The Bold and the BTV?
Aasha Mehreen Amin
An episode of Shomoyer Kotha, on the upcoming elections.
Calling a spade a spade is not a usual thing to do at Bangladesh Television (BTV). In fact quite the opposite has been true especially when it came to information regarding the party who happened to be in power. Apart from the shameless sycophancy in the news, even discussion programmes aired had to be those that talked about the existing government in haloed terms. This was always accompanied by the drab, uninspiring set and presentation that made it a pleasure to actually switch the television off. Now with cable TV and so many different private channels, it is only by default that one gets a glimpse of the BTV logo while channel surfing. While it has been tough for BTV to come out of its dull, lacklustre shell (many have referred to it as Boring TV) recently, there have been signs of life in the state channel.
One such manifestation of resuscitation is Shomoyer Kotha, a refreshingly bold discussion programme hosted and created by Munir Khosru, a Professor of the Institute of Business Administration, at Dhaka University and directed by well known TV personality Abdun Nur Tushar.
The show aired every Friday at 9:10 pm is presented in an informal style; the set is pleasing, the music not obnoxious and the visuals quite soothing to the eye. Khosru plays the easy-going host innocently asking the most awkward of questions and delves into topics as varied as the reasons for recent price hikes, to latest trends in fashion to the state of football in the country.
One of the show's most talked about episodes has been the one on the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB)which has been a mixed story of successful operations as well as unexplained custodial deaths. Guests at the show were former adviser to the Caretaker Government and human rights activist Advocate Sultana Kamal, Director General of Rab Hassan Mahmood Khandker and ntv journalist Supon Ray. In a surprisingly frank discussion, the issue of deaths by crossfire, the mandate with which this elite force had been deployed, the reason for its formation etc. have been touched upon.
The state of press freedom in Bangladesh has also been a subject at one of the episodes of this dynamic show in which media stalwarts have talked about the continuous censorship of the press in various forms by successive governments. Laws such as the Special Powers Act, defamation and contempt of court laws have impeded the work of journalists while having to face continuous threats to their life by mafia networks. Interesting observations have also come out of the episode: most cases of journalists being murdered or maimed for their reporting on criminal activities are still unresolved without any of the perpetrators being punished; the ownership of media houses has often impaired journalistic integrity and frustrated conscientious journalists; the present government while quite accessible to foreign media, have not been as open with the local media.
As its name implies Shomoyer Kotha is indeed a show that projects the issues and opinions of the times; its focus is on what is going on in the present, what affects us politically, culturally and economically. Thus it has covered subjects as serious as the devastation from SIDR, monga or seasonal famine-like situation, the reason for price spiralling as well as lighter topics such as cricket, football and current trends in fashion. The programme is very well researched and key information on each subject of discussion is given at the beginning of the show with a sum up of the main points discussed, at the end.
Exclusive tête à tête with high commissioners and ambassadors is another interesting inclusion of the show. Conversations with the British and Indian High Commissioners have been especially of interest considering the importance of these two countries to us strategically and economically. In the interview with the Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Pinak R. Chakravarty, thorny issues such as the huge trade deficit with India, border skirmishes, trafficking and water sharing, have been broached upon. With the British High Commissioner to Bangladesh Anwar Chowdhury, issues such as the UK's role in electoral reforms, its expectation from Bangladesh, visa-related problems, its special interest in Bangladesh because of a substantial British Bangladeshi population and so on. An interview with the Japanese Ambassador Masayuki Inoue has delved on the relationship between Bangladesh and Japan.
The show's informality and substance in terms of providing facts and exclusive insights from experts in the field as well as candid opinions from non-experts give it a unique flavour and has attracted the attention of many TV viewers. It is well edited and compact with no ungainly hiccups which make the forty to forty-five minutes that make up the show well spent. But it is the candour of the show that has brought back the much-needed respect and credibility to this neglected state-run channel. The fact that it has been allowed to be aired with significant autonomy speaks volumes for the maturity of the BTV authorities in tolerating comments that may sometimes be critical of the existing government. There is of course always a nagging worry that at some point, someone will try to pull the reins, but at least till now, good sense has prevailed.
In any case, Shomoyer Kotha's most noteworthy achievement has been to lure back all those TV viewers for whom switching to another channel every time the BTV logo appears on screen, had become something of a reflex action.
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