How independently can the media work? Whether the various laws of the state are being used to suppress investigative journalism, these questions have arisen in the recent movement of various organizations of journalists. Prothom Alo spoke to Quddus Afrad, president of Dhaka Journalists Union.
Prothom Alo: Although various organizations of journalists have demanded the repeal of some sections of the Digital Security Act, it is not being heeded. Journalists are the victims of misapplication of this law. Now the application of the Official Secrets Act has also been seen. What is the strategy to put pressure on the media in this situation?
Quddus Afrad: We need a digital security law. However, I find some sections of this law related to media control to be ugly. These clauses have violated the freedom of writing. We have demanded the repeal of all those sections of the Digital Security Act before, and I repeat. And the Official Secrets Act applies to government employees, not the media. I consider the case in the name of journalist Rozina Islam as an indecent step under the Official Secrets Act. Hopefully, it will be withdrawn. He will be relieved of this responsibility. We expect the media to be free from the interference of all kinds of influential quarters, public and private.
Prothom Alo: The recent movement of various organizations of journalists has demanded a media protection law.
Quddus Afrad: 40/45 countries of the world including Pakistan have media protection laws. Where there is an obstacle to the free flow of information, such a law is needed. The Right to Information Act was enacted during the tenure of this government. Even then, our country needs media protection laws. This protection can be absolute. Suppose there is a cyclone on the coast. Then the journalists should get the same rights as the administration officials get priority in the way they go. We want such protection. In addition, we want free flow of information and protection of the work of journalists.
Prothom Alo: How much do you think the environment of investigative journalism is maintained in the country?
Quddus Afrad: We don’t have much investigative journalism in Sagar-Runi, Tanu murder. Although the environment for investigative journalism is not very good in South Asia. Even then, investigative journalism is needed. The state benefits from this. The government can provide patronage to the journalists with the necessary information.
Prothom Alo: In the last 18 months, 48 cases have been registered against journalists under the Digital Security Act. Whether self-censorship is being created in the work of journalists.
Quddus Afrad: Influential quarters are putting psychological pressure on journalists by filing lawsuits under the Digital Security Act. The law does not require a lawsuit if he protests to the authorities or seeks legal redress through the Press Council. But unfortunately, instead of doing this, journalists and media organizations are being harassed by filing cases directly under the Digital Security Act.
Prothom Alo: In the recent movement, many journalist leaders say that some officials of the administration are trying to confront the government and the media. How is this situation being created?
Quddus Afrad: Opportunists always try to take the situation in a different direction. In the case of journalist Rozina Islam, vested interests have taken the opportunity. The government and the media have been confronted.
Prothom Alo: What are the obstacles in the government to ensure freedom of expression and independent journalism even after the constitution is guaranteed?
Quddus Afrad: When the interests of influential political and social circles outside the government are harmed by journalists, they create such obstacles. And most of these houses are under the umbrella of the government.
Prothom Alo: Professional unity was seen among the journalists on the issue of Rozina Islam. What is the way to maintain this unity in all situations?
Quddus Afrad: Journalist professional unity was there before, it is still there. However, there is some division including the spirit of the liberation war, which I have been seeing since the nineties. This division was not supposed to be over the head. Due to this I am being deprived of the dignity, rights and demands of the profession. There should be no discrimination in the rights and dignity of journalists. Professional journalism should be under one umbrella for professional interests. We must continue to fight together for the protection of rights.
Prothom Alo: How do you evaluate the role of Dhaka Journalists Union in the professional status, training and development of journalists?
Quddus Afrad: There are two functions of the journalists’ union রক্ষা protection of professional dignity and training. We are always vocal in protecting professional dignity and rights. But we may be lagging behind in training. We are doing four-five courses a year. Couldn’t do it in Corona.