Is Journalism Safe?

Nasih Ul Wadud Alam

17 May, 2019 12:00 AM printer

Is Journalism Safe?

I hope that I am living in a democratic world and allowed to say what I want without the fear of being incarcerated. In the Asian subcontinent, journalists live in fear. They know and their readers know that journalists are not allowed to write what they would like to write. There have been instances in our part of the world where journalists have been hackled to death for expressing their views.

Money is hard to come by in journalism. Many of them live through hard times, financially. The number of hard copies is sold less. Golam Rahman, professor of Mass Communication & Journalism at Dhaka University, was quoted as saying “The newspaper industry is a weak sector from various aspects. This sector deserves financial and policy support. Any kind of new pressure is a matter of disappointment for this industry" (Daily Sun, 16 June 2017). Many of the famous newspaper agencies are now extinct all over the world. They seek donations through PayPal accounts.

In our country, our newspaper agencies have financial struggles. The owners of these agencies are so rich that they manage to recover from the losses of dwindling number of newspaper circulations. Without these owners, our agencies would have gone through tougher times. The owners don't invest in a project without thinking about its loss and profit. Some owners may refute me by saying that they don't think about monetary benefits as they invest money only for a charitable purpose. But they cannot deny the fact that every charitable organisation also needs money to be run smoothly.

This is the age of viral videos and fake information. There are many online newspapers that publish news with fabrication. Unfortunately, the yellow colour is blamed for that kind of journalism. If you go to the villages, you will see that people still wait for the arrival of newspaper hawkers. We have so much information passing into our ears that we don't know which ones are true and impartial and which ones are false. Therefore, national dailies help us in many ways to filter our knowledge system; although not as much as expected.

Let us spare a thought for journalists, the sole-bread winners in many families. They are afraid of risking their jobs. That is why; many of them are not free to write what they like. If opponent parties make controversial phone calls, it becomes big news but the same does not happen when the lawmakers from the government party do it. It is unfortunate that we leak private calls online. Our intelligent officials should have been more careful about the leakage of these phone calls. Tapping into our phone calls should not be discouraged for the safety of the nation but it should not be published online, too.

Many of these journalists try to keep the ruling class happy. I don't blame them for that. I hardly criticise the present government. It does not mean that I support every decision they make. Even if I come with constructive criticism, people might think that I am supporting opponent parties. I read our dailies everyday. I don't see any columns highlighting corruptions, irregularities and goon cultures that have become a fabric of our political cultures. Rightfully, the opponent party is criticised. Wrongfully, the government party is not criticised in the same tone. It seems, everyone is afraid of everybody.

In the electronic media, the working situation is worse than before. The female workers of one television channel bravely came out to the street demanding immediate actions against some sexual predators. Although there is no substance to their claim, the general people have a negative perception about media which should not evade any blame for creating this hype. Sexual harassment in working places happens everywhere but media is highlighted more or less. There are many divisions among journalists. They have many groups. Many reports are uncharacteristically biased. They confuse us.

However do I want newspapers to die? The answer is always negative. Do I want them to be true and impartial? The answer is in the affirmative. Will I take any responsibility if any journalists feel unsecured for their impartial reports? No, I will not. Therefore, the quality of journalism will not improve if we don't create an independent platform for journalists. Pen dies a slow death if the wielding of the sword is more powerful than that of a pen. Also, in our academic world, sword is mightier than a pen. Professors get a leeway for the same crime lecturers don't. We all are caged subjects – we were, we are and going to be in the future. I see no hope in our freedom of expression. That is itself a mockery which is now everywhere. I am not a journalist but I feel bad for many honest journalists who are burning inside for not being able to profess their independent views.


(The writer is Lecturer, Department of English, Chittagong Independent University.)