Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir issued a diktat to the media – don’t report adverse news about the party’s top leadership “in the interest of democracy”.
The BNP leader’s diktat has sparked a row with senior journalists saying that while in a democracy, free speech and reporting is supposed to cover all political parties and spare none, Fakhrul’s definition of democracy seems to seek special favours from media so that the past misdeeds of their leaders are not reported in the rundown to the national Parliament polls, which they are threatening to boycott.
‘REPORTING AGAINST PARTY LEADERSHIP BACKSTABBING OUR MOVEMENT’
Fakhrul lashed out at the country’s top news channel, Somoy TV, and asked journalists to abstain from reporting on the party’s top leadership for “keeping the state of democracy alive”. He alleged that Somoy TV, by reporting corruption charges against the party leader, was “backstabbing our movement”.
“You should not write anything against our leader. Rather you should only toe the line with the narrative we peddle surrounding our leadership…,” Fakhrul said at a recent press conference, attacking the Somoy TV report which contained extensive research on alleged money laundering by Tarique Rahman.
FAKHRUL’S ‘ALARMING’ STATEMENT
Fakhrul’s remark has drawn the ire of the country’s senior journalists as they questioned the party’s “commitment and respect to freedom of speech”, with one senior journalist deeming such a statement as “self-contradictory and alarming”.
Prime Minister’s ICT Adviser Sajeeb Wazed has called out Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir for criticizing Somoy TV for its report on the convictions of party chairperson Khaleda Zia and her son, Tarique Rahman.
In a post on Facebook, Sajeeb Wazed wrote, “Somoy TV’s report was based on facts. But Mirza Fakhrul could not swallow it and lashed out at the media. He labeled it as propaganda.”
“Mirza Fakhrul, at numerous events, claimed there is no freedom of expression in Bangladesh. Now, is he respecting that freedom? Does the media not have the right to speak the truth that goes against BNP?” Sajeedb Wazed said.
Ajoy Das Gupta, a senior journalist, said, “You can’t hold your respect towards democracy on one hand and threaten journalists to stop them from reporting against the party’s leadership.”
COMPLY WITH OUR VIEWS: BNP TO MEDIA
BNP’s secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam’s statement was played on the TV channel which repeated the earlier story, including the testimony of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on money laundering charges against Tarique Rahman.
Debra Laprevotte, a supervisory special agent of the FBI, informed a Dhaka court how she had tracked down the money allegedly laundered by BNP’s Tarique Rahman and Mamun to a bank account in Singapore. She said the documents recovered from the Singapore bank include detailed records of money transfers and payments made from the account. It also had photocopies of Tarique and Mamun’s passports, which were submitted when the two applied for credit cards from the bank.
In response to these reports, Fakhrul said “That report centering around our leaders – Tarique Rahman and Begum Zia—is like backstabbing our democratic movement against the government…at least for the sake of our fight to oust this government, they should abstain from preparing such reports. They should comply with our views when it comes to reporting on our leader.”
BNP leader Fakhrul’s statement came just days after his loyalists assaulted a video journalist from the same channel. The BNP activists had snatched drones and debit cards while the journalist was covering the party’s rally in Nayapaltan, Dhaka on January 16.
JOURNALISTS RECALL ATTACKS UNDER BNP-JAMAAT RULE
A number of journalists linked the attack by activists and Fakhrul’s remarks with the rule of the BNP-Jamaat-backed coalition between 2001 and 2006). The coalition government had then allegedly carried out a ruthless killing spree across the country against journalists, who they deemed as “secular and progressive”. BBC stringer Manik Saha was brutally killed in broad daylight in Khulna, as were several other journalists at the hands of militants, who reportedly enjoyed the backing of the then BNP-Jamaat led alliance.
And the murder of journalists took place alongside a murderous campaign against Awami League leaders that culminated in a grenade attack on August 21, 2004 on an Awami League rally addressed by Sheikh Hasina.
Moreover, direct backing of Tarique was reported widely during that BNP-Jamaat regime when militancy reared its ugly head with leading analysts like Bertil Lintner describing Bangladesh as “a cocoon of terror” in Far Eastern Economic Review, published on April 4, 2002. Meanwhile, Elisa Griswold predicted an Afghan style Islamist Revolution in the article ‘The Next Islamist Revolution??’ published in The New York Times on January 23, 2005.
Years later, former BNP-Jamaat Government’s Energy Advisor and BNP ideologue Mahmudur Rahman revealed how the country was turned into a safe haven for transnational terrorists. Mahmudur Rahman had admitted that allowing ten trucks full of military grade arms to pass through Bangladesh for the Assamese separatist group ULFA was indeed a deliberate state policy of the then BNP-Jamaat government.
Tarique and his brother Arafat Rahman (now deceased) have been accused of indulging in state-sponsored corruption when their mother, Begum Zia, ruled the country. Former Bangladesh Prime Minister Begum Zia has also been convicted of minting out money meant for the welfare of the orphans.
Tarqiue, who now runs the party as its acting chairperson from London, reportedly fled Bangladesh after submitting an undertaking that he would not get involved in politics after he was arrested on these charges back in 2007. Tarique’s arrest had followed after the failure of the BNP’s plan to hold a “manufactured and rigged election” in 2006 as the party recruited over 300 ardent party loyalists and cadres in election commission shortly before the end of its last tenure.
The country’s highest circulated daily, Prothom Alo, and The Daily Star, both carried reports of how the country hit a historic low on the corruption perception index, prepared by TI, under the rule of Khaleda and Tarqiue.
BNP-JAMAAT INSISTED JOURNOS LIVE TELECAST PETROL BOMBINGS
Meanwhile, appearing on a talk show, Bangla daily Somoyer Alo Executive Editor and a correspondent for German-based DW Bangla, Harun Ur Rashid, recalled the grisly spree of arson attacks on vehicles between 2013 and 2015. During his appearance on the talk show, Rashid referred to how “the BNP-Jamaat backed arsonists” insisted that journalists telecast the gory images of petrol bombs.
Referring to a debate with management during his tenure as a planning editor at Ekushey TV at the time, Rashid said that video footage was “supplied and demands were made” that such graphic visuals be aired.
“The way we used to run press releases on events arranged by different political parties, they wanted us to carry such images mentioning the name of the party,” the senior journalist said.
“Though I don’t want to call out the parties seeking publicity for such horrendous acts, Jamaat did not shy away from circulating such content publicly. The extent of such gruesome attacks took a turn for the worse and we had to raise the question of breach in ethical journalismâ€¦ columns were published,” Rashid added.
Hundreds were killed and thousands were injured during the deadly spate of petrol bombings in 2013-15 as the BNP-Jamaat cadres unleashed a deadly spree after boycotting the parliamentary election held in 2014. The country incurred losses worth billions of dollars while families of the deceased are still seeking justice against perpetrators.