Our new National Slogan
not the worst!
four-member team from the Committee to Protect Journalists,
in town the other week on a fact-finding mission, recently declared
Bangladesh to be the most violent country for newsmen in Asia.
The delegation pointed out that since 1997 at least seven journalists
in Bangladesh have been killed in reprisal for their work and
that countless more have been either attacked or threatened.
response to the CPJ statement was predictable. The information
ministry dismissed the statement as "totally motivated"
and "biased" and the president of the pro-government
faction of the DUJ added for good measure: "we can smell
politics in it."
is not the first time that the government and it supporters
have grabbed hold of the wrong end of the stick when it comes
to responding to the findings of an impartial, independent,
international organisation with no discernible axe to grind
against the ruling coalition. Last October the finance ministry
high-handedly dismissed the Transparency International report
that found Bangladesh to be the most corrupt country in the
that instance, the government blithely chose to ignore the substance
of the statement. The point, surely, is not whether Bangladesh
is the most corrupt nation in the world, or the second most
corrupt, or the third most corrupt. The point is that Bangladesh
is, by any standard and by any measure, a nation that is mired
in corruption. The law minister recently acknowledged that GDP
growth was fully 40% lower than it would be in the absence of
Transparency International had the temerity to find Bangladesh
the most corrupt nation in the world. Instead of being abashed
at the endemic corruption that TI had documented in Bangladesh
and using its findings of fact as the basis for action, the
government chose to go into high dudgeon at what it perceived
to be the slurring of Bangladesh's good name.
again, with the CPJ statement, the government has utterly and
comically missed the point. The point is not whether or not
we are the most violent country in Asia for newsmen. I concede
that we are perhaps not the worst. I dare say that press freedom
in other Asian countries is even worse than it is here and that
violence may well also be worse elsewhere. But the point is
not whether we are the worst or not, but whether or not violence
against newsmen in Bangladesh is at an unacceptable level or
refusal to accept criticism is the real problem. The government
routinely dismisses all criticism of its performance as politically
motivated. Criticism on the part of the opposition is considered
beneath contempt, and the government refuses to believe that
any criticism leveled against it by the media can be anything
other than an organised effort to smear and malign.
that the government and its supporters would accuse CPJ of political
bias is truly laughable. I wish someone would explain to me
the nature of CPJ's nefarious agenda and the provenance of its
hostility towards the four-party alliance government. The president
of the pro-government faction of the DUJ even went so far as
to cleverly ask: "How did the CPJ conclude that Bangladesh
is the worst in Asia . . . has it collected data of other countries?"
Umm, actually, that's all that CPJ does do.
official defense then seems to be that we are not the worst.
I'm afraid that the government needs to raise the bar a little.
The fact that we might not be the worst is not good enough.
It is an insult to suggest that we should be content with the
fact that other Asian countries may be more violent for newsmen.
The government seems to think that it has won the battle, both
rhetorically and substantively. It has done neither, The battle
will be won when Bangladesh is no longer a violent country for
newsmen -- not when Myanmar or Afghanistan beat us out for last
government should have taken the CPJ report as a salutary critique
of its performance, and used it as an opportunity for introspection
and to institute much-needed reforms. The government's dismissive
response sadly suggests that its commitment to press freedom
remains suspect and that it remains indifferent to the violence
against newsmen that runs rampant. Then again, why are we surprised?
Sobhan is an Assistant Editor of The Daily Star.