Government lifts censorship order
Privately-owned TV stations resumed broadcasting news programmes this evening. The interim government lifted the verbal ban it issued yesterday.
Reporters Without Borders today condemned the interim government head’s decision to impose general censorship on the news media following yesterday’s verbal order to radio and TV stations to stop broadcasting news programmes. Journalists have also been prevented from circulating freely in Dhaka.
“The desire to extricate Bangladesh from the current political crisis in no way justifies censorship,” Reporters Without Borders organisation said. “On the contrary, the interim government should guarantee the public’s right to news and information because the country is going through a difficult period. This decision sends Bangladesh back to the dark days of the dictatorship. We call the new interim government head Fakhruddin Ahmed for the immediate lifting of all curbs on press freedom.”
President Iajuddin Ahmed yesterday proclaimed a state of emergency and a curfew. He then announced his resignation and the postponement of legislative elections scheduled for 22 January. At the same time, the information ministry’s Press and Information Department gave verbal instructions to terrestrial and cable TV stations to censor news reports.
The broadcast media were told to just broadcast the news bulletins issued by the government television station BTV. “This restriction is to be applied until further notice,” a representative of the NTV station told the Associated Press.
All the privately-owned TV stations have complied with the news ban. Asked by Reporters Without Borders why they had complied, the news editor of a privately-owned TV station said the broadcast media were not sufficiently organised to resist. “The owners of the TV stations are businessmen with interests to defend,” he said. “They cannot oppose the government.”
The authorities have also warned the print media not to criticise the interim government, whose job is to organise the elections. But many daily newspapers have published front-page editorials condemning the censorship measures. Mahfuz Anam, the well-known editor of the Daily Star, wrote: “Since it is not a written order we cannot consider it to have the backing of the law. (...) Friends of democracy never gag the press, only autocrats do. The people of Bangladesh will never accept autocrats.”
The privately-owned Radio Today station continued to broadcast news on 11 January. But the authorities today verbally ordered the station to no longer broadcast anything but the programming of the governmental Radio Bangladesh.
The police last night forcibly prevented journalists from moving about the capital, now under curfew. Although the media have “emergency service” status, the vehicles of several news organisations including the Daily Star were prevented by police from circulating for several hours.
The police also reportedly placed the owner of the Channel One television station, Giasuddin Al-Mamoon, under house arrest in Dhaka.
The interim government’s decision to postpone the elections has been welcomed by the opposition Awami League, which organised the recent protests against the elections, claiming they would be rigged in favour of the ruling BNP.