International indexes and observations are hardly required to realise that freedom of press has been curbed considerably over the past few years in Bangladesh. This is felt by everyone, from professional journalists to the common users of the social media. The latest annual report of the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) also reflects this state of the media in Bangladesh.
The RSF report states that Bangladesh has gone down two places over the past year in the press freedom index. Ranking from good to bad, Bangladesh stands at 146 among 188 countries on the index. We were 144 last year.
The RSF reports says that media freedom has been curbed in Bangladesh by government cases filed to harass journalists, websites being shut down, and direct and indirect threats from Islamic militants. Also, journalists all over the country are being threatened and even physically assaulted by local influential political leaders. Militants have killed writers, publishers, online activists and bloggers. The death threats create an adverse environment for freedom of expression and spread a blanket of fear.
The government, however, has failed to take any effective measures against the assaults and threats by extremists. In fact, the government had adopted quite a pliable stance where the extremists are enjoying systematic impunity.
This situation hampers the overall welfare of the country as it blocks the path of democratic growth. When good governance, accountability, justice and human rights are eroded due to political degeneration, it is the media that emerges as the champion of the people and their rights. When power given by the people’s mandate is misused and there is no political protest, the media exposes the truth and provides constructive criticism to assist the government machine to get back on track. The media upholds democracy and the rule of law.
When the space for media shrinks, the nation suffers. It is the government’s responsibility to ensure an environment conducive to media freedom, not the opposite.