<%-- Page Title--%> Opinion <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 153 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

May 7, 2004

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Should We Encourage

Ekram Kabir

My recent involvement with a lifestyle magazine, which partially tries to imitate India's Femina, is making me learn many things about life and society in my country. However, sometimes my wits seem to get beaten when we sit together for planning the contents for the upcoming issues. The extent of ignorance - which tantamounts to naïveté - about life and what we want out of life often leaves me in deep bewilderment.

At a recent meeting an editorial assistant came up with the idea to run a story on "how to dump your significant other" in the "relationship" section. Wow! What a subject to write on! Finding the topic quite sellable, the executive editor, in his feat of excitement, wasted no time in assigning it to someone very good in using saucy language. My strong protest received an overt dismissal along with a hum of laughter from those present at the meeting. I bowed out with a sense of dejection, but stuck to the idea of not running a story on such a topic.

The reason of my protest was that I didn't want to educate the readers on dumping one's boyfriend or girlfriend - which in simple words means to give tips on break-ups. I may sound old fashioned, but I didn't want to offer tips on breaking up relationships, for I believe that the social responsibility of the media goes much further than just making profits by selling a magazine. I would rather want to print a story on "how to heal relationships".

However, I'm not a dogmatic character and certainly don't negate the need for breaking up relationships when they don't work. Whether we like it or not break-ups will take place, relationship between two humans, as in any relationship, will take its own due course. But providing tips on breaking up of relationships would be to totally block all hopes for those decaying relationships, which given a sincere chance and counselling, might work again.

If as a human, I want to look at the positive side of a situation, why should it be different when I'm looking at it from a journalist's point of view? We journalist always go gaga about press freedom. However, most of the time, we tend to forget that with freedom also comes responsibility. Allow me to offer an example from Ekushey Television days.

When Muslims and Hindus were engaged in a riot in the Indian state of Gujarat back in 2002, my Chief News Editor told us not to even utter the words "Muslims" and "Hindus" while writing the scripts. From our newsroom, we simply said that "people were killed when violence between the mobs erupted". For, we were fearing unrest among the people in Bangladesh, because it was a "Hindus-Muslim" issue and people might react negatively when they hear this news. My CNE's decision may have gone against the thumb rule of a newsman - which is to inform correctly - but for that moment, with very limited scale, we tried our best to keep troubles away.

Again, look at the BBC. The Hutton Report had placed the harshest possible spotlight on the social responsibility of the media - a light that has not been flattering to the BBC. Well, the media in the UK is one of the most diverse in the world, and it is full of contradictions. On the one hand, they have channels like BBC, which generally has upheld pretty high standards of impartiality throughout its history, and is imbued with a public service ethos that has influenced many other followers across the world.

On the other, they have the real shark pool. The tabloid newspapers that will quite cheerfully destroy anyone that gets in their way, and apparently likes nothing better than to chalk up the scalp of a government minister or celebrity following some vitriolic campaign. These are the companies that employ the paparazzi who hound celebrities without mercy. One UK newspaper recently took to publishing front page photographs of 'up-skirt' shots of female celebrities- - that's about as low as it gets.

Now, the question is: on part of a media company, was it a socially responsible act? Well, when a media company is at its best, it can have a hugely positive impact on society. What is the social responsibility of a media company, then? Surely, to tell the truth. To accord people a general expectation of privacy and dignity. To expose wrongs, but equally to allow that no-one is perfect. To entertain, for sure, but also to inform.

Well, the editorial board of the lifestyle magazine I'm talking about is certainly trying to entertain it readers. But in the process, wouldn't the impact we might be creating among them by running a story on "ending relationships" be negative? It's bound to be so. For, Bangladesh has not yet turned into a country where humans wait for break-up tips from a media company. On the contrary, people here, with a deep sense of social value, would want tips on how to fix their about-to-break-up relationships.

Does our society need to be like countries such as Japan and Korea where they sell "A Perfect Divorce Manual" and TV programmes on ending relationships?
I strongly disagree.

Ekram Kabir is a Dhaka-based journalist.



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