Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) on Tuesday expressed grave concern over the government directive to all national dailies and TV channels for getting their respective online news portals registered separately.
TIB feared that the directive for re-registration would ensure the ultimate control and intervention of the government over media.
In a press release, the anti-graft watchdog described the initiative as suicidal and said it is another step towards completing the efforts of a quarter of the government to control the media.
TIB, therefore, urged the government to pay heed to views and opinions of the stakeholders concerned instead of rushing to decisions on a such highly sensitive and nationally important issue.
Dr Iftekharuzzaman, executive director of TIB, said the newspapers and TV channels that have been in operation for long were reportedly asked to seek re-registration for their online portals. The step would, in reality, only establish total control of the government over the media in the country.
“Question will arise whether the new directive is intended to serve the interest of the media or it comes as a tool in the hands of the government to increase pressures on the media and thereby to ensure vested quarters to remain above criticism and accountability,” he said.
Dr Iftekharuzzaman also said it is disappointing that the government has ignored the media stakeholders and experts’ views that the long serving newspapers and TV channels are by their very right and legal existence already entitled to keep their online portals active.
“The imposition of the decision without setting up the Broadcast Commission and finalizing the online media regulations is bound to be a big threat to free media,” he said.
On the other hand, the failure to entrust the proposed commission with the authority to implement recommendations poses the risk of making it yet another toothless tiger, he added.
TIB, therefore, called upon the government to directly engage with all stakeholders for views and opinions instead of rushing to decisions on a subject of such highly sensitive and nationally importance.
Dr Zaman stressed the importance of free and uncontrolled prevalence of online news media for meeting the government’s high profile electoral commitment of Digital Bangladesh.
He said, “Failure to ensure free media in Bangladesh will convert pledges like free flow of information, freedom of expression, and Digital Bangladesh to only rhetoric's.”
TIB hoped that the government will give up the new directive for re-registration of online portals of long-running newspapers and TV channels, and rather would ensure free media in the country by a set of positive initiatives, including scrapping of the regressive provisions of the Digital Security Act.
It is also the responsibility of the government to control fake news sources and yellow journalism in due legal process, but nothing justifies any restriction on the independent media, the statement said.