Things that make you to Think

The Dangers of Being a Journalist

:: Media insecurity in Bangladesh ::

This article was published at CIME (Center for International Media Ethics), an international newsletter, on its August issue, 2012 ::

This year within a six-month time span, three journalists were killed in Bangladesh, including a journalist couple. The number of severely injured journalists reached 72, while 35 were assaulted and 43 were gravely threatened in their working field, says a report prepared by Bangladesh-based human rights watchdog group Odhikar. These figures point to the deterioration of free press practices in Bangladesh. Those figures show that journalism is a threatened profession in the country, even though the profession provides great services for the public interest and safety. Working in such perilous situations, journalists have been demanding safety in their home and work field.

After the journalist couple killing, it was realized that Bangladeshi journalists are not safe in their work. Broadcast journalists Sagar Sarowar and Meherun Runi were stabbed in their rented flat in the capital city of Dhaka at around midnight on Feb. 12. Journalists in the county are still reeling from the news of their premature deaths.

The home minister declared a 48-hour deadline for arresting the killer of the journalist couple. Six months later, it has been confirmed that the 48-hour deadline failed, and the case was handed over to the elite force Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) from the Criminal Investigation Department of the Bangladesh Police.

“Still the investigation is going on, as the police failed to find any clue behind the murder after four months, now the case is investigated by Rapid Action Battalion (RAB),” said an official from RAB.

At this standstill situation, several journalists’ organizations around the country are jointly demanding the punishment of the criminals and the safety of journalists.

Amid all the incidents, on June 15, Jamal Uddin, a reporter of a local newspaper in Jessore, located in Southwestern Bangladesh, was brutally killed, allegedly for writing reports against local drug lords.

Media experts assert public awareness is a vital solution to reduce the problem, alongside the government’s good wishes, which can also bring free press practices to the country. Interestingly, the government always claims that journalists are enjoying their freedom in the country in spite of such incidents.

If journalists are enjoying press freedom, then why did police personnel beat up three photojournalists of a noted Bengali daily newspaper in broad daylight May 26 of this year? The photojournalists were severely injured and later admitted to a nearby hospital.

What’s more is that around the same time Abdullah Al Mamun, a district correspondent of a national newspaper, was attacked by a group of alleged criminals, led by a nephew of State Minister to Home Affairs Advocate Shamsul Huq Tuku, for publishing a report on corruption.

This is not the end. On the night of May 28, a group of 15 to 20 miscreants stabbed two journalists of an online news portal after storming into their Dhaka office with sharp weapons, iron rods and sticks.

On May 29, six journalists, who are the court correspondents of various newspapers, were seriously injured by a police attack near Dhaka’s Chief Metropolitan Magistrate’s Court. The police attacked them while they started a protest against police for sexually abusing a girl in front of her parents.

From 2004 to present, 21 journalists have been killed, while 967 have been injured, 368 assaulted and 1019 threatened, the report added. Unfortunately, all cases of murdered journalists remain unsolved.

In light of these incidents, Shakhawat Hossain, president of Dhaka Reporters Unity (DRU), said, “Such incidents could not be happened if the earlier cases regarding journalists killing and attacking on them would be resolved.”

For such hazardous situations like journalist killings and police attacks, experts think that if criminals escape punishment by using the advantages of the loopholes of the justice system, the situation will become more dangerous in the future. In addition, media experts are also concerned about the situation of the freedom of the media as well as the gradually deteriorating security of journalists in Bangladesh.

“I think it is happening because of state of impunity and lack of government’s concern regarding to ensure the proper punishment to the criminals,” said Nazrul Islam, special correspondent of the daily English newspaper The Independent.

Professor Dr. Mizanur Rahman, chairman of the National Human Rights Commission in Bangladesh said, “The attacking on journalist[s] is really very shocking and unexpected. But the reality is that people from different stage in this society are deprived from proper justice as the criminals, even if they are arrested, are often successful for getting out from the trial. Thus not only the journalists but also the general people could not get the proper justice which provides back-up to do crime.”

“I think which is more important that, people are now losing their faith upon our judiciary system for which any people in any situation can take the law in their own hand which will encourage them to do any crime,” he added.

International bodies also expressed their concern for the country’s state of impunity in media and journalism. Bob Dietz, Asia program coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an organization promoting press freedom worldwide, said, “A free press is fundamental to a democratic society. CPJ has found that no convictions have been recorded in journalist murders there over the last decade. It is a stunning record of impunity that gives the country one of the world’s worst records in terms of securing justice when journalists are murdered and that trend does not seem to be getting any better.”

CPJ has launched the Impunity Index, which spotlights countries where journalists are murdered frequently while their killers go free. However, Bangladesh is not listed. While no convictions of journalist murderers have been recorded here over the last decade, a seven- year absence of journalist killings led Bangladesh to be dropped from the index.

Journalists are not secure in their profession in Bangladesh. In this situation they need proper safety measures, and a national interest in practicing a free press is more important than ever.

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