According to Harold Laski, a British political theorist and economist, the concepts of ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘freedom of the press’ are not absolute, but rather relative. The extent of freedom a society experience is contingent upon its social and economic circumstances. The state of freedom of speech and freedom of the press improves in line with the education of citizens, public awareness of rights and duties and economic development.
However, it is clear that the true intentions behind the BNP’s advocacy for freedom of speech and press are not genuine. BNP-Jamaat and anti-militant groups are providing financial support to a rumor cell. Under the direction of Tarique Rahman, the fugitive leader of BNP residing in London, expatriate Facebook users and YouTubers are consistently disseminating false information about the nation’s politics and economy. Certain local and foreign media entities are also complicit in these activities. Collectively, this group spreads rumors within society and disguises their biased opinions as newspaper articles, misleading citizens. Consequently, they contribute indirectly to fostering an unstable environment within the country.
Is it reasonable to argue that there is no freedom of speech if you stop the spread of rumors? Can we not take measures to prevent the exploitation of children by the media, which involves publishing manipulated photos and false statements in exchange for Tk 10? Presently, political parties and numerous prominent journalists are vociferously questioning freedom of speech. However, these same journalists remained silent when the indemnity ordinance was enforced, when victims were unjustly blamed for the 21st August grenade attacks, and when farmers demanding fertilizer and electricity were fatally shot. Where was the freedom of the press when these journalists faced pressure to suppress such news? They chose silence during those times. Ironically, they now champion the cause of freedom of speech.
On December 12, 2008, the Honorable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina presented the ‘Charter of Change’ in the election manifesto ahead of the parliamentary elections, with the vision of transforming Bangladesh into a digital nation by 2021. For years, the BNP and various anti-national groups ridiculed and mocked this proposition. However, the country successfully achieved the goal of becoming a digital Bangladesh even before the set deadline. Moreover, the government has now announced plans to establish a Smart Bangladesh. Predictably, the opposition has resumed their mockery. Paradoxically, those opposing the country and its independence are benefiting from the advancements of digital Bangladesh. They enjoy unrestricted access to high-speed internet, media freedom, affordable mobile phone services, and censorship-free social media platforms. These digital resources are being misused by spreading propaganda, rumors, and falsehoods that pose a threat to the country’s independence and sovereignty. They are engaging in propaganda, causing unrest, committing acts of violence, and attempting to incite communal conflicts through the digital infrastructure developed by the current government. Yet, they hypocritically proclaim through microphones that there is no freedom of speech in the country and that the media is unable to operate freely.
The government has taken significant steps to enhance freedom of expression by granting licenses to numerous private television stations, FM radio stations, and community radio stations, and supporting the proliferation of thousands of newspapers. Additionally, the advent of various social media platforms has opened doors for individuals to exercise their freedom of speech and expression, contributing to the progress of digital Bangladesh. Unfortunately, some BNP leaders, including Mirza Fakhrul, shamelessly exploit these opportunities by consistently spreading deceitful falsehoods against the government. Not only do they enjoy freedom of speech, but they also do not hesitate to spread fabricated propaganda as they wish. However, it is important to note that BNP has never championed freedom of speech and public opinion. The party emerged through an illegal seizure of power, holding the people hostage at gunpoint. During the BNP’s reign, individuals were deprived of the freedom of speech and basic civil rights.
Under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina, the Awami League has introduced a state system that prioritizes the well-being and welfare of the people. Sheikh Hasina, a successful statesperson, persistently works towards establishing a compassionate Bangladesh. We stand united, guided by Sheikh Hasina’s leadership, in our endeavor to create a developed, prosperous, and welfare-driven smart Bangladesh for future generations.