Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) has called upon the Government to ensure conducive environment for free and unrestricted discharge of professional functions of media as indispensable precondition for constitutional rights of citizens and democratic accountability of the Government. In the context of Covid-19 crisis, TIB has demanded that in the interest of people’s access to information and public awareness, the Government and other stakeholders must protect professional freedom and health safety of media workers parallel with ensuring that media institutions remain functional.
In a statement issued on May 2, 2020 to mark the World Press Freedom Day 2020 observed on May 3, TIB has condemned and expressed deep disappointment that media workers reporting on corruption, theft, extortion and swindling of relief goods by a section of public representatives and other politically linked influencials, often in collusion or protection of public officials, are being subjected to self-censorship by various predicaments, harassment, intimidation, physical abuse, torture, disappearance and arbitrary arrests under motivated use of the Digital Security Act (DSA). Such self-defeating acts must be stopped for effective management of the crisis, TIB says.
Iftekharuzzaman, Executive Director of TIB says, “the World Press Freedom Day this year is of much greater importance than ever. Free media is the most important catalyst to control illicit designs of those who are out to convert the Covid-19 pandemic into a festival of corruption. Media must be free to report not only on corruption and irregularities in relief operation on the ground, but also on different types of abuse of power and collusive corruption at higher levels where the need to fast-track procurement and distribution decisions in the crisis and recovery period may be treated as a license for self-enrichment by a section of the politically and otherwise powerful. In this context it will be self-defeating to create any predicament against media from discharging their professional role of information disclosure freely and safely”. “Don’t control or harass media, control corruption”, he said.
Inspite of various challenges, our media has always made important contributions to free flow of information. No exception now in Covid-19 crisis when frontline media workers have been discharging their professional duties with courage and even taking health risk to bring news and information to public focus. In fact, many are setting commendable examples of “journalism without fear or favour” commensurate with this year’s World Press Freedom Day motto. We call upon the Government and other stakeholders to ensure conducive environment so that the media can carry on discharging their professional duties freely without health risk and with assurances of regular salaries and benefits including risk allowances, the statement said.
TIB called upon the government to bring to justice those responsible for harassment of journalists in various ways like intimidation, physical abuse, torture, disappearance as well as arrests under motivated use of the DSA. The Government must remember that in the absence of free flow of information not only will the people be confused and panicked, but also the Government plan for management and recovery from the fallout of the crisis and its implementation will be self-defeatingly misinformed, inappropriate and distorted.
The statement also called upon the media organizations and professionals to uphold the highest standards of ethical, objective and professional practices in discharge of their role.