by Kamran Reza Chowdhury;
Couple of days back, a breaking news in a private TV station stunned me. The news was on surrender of a group of ‘pirates’ (they are actually robbers as the definition of piracy is different), active in the Bay of Bengal, to the Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) force. The story was not the problem, but the second sentence of the news shocked and even puzzled me. The second sentence was ‘this time too, the… TV mediated the surrender’. Their news piece proudly narrated that the TV station earlier worked as the mediator for the surrender of the first batch of the sea robbers to Rab.
The Home Minister, Asaduzzaman Khan, was present as the chief guest at the surrendering ceremony in the bay-facing district of Barguna. Thousands of fishermen from Barguna and surrounding districts have been the victims of the torture of different groups of notorious robbers. They plunder fish and other values of the poor fishermen. Besides, they take the fishermen captives to extract ransom from the masters of the fishermen.
My intention is not to talk about the torture of the robbers. The point what I want to draw attention of the readers is the TV station’s role in mediating between the infamous robbers and the government forces. I was really embarrassed to watch the news item. Embarrassed and shocked to know that the journalists are now the brokers—brokers of the criminals!
Many of my well-wisher friends called me, asking whether a TV should or can play the role as a mediator. Is this the job of journalists? They asked me the question as I am a professional journalist.
The straight answer to the question is: no; the TV, in particular a reporter cannot work as the mediator between the criminals and the government. The reporters’ job is to gather and disseminate information to the readers and viewers in unbiased way. We were taught at the beginning of the career that the role of media is to inform, educate, persuade and entertain the people. Media will ensure people’s right to know and they would pinpoint the inconsistencies and problems the common people would not see.
That TV station has stigmatized the whole media by getting involved into the mediation with the robbers on surrender. They think this mediation brightens their image among the people. Rather they have portrayed themselves as the associate of the criminals through serving such news item. This is a pertinent question among the people that why would the criminals accept a TV’s mediation unless they had strong nexus with the criminals and the law enforcing agencies? We the journalists maintain connections at different levels. But it does not mean that we have to play mediator’s role with anyone of them.
Journalists came under severe criticism ahead of the January 5 (2014) general elections boycotted by the BNP and its ally Jamaat— the two parties largely responsible for the series of indiscriminate and mindless bombing and carrying out arson attacks at the public transport system to resist the polls. Every day, we used to see the photos showing that the attackers throwing bombs on vehicles. One of the junior reporters of the Prothom Alo newspaper, Golam Mortuja, reported that the bomb attackers used to call the photographers, giving them advanced information on the locations and time of bombing. He has rightly played the role of a journalist while others took the credit to their editors that they had good photos on bombings on the vehicles and killing of innocent people.
You will see the journalists as the political workers, NGO activists, stock market insiders, agents of the secret services, businessmen, industrialists and other interest groups—of course not without any interests.
Why this trend? I think the issue should not be judged from a narrow angle; the existing media regime, now ruled by the corporate interests, is responsible for this moral erosion of the journalists who are respected as ‘the conscience of the nation’. A section of our senior journalists have become party to the corporate. Being a media insider, I ashamed of saying that the owners of the media outlets— newspapers, online portals and TV stations—have created a bunch of so called journalists dedicated to securing the interests of the owners. The editors have no control over them. They are the beck and call of the owners. Even the editors’ fate depends heavily on these parasites of media industry. A big number of dedicated journalists have been trying to save the image of the profession like journalism, but day-by-day they are getting marginalised.
Another factor that led the media’s ethics is poor leadership. Journalists are no more at the helm of the media outlets. You will get many editors who have never been a reporter—even for a single day; so they lack understanding about the society and the people as they have no connection with the grassroots. How can a newspaper under that editor would become the voice of the people or work within its periphery? Here the owners come in to rule the show. Same practice has been in the TV stations. Most of the TV stations assign a particular reporter to cover the speeches and birthdays of the owners. And I can refer hundreds of examples that the reporters vie in the contest to cover the events where the owners would attend.
This is not an exclusive problem in media. You will get similar syndrome in the government and private sectors. A group of people will do everything possible to go into the good book of the top management or higher officials.
A careful look shows that we have the habit of encroaching each others’ areas. You will get ministers, MPs, industrialists and army officer as editors of media outlets. This sort of mess takes place in absence of institutions that build democracy and take the nation forward.
I saw an administrative service officer at the parliament secretariat who was the director in-charge of the information technology. The most interesting was: he could not even use the MS-word. Another administrative service officer, being deputed to the agricultural ministry months ago, led a delegation of agriculturists to America to negotiate on a highly technical issue like quarantine. An army officer, deputed at the foreign ministry, messed up Bangladesh’s negotiation with Burma on maritime boundary demarcation. A university teacher and former head of the law commission recommended that the university teachers should be appointed as the judges in the judiciary.
So, we are all have been trying to trespass each others’ fields for personal gains or securing the coterie interest, stumbling institution building. A person cannot do everything. A jeweler cannot make a motor car.
We must relinquish the habit of encroaching into others’ areas and build the institutions, be it media, the police, army, the judiciary, legislature, executive and so forth.
We have to remember the old Bangla proverb “Jar Kaaj Tar Sajay Onno Loker Lathi Bajay (right persons should do the right things)”. So, the TV station has gone beyond its limit and maligned media as an institution.