Investigative reporting, an integral part of journalism plays a crucial role in bringing corruption to light and fighting against impunity. If needed, any hurdle to investigative journalism should be removed as evidence-based reports contribute in creating mass awareness on public affairs and hold power accountable. As some provisions of recently enacted Digital Security Act impose prohibition against investigative journalism keeping people in dark about corruption and created a sense of insecurity among all people, the government should immediately take necessary steps to correct the law. Also, corruption should be tackled with enlightened citizenry built through developing values among people and a free media which can inform people with evidence-based news items. Experts made the observations in a discussion meeting on `Challenges of Investigative Journalism in perspective of Digital Security Act ' organized by Transparency International Bangladesh (TI Bangladesh) as the part of its week-long observance of International Anti-corruption Day which falls on 9 December.
Held at the Meghomala Conference room of its Central Office in Dhanmondi on 6 December, International Affairs adviser to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh Professor Gowher Rizvi graced the event as the Chief Guest while Chairperson of Board of Trustees, TI Bangladesh Advocate Sultana Kamal presided over the meeting. Among others, TI Bangladesh Executive Director Dr. Iftekharuzzaman was also present at the event. At the conclusion of the meeting, TI Bangladesh awarded the winners of 20th Investigation Journalism Awards 2018.
In the meeting, Sheikh Manjur-E-Alam, Director-Outreach and Communication, TI Bangladesh presented the keynote paper on Challenges of Investigative Journalism in context of Digital Security Act where Mr. Alam highlighted on how different provisions of the act pose risks and challenges to investigative reporting. Later reputed writer and journalist Abul Momen, Feature Editor of the Daily Prothom Alo Sumona Sharmin, Editor of Dhaka Bangla Channel (DBC) Jayedul Ahsan Pintu, and former Executive Editor of UNB, Journalist Reaz Ahmad also discussed as the Panelists. Among others, distinguished media experts, professionals, representatives from civil society, NGOs and Media were present at the event.
Mentioning that many provisions of the Digital Security Act are inconsistent to citizens’ rights and democratic values, Journalist Momen said, “Civil society should come forward and take the leadership in correcting the law with an information disclosure friendly one.” Journalist Reaz Ahamed said, if the law is applied in its current form, which already have started, the act will be abusive. He suggested framing its rules in a way that protects journalists from harassment. Sumona Sharmin said, “investigative journalism is a key tool to sustain the society that has almost accepted corruption as the norm. To change the tide, the citizens need to utilize the tool that is investigative journalism,” she said. Recognizing severe need of an act which covers harassment of people through digital means and tools, Journalist Jayedul Ahsan Pintu observed that bureaucrats played key role in enacting the act as politicians have now become reliant on bureaucrats. Taking this advantage, the bureaucrats incorporate laws that provide them with privileges and do not uphold peoples' rights.
Dr. Iftekharuzzaman said “Government has made a self-contradictory move by passing the Digital Security Act. As recognized in the UN Charter, the government is responsible to ensure an enabling environment where civil society, NGOs, media and mass people can play active role against corruption. As some provisions of the law put the people of the country in a state of insecurity, it would require major amendment for the sake of journalism that can help reduce corruption.”
Terming Digital Security Act as a stumbling block to evidence collection for investigative journalism Advocate Sultana Kamal said, “If the voice of mass media is controlled, its scope for educating people decreases,” she said, adding that if the authorities harass journalists while collecting evidence, the society would be harmed.
In response to the criticisms against recently enacted law, Dr. Gowher Rizvi said, the much discussed act was amendable only after further discussion among the stakeholders would give it a perfect shape. He said freedom of thought was the foundation of human civilization, citing that inconsiderate censorship on media would turn it into slippery slope. He said poverty will stay as long as there is corruption. But only law is not enough to reduce corruption. The citizens have to be vocal and socially boycott the corrupt, he added. He expressed the hope that the discussion on the pros and cons of the law would continue even after the general election.
Followed by the discussion meet, TI-Bangladesh conferred Investigative Journalism Awards 2018 to six journalists and two teams of journalists for video documentary. Details of the winners and the winning news items and documentaries can be found here. Winning Journalists of each category were awarded by Dr. Gowher Rizvi with cheque worth BDT 1 lac twenty-five thousand, a crest and a certificate of honor; and each documentary was awarded with cheque worth BDT 1 lac and fifty thousand, a crest and a certificate of honor.
With the event, TI Bangladesh kicked off its week-long celebration of International Anti-corruption Day which falls on 9 December. Marking the IACD 2018, TI Bangladesh and Bangladesh’s Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) in cooperation with relevant District administrations, supported by Cabinet Division are going to organize simultaneous Youth Rally and Human Chain in the capital city and all 64 district headquarters of the country Human Rallies with the theme: Sustainable Development, Peace and Good Governance: Together against Corruption. Others programme of the celebration also includes: broadcast of TV (60 seconds TVC) on "Challenges of Men's Corruption on Women: Way Out"; media campaign including TV talk shows, newspaper op-eds; and a series of seminars and outreach events all across the country engaging people under the above-mentioned theme in 45 different locations throughout the country where TI-Bangladesh operates.
TI Bangladesh was the trend-setter in introducing investigative journalism awards in Bangladesh that created a pool of dedicated journalists who are defying all challenges to unmask the corrupt. TI Bangladesh's model is now being followed by many organizations. Media authorities also value and recognize TI Bangladesh’s pivotal role in developing the capacity of Bangladesh media.