In Bangladesh, is it ‘All the Prime Minister’s men’
This story first appeared in The Daily Star
When can we do similar ones?
Early yesterday, the Qatar based media organisation Al Jazeera published a story titled “All the Prime Minister’s Men”, to which our foreign ministry issued a quick response calling it a politically motivated “smear” campaign which is “false” and “defamatory” and instigated by extremists and their allies. The response zeroes in on two specifics, one that there is no shred of evidence linking the “prime minister and other institutions” and that the report’s historical account “fails to even mention the horrific genocide of 1971”.
We think it was a mature decision by the government not to disrupt or block in any way, the broadcasting of the Al Jazeera story or its spread on social media. Such actions are usually counterproductive and triggers more audience reactions. This departure from the usual knee-jerk response to such foreign media coverage is welcome. However, a similar maturity was not shown in formulating the response which questions the motive of the report, speculates as to their possible instigators and sponsors, criticises and questions Al Jazeera’s aim in carrying such a report but does not address the points raised in it, which is what the public would really like to know.
We are facing the absurd situation of publishing the government response without publishing what the government is responding to. So far, we have neither carried what the Al Jazeera reported nor any synopsis of it. Even as we write this editorial, we do not mention any of the allegations raised, the persons named, the copies of documents exhibited, footage shown of two convicted but absconding criminals partying in Dhaka with very high-level people, and do not report what several people interviewed on record and under cover said.
However, we feel that allegations made in the report should not be ignored nor swept under the carpet. There are people who served the PM at various times, especially during her days of struggle, who are now taking full advantage of her sense of gratitude and indulging in influence-peddling for payment in some of our highly sensitive areas. There is reference to our purchase of sensitive listening devices from Israel, a country that we do not recognise. There are also the issues of false passports, NID cards and bank documents that should be looked into, especially as they involve institutions on whose integrity and honesty our security depends. There are also issues concerning our security and law enforcement bodies and their leadership that the government can ignore only at its peril.
Readers are fully entitled to ask why there is such an absence of similar reporting in the local media. While admitting to our own limitations, it is really the reflection of the environment in which we operate exemplified by the existence of the Digital Security Act (DSA), among others, which is perhaps among the most comprehensively restrictive and oppressive laws against the free press anywhere. It will not be lost on any reader that we did not mention above any names or any institutions. If one looks at the flood of totally groundless and unsubstantiated defamatory cases under the DSA against journalists and newspapers, and the promptness with which such cases were accepted and the accused sent to jail and refused bail for weeks if not months, the answer will be obvious—and we are not even mentioning the intimidation, threats and restrictions of advertisements and other tactics that are used. But even then, we must struggle on and, that’s what we do.