Recently the reporters without borders, also known as Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) published the World Press Freedom Index. As an organization, RSF has its indicators for making the index. Norway stands on the top of the list, and from the opposite side of the RSF, North Korea stands at the bottom of the list on number 180. The list followed by Turkmenistan, Eritrea, and China. All these countries' press faces extreme suppression from the current regimes of those countries. In many cases, journalists are the leading collateral victims of the oppression from the power party and even killed by the state security forces.
Bangladesh stands on number 151, which is the worst among the South Asian nations. This continued for the last two consecutive years. Last year, Bangladesh slipped four steps and became the lowest scorers among the South Asian Nations. Nevertheless, India and Pakistan stand on number 142 and 145 respectively and a little above Bangladesh. It has been documented that press in Bangladesh doesn't enjoy much freedom per se, and this recent report of RSF confirms it.
According to the report from RSF journalists are the collateral victim of the stricter rules of the current regime. Besides, the report states that radical Islamist militants harass and even murder journalists and bloggers. The Bangladesh government didn't press their reaction to this World Press Freedom Index yet. Criticizing the 2018 digital security law, the report also mentions that the coming decade will be pivotal for press freedom because of converging crises affecting the future of journalism. With this law now, the government can bring judicial allegation for silencing troublesome journalists. This is why it is crucial how the government and the media sector handle the new law, and then the coming decade would be decisive for the future of journalism.
Similarly, there is the Right to Information Act 2009 in Bangladesh. This law, on the other hand, gives the right to the citizens to get information from any public authority. It makes that the data is a right for the citizens of Bangladesh. However, the media will have to play a vital role here to make sure that the citizens can have access to their right to information. But to control media, there is the digital security law.
Every year when the World Press Freedom Index comes out, there are some civil society members, media personalities, and human rights activists talk about it, and after a little while, the excitement is all gone. There is no change in the actual press freedom insight. The government is also ignorant about it. However, there is pressure from the government clients who control the media.
However, these types of fall in the index there is an international image crisis for the whole country. That also affects the image and legitimacy of the current government. After two consecutive controversial elections in Bangladesh international audience is keeping a strong eye. These types of government control are creating space and opportunities for Islamist militants to take advantage of the situation. There have been attacks by the Islamist militants to journalists to harass and kill. So, far the government couldn't establish any exemplary trial for those who have harassed and killed the journalists, which has led to happen more incidents like this.
Now it is not too late to do anything about it. The government should protect journalists and provide them to exercise their freedom of the press. By doing so, the government can protect its image to the international audience. Because Bangladesh has slipped one notch down in this year's World Press Freedom Index and it has continued for the last few years has caused this image crisis for the current government. Also, to ensure the freedom of expression is one of the significant rights of the citizens prescribed by the country's constitution, and the Bangladesh government must ensure freedom of the press. Because providing freedom of expression is a constitutional duty of the government.
Many international media have reported that due to the lack of press freedom in China, the COVID19's effect was more devastating. Because initially, the Chinese government wanted to hide the Coronavirus breakout by suppressing the country's media. However, when the situation of the outbreak went out of control, then the world had to face the dangerous effects of the pandemic like the Corona outbreak. This is just one example of how freedom of the press can have an impact on the world. This is why the Bangladesh government should ensure freedom of the press by its judicial and executive means so that it doesn't happen to this country.
(We acknowledge different sources with gratitude)
The writer is Assistant Professor, Department of Public Administration, Comilla University, Bangladesh. He can be reached at, email@example.com