The Economist, a British political and business magazine, has been accused of running a smear campaign against Bangladesh. Last July, the Economist ran an article called ‘Embracable you’ which made serious allegations against the current Bangladeshi government with little facts to substantiate them. This was investigative journalism at its worst.
In the article, they claimed that current Awami League led government had come to power with the help of “bags of Indian cash and advice.” The Bangladeshi government naturally protested. International media outlets reported that Dipu Moni, the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh has called it “smear campaign” run by The Economist. The revelations weren’t revelations; they were just low-brow accusations that half-witted BNP and anti-Indian figures push to justify their warped politics. Bangladesh nationalists do have a right to publish and comment about their neighbour trying to bully or cajole the country, but running lies and fabrications is just bad form. The Economist acted like a loud speaker for conspiracy theories.
The Economist made a serious error of judgement in publishing ‘bags of Indian cash,’ but has never tried to correct it. An error which will come back to haunt it when the recent hacking scandal plays out. If the Bangladeshi government and the International Crimes Tribunals-Bangladesh decide to take legal action against the magazine. The ‘bags of cash’ quote will rightly be used to show that The Economist hasn’t been operating in the public interest, but has mounted a vicious smear campaign against a democratically elected government. The Economist obviously has an axe to grind and has tried to cause unrest by engaging in shockingly poor journalism. This has helped to galvanise the political campaigns of the Bangladeshi opposition parties.
The article ‘Embracable you’ wasn’t just about calling the 2008 general elections into question. The general elections have been termed the most ‘open and free elections’ since Bangladesh was founded. The European Union and the United States all called the elections fair. The Economist has other ideas. The article also raised the prospect of Indian military conspiracies and their designs on Bangladesh, “Yet the new transit project may be about more than just development. Some in Dhaka, including military types, suspect it is intended to create an Indian security corridor”. The article was designed to hurt Bangladesh. It was also possibly to embolden an anti-Indian wing in the Bangladeshi security apparatus. A coup perhaps?
The Economist has an axe to grind. But what are the motives? In 2007, Harper’s magazine ran an article by Ken Silverstein called ‘Their Men in Washington’. The article documents how Cassidy and Associates and other Washington lobbyists work the corridors of power and manipulate the media into helping to smooth relations for dictators and human rights abusers- their clients. Barry Schumacher, senior director for International Policy at APCO Associates, a prominent lobbying firm in Washington D.C was mentioned in the Harper’s piece he said that The Economist is a good venue for staging events to help with lobbying efforts:
“Another option, he explained, would be to pay Roll Call and The Economist to host a Turkmenistan event. It would be costlier than the think-tank route, perhaps around $25,000, but in compensation we would have tighter control over the proceedings, plus gain “the imprimatur of a respected third party.” In order that the event not seem like paid advertising.”
Cassidy and Associates were also mentioned in the Harper’s piece. Cassidy is the paid lobbyist for Jamaat-i-Islami figures that are suspected of committing war crimes in Bangladesh. Could there be a link?
As the Skype hacking scandal involving Ahmed Ziauddin, a prominent International Law expert based in Brussels and Justice Nizamul Haq proceeds things will become clearer. However, a public interest defence for obtaining and handling illegally hacked audio recordings and emails might not be possible if it can be proven that The Economist has been conducting fair journalism without malice- that may be their sticky wicket.