Vol. 5 Num 568 Sat. December 31, 2005  

When have media misled people?

Politicians look for scapegoats for their own failures. In Bangladesh, the easy scapegoat is the media. A government minister's criticism Wednesday of the media, saying that local newspapers and the electronic media for, what he said, misleading the nation proves this fact once again.

Much has been written and said about our ministers' paranoia for media-bashing. But the question is: when did any Bangladesh government, in the history of the nation, use the media as a tool for economic and political development? The state has always tried to shut the media up whenever the latter tried to be objective. The media had to take the blame of doing even yellow journalism.

There's no denying the presence of yellow journalism in Bangladesh. Nor any other country in the world is devoid of it. But the way our politicians, at first instance, blame Bangladesh media of yellow journalism certainly arouses paradoxical laughter. Weighing the wrongdoings of the media and the same of politicians is likely to bring more bad news for the latter.

The media personnel in Bangladesh have never said they were holy cows and not susceptible to committing mistakes; neither have they ever boasted about their successes. On the other hand, not a single politician in Bangladesh has ever admitted that s/he had done any mistake. According to our politicians: they are always matchlessly right.

Take a break; look at the reality for your own good. It has now become imperative for Bangladesh politicians to take lessons from other countries that have successfully made the media a nation-building tool.

If one takes a look at the recent development around the world as far as the media is concerned, this should open many eyes.

The BBC World Service has decided to launch an Arabic TV and information service. BBC's Arabic TV service is expected to go on air in 2007. This came when Aljazeera announced it would launch an English-language channel at the start of 2006. In France, the culture and communications minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres announced on November 30 the launch of a "chaîne d'information internationale" (CII), dedicated to giving French spin on world news following the model of CNN, BBC World and Al Jazeera. Back in 1987, then Prime Minister of France Jacques Chirac called for the creation of a French international news network. Now, 18 years later, his dream is en route to being realised. Like Aljazeera, CII will provide a counterpoint to CNN, BBC, and the ubiquity of the English and Anglo-American worldviews.

Does this ring any bell? If it still doesn't, think about US President George Bush's alleged plans for bombing Aljazeera. This allegation, Bush said, is baseless. But think about it from another point of view. If he at all wanted to bomb Aljazeera, why would he want that? Because Aljazeera is believed to be one of the most credible anti-US policy propaganda machine in the Arab world. The absence of Aljazeera would certainly give the Bush administration an upper hand for propagating his foreign policies across the world, especially in the Arab world. He is apparently losing the propaganda war against many opposing forces.

Well, this may seem too big a picture and example for Bangladesh. Let's ask a question to ourselves: what do BBC, VOA, DW, NHK, Iranian Radio etc., gain from broadcasting Bangla news, current affairs and programmes on their frequencies? Certainly, they don't earn money from Bangla-speaking population; rather, they spend money to stay in close contact with the same population. Do they serve as the mouthpieces of their respective governments? Sometimes, yes they do, at least when giving an editorial judgement. Most of the time, those governments try to just remain present in the minds of the listeners. When a listener listens to NHK, s/he certainly thinks about Japan; when s/he listens to DW, s/he without doubt thinks about Germany. The same is true for all these radio and TV frequencies. This helps in building a positive image in the minds of overseas listeners.

When has Bangladesh thought of doing something like that, at least at the regional level? It may be poor for running a global operation, but not as poor for running Hindi, Urdu, Nepalese and English service. India's Akash Bani has all these services including Bangla. These services could have assisted building the country's image abroad, which, according to politicians, local newspapers and electronic media is being tarnished to blatantly.

Leave aside using the media as a propaganda tool. Is the government using the state-controlled media properly when it comes to convince the masses and promote democracy and development? The state-run media is a shameless example of violating democratic norms. On the other hand, the electronic media (the government minister means the newly-established private TV channels), of which the government boasts of giving permission to, are actually the moneymaking machines of its political allies.

It is the media in Bangladesh that has promoted all government-sponsored development schemes -- starting from immunisation to acid violence. They didn't have to be ordered by the government for these initiatives. It is the media that ask them to break political deadlocks; it the media that editorialise ideas for Bangladesh politicians; it is the media that encourage the government as well as opposition politicians on national issues; it is the media that encourage them to forget petty party issues.

So, why this slur on the media? Is it because it strikes at the root of all wrongdoings? Is it because it calls the spade a spade? Is it because it points out the failures of our leaders? Who else is expected to do that except the media? Our leaders themselves? The bureaucrats? You must be joking! Well, it must be the donors then!

An assessment of the present electronic media would reveal, a great vista of opportunity for these very politicians has opened up to defend their failures. They should at least give this credit to the media. The media is also giving them an access to communicate with the masses. Our leaders must remember that media these days have become a strategic tool for nation building across the world.

They must also remember that 14 Bangladeshi journalists had lost their lives over the last four years; they surely were no suicide bombers; they were killed. Surely, they were not misleading the nation.

If one wants a country's economic development, if any, to be truly portrayed, one actually needs to free the media and let it play its due role. The job of the media is to do both: report activities as well as inertia. Our leadership needs to accept this fact, and lead.

Mohammad Kabir is a freelance contributor.