine at five star hotels, drive Prados, abuse their press power to gain political or economic benefits, yet they expect lowly-paid journalists to uphold the middle class myths of honor and sacrifice. Owners don’t want to be burdened with professional remuneration packages but they do want the moon.

But the possibility of a silver lining is still alive. Change can yet come. The second generation of investors, with western education, are stepping in. They are likely to be more open to positive changes. So is the new breed of young journalists which is gradually taking over the helm of media. More importantly, thanks to virtual revolution the audience seems more conscious than ever before.

There can be no escaping the fight for respectful survival. Dhaka journalists are ready for it. The more the government abuses their freedom, the more they are adamant to hit back. Owners of media houses will have to get rid of their medieval feudal attitude and learn the value of an independent media.

On an endearing note, hats off to those few houses that continue to maintain professionalism despite all odds, hats off to those few who deliver unbiased news even while sitting on chairs that might collapse anytime.

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5 Responses to Dhaka media in despair

  1. Mustafa Javed
    April 29, 2010 at 5:17 pm

    I don’t agree that Dhaka media is in despair at all. Shooting down an errant satellite that has gone awry on its orbit is expected and obvious.

    Channel One was owned by one of the most corrupt person and a friend of Tareq Zia, Mamun. Its activities were dubious right from the beginning. It is alleged that it was involved in moneylaundering and siphoning off its earnings into Tareq and BNP’s pockets.

    Channel One like some other channels also played a very irresponsible and inflammatory role to fan the flames of BDR rebellion in February, 2009.

    It should be thoroughly investigated for financial irregularities and rampant corruption disclosed by the Telecommunications Ministry and BTCL since its inception during BNP by Tareq Zia. At that time Tarek had thought that he was invincible. I am sure Tarek could also be nabbed for moneylaundering like his brother Arafat. Arafat is wanted by the US Department of Justice for criminal investigation. This is a fact and cannot be brushed aside by Delwar Hossain as vendetta by the Awami League as alleged by him.

    I am sure Tareq and Mamun can easily be indicted in the US, Europe and East Asia on similar criminal grounds.

    I demand that the government digs into the corrupt nexus to find out how a school dropout like Mamun could become a millionaire overnight because of patronage a former PM’s haughty and immoral son. The government must not spare anybody even if he or she happens to be a relative of Ziaur Rahman. This should serve as a wake up call to mushrooming cable TVs that waste time on yellow journalism orchestrating cheap and hollow talkshows all night long. The cable TV channels must not think that they can be as invincible and untouchable as the once Mamun&Tareq gang & Co.

  2. Mashkur Hussain
    April 29, 2010 at 8:08 pm

    Shutting down Channel One cannot be compared to closing down of Ekushey.Ekushey then had a vision to reach out to the masses with truth. A. S. Mahmud and Simon Dring had a message to convey that was despised by the Jamaat-e-Islami backed then government of Khaleda Zia.

    CSB or Jamuna were also shut down on solid grounds. The culture of impunity among unethical media magnates and journalists must go. Owning a newspaper or a channel does not mean that one has the right to broadcast, air or write lies and fabricated news to to launch a smear campaign. This is very common in Bangladesh.

    Before the Bhola election a section of the media tried to influence the results by backing Hafiz. Hafiz’s BNP party’s atrocities based on hate crimes and communalism against the Hindu and other minority communities in 2001 that included murder, gang rape and arson were hardly mentioned in the media. Many of the surviving victims could not return to their villages for the next five years as they were threatened that they would face more dire consequences on return!

    But the common folks didn’t buy those propaganda waged by yellow journalists on behalf of Hafiz. The people replied on election day with a huge mandate for Shaun in a free and fair election just like any other election held under this Election Commission.

  3. Shameem Mahboob
    April 30, 2010 at 3:59 pm

    My station Channel One is closed! This has been done intentionally by the Gov’t to have their revenge on what BNP Gov’t did in their rule by closing down Ekushey TV. CSB and Jamuna suffered their wrath too. If irregularity did happen, the institution should be punished by a fine. Why on earth the professionals have to suffer?

    The same kind of problem occurred in the cases of RTV and Boishakhi TV. However, those stations are not being shut down as Gov’t related people bought them. Channel One belongs to BNP related people and that’s why we need to go through all these trouble.

    Irregularity doesn’t matter here, revenge is the main issue!!

  4. Gopal Sengupta
    May 1, 2010 at 10:24 am

    The decision of the BTRC to shut down Channel One on grounds of alleged breach of terms appears arbitrary, abrupt and detracting from the spirit of free media. By definition, a government has no conscience. Sometimes it has a policy, but nothing more. Those who seek absolute power, even though they seek it to do what they regard as good, are simply demanding the right to enforce their own version of heaven on earth. And let me remind you, they are the very ones who always create the most hellish tyrannies. Absolute power does corrupt, and those who seek it must be suspect and must be opposed.

  5. Khondkar A Saleque
    May 2, 2010 at 12:29 am

    May be the sponsors of Channel One were corrupt and may be they siphoned of ill gotten money using Channel One account or otherwise. But those can not be any ground to shut down the channel But if they had any irregularities in getting rights to telecast or breach any fregulatory conditions then only they should be shut down giving warnings.
    Why only Channel One several other TV channels may also have got permission in the same way.How come few ministers and political leaders could suddenly become wealthy enough in a country which still has significant percent of popuation is under poverty level can afford to run private TV Channels?
    Anyway shutting down one controversial TV channel must not mean thatDhaka media is in despair. Rather suing Editors and papers without going to press council is deplorable.

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