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Govt. urged to create enabling environment for journalism

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Journalists, academics, rights activists and civil society representatives on Friday urged the government not to curb citizens’ freedom of expression by controlling internet use.

They made the call at a discussion meeting at Dhaka Reporters’ Unity styled ‘Media for Democracy: Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation which is the theme of this year. VOICE, a development and research organization organized this event observing World Press Freedom Day.

The speakers observed that there are multiples challenges and threats of freedom of the press and opinion for the journalists in the country. Not only the laws and policies curb freedom, but also the division of journalists and corporate control threatens press freedom largely.

Referring to the Constitutional obligation and international human rights principles, the speakers at the programme emphasised the need to ensure the right to freedom of expression both print electronic and online and pluralism in society.

Eminent journalists Monjurul Ahsan Bulbu, identified external and internal challenges realizing the principles of freedom of the press while he emphasized rule of law and accountable system not only in the media system, also in the overall governance process. He cited examples of journalists who served professionally in a challenging situation to provide accurate information to the people while it empowers and builds democratic process stronger.

Dhaka University teacher Prof. Gitiara Nasreen said if a country had a single person of different religion and ethnicity, the government must ensure all his rights — this is called democracy. She also emphasized that journalists should not compromise with influential and powerful corners for their own interest. They must speak out for the sake of upholding people’s right to know to provide truthful content at the media. She also mentioned `disinformation’ or `fake news’ will be eliminated if proper measures are taken imparting media literacy and skill development for journalists.

Barrister Jyotirmoy Baarua raised some concerns referring to media law and digital security act which sharply undermine free freedom and freedom of expression. He mentioned that this is time to reform the digital security act and create favourable condition for reporting, even during the election.

Saleem Samad said that self-censorship is increasing due to a fear of culture created by the State authority that goes against the press freedom principles. He observed that freedom of the press should not be restricted in any way and emphasised that ‘we must educate all citizens to build a strong moral ground and respect for building progressive and inclusive, peaceful democratic society collectively which is asserted in sustainable development goal 16, in particular, and government is committed to achieving it.’

Khairuzzaman Kamal emphasized electoral reporting drawing the experiences and said that journalists faced serious threats during electoral reporting which must be stopped immediately. He emphasized to create a fearless environment that is necessary for electoral reporting.

VOICE executive director Ahmed Swapan Mahmud said article 39 of the Bangladesh constitution gives the right to people and newspapers to express the opinion. ‘Any kind of control on the internet will create an obstacle to freedom of expression’, he mentioned while chairing the event.

Among speakers, lecturer Bijoya Anam from University of Liberal Arts, Zakir Hossain from Nagorik Uddog, Monur Rashid from Oxfam spoke at the occasion

Speakers urged the government to stop detective vigilance on the media, ensure the right to information to all citizens and introduce media literacy in textbooks. They said there is no alternative to free thinking and freedom of press and expression in building a democratic society and it is very important to ensure people’s right to express their opinion and exchange information at large.

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