Friday, September 07, 2007

Bangladesh emergency government crackdown on pro-democracy media

Photo: Emotional breakdown of CSB news staffs on hearing the that the station would be knocked off the air

SALEEM SAMAD


AFTER "limited censorship" on electronic media, Bangladesh’s only private 24-hour news channel has been silenced, just days after being warned not to broadcast footage of pro-democracy riots.

CSB television said officials from the telecommunications regulator visited with armed law enforcement personnel and took it off the air.

The officials of Bangladesh Telecom Regulatory Commission (BTRC) has asked CSB to explain doubts over the allocation of the frequency and accused the station on charges of forging a no-objection certificate, and asked its authorities to respond to an official notice in seven days.

But a senior CSB official argued that he was not convinced by the reason. The authorities are avoiding comment.

Until the TV station administration explains their conduct, the transmission would remain suspended.

Off Air
The order that many of the channel's journalists and employees described as "a surprise" move made most of them emotional.

Niaz Morshed Quaderi, head of the editorial section, read out a statement on behalf of the channel authorities.

"We had requested the BTRC officials to give us some time to announce that we are going to stop our transmission. But they did not agree," an emotional Morshed told bdnews24.com.

Accused
Earlier, on August 23, the interim government served notices cautioning private TV channels CSB and Ekushey TV for ‘breaching emergency rules’ by showing student agitation and country-wide pro-democracy riot.

The student protests in Dhaka quickly spread into three days of violent demonstrations across Bangladesh demanding an end to emergency rule.

The violence posed the most serious challenge to the emergency government since it took power six months ago.

In a statement, the Press Information Department said the two TV stations had aired ‘provocative news, video footage and talk shows against the government’ for the last few days.

"Several news items broadcast by the two TV channels breached the emergency rules. The government will take action if they continue to do so," law adviser Mainul Hosein told bdnews24.com on Aug 23.

But neither the PID statement nor the adviser in the phone interview explained which news item of the TV channels had exactly breached the emergency rules.

Gained Popularity
The first and lone 24-hours news channel, which only began broadcasting from March, went off air about 1800 local time (1200 GMT) on Thursday evening.

The channel started broadcasting on March 26 and earned popularity in covering big news events such as the arrests of two former prime ministers Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia.

"It's quite unfortunate not only for us but for the entire media community that a popular station like ours had to be shut down without any notice," he said.

Watchdog Protest
Meanwhile, the international press watchdogs express grave concerns over the reported harassments, assaults and intimidation of journalists and gagging of the media in Bangladesh and denounces the repression of the journalists.

The law-enforcing agencies resorted to assaults of the journalists, both print and electronic, while they were covering the students protesting against the high-handedness of the army personnel and demanding the lifting of the state of emergency that suspended fundamental rights of the citizens.

The watchdog also notes that despite repeated government assurances of press freedom, the law enforcers resorted to detention, assaults, intimidation and humiliation of the media people particularly since the imposition of curfew on Aug 21.

Reporters Without Border (RSF), Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and Asia Media Forum (AMF) expresses concern over the government's overt intimidating two private TV channels — Ekushey and CSB, and covert attempts by telephonic instructions to media executives by the government agencies to gag the press.. #

The article was written based on reports of BBC online, Daily Star, The New Age and BDNews24.com

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow (USA) is a Bangladesh born journalist, presently living in exile in Canada for "crying wolf" when he discovered Jihadist sleeper cells in Bangladesh used by the remnants of Al-Qaeda and Taliban who fled the war torn Afghanistan after US led invasion in 2001. He presently edits DurDesh.net and also a blog BangladeshWatchdog