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Media Coverage During Bangladesh’s Election Disappoints People

Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury, media adviser to Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, said that "few" journalists might have "faced restrictions" in Bangladesh.

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Bangladesh, Media
Activists of the leftist alliance cover their mouths with black cloths as they join in a rally to demand a new election under caretaker government, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Jan. 3, 2019. VOA

In the wake of Bangladesh’s recent general election, opposition coalition and pro-democracy activists expressed disappointment with alleged episodes of vote manipulation going largely unreported in the local media. But several journalists argue that fear of government reprisals led many media outlets to avoid publishing stories about the alleged wrongdoing.

“The level of vote robbery in the December 30 general election was unprecedented in world history. Ahead of conducting the massively rigged election, the government introduced some black laws, like the Digital Security Act, to shackle the media,” BNP senior joint secretary Ruhul Kabir Rizvi Ahmed told VOA.

“In different ways the government issued threats to the domestic media outlets to keep them away from reporting freely and not to let the outside world know of the massive vote manipulation,” he said.

 

Bangladesh, media
Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina interacts with journalists in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Dec. 31, 2018. VOA

 

A Dhaka-based national TV channel news producer said many media outlets could not exercise their freedom during the election.

“Ahead of the general election, the Election Commission issued new guidelines strictly limiting the coverage-related activities of the journalists during the polling. In a first ever such move, it banned photography, videography or live telecast of the polling-related activities inside voting centers,” said a Dhaka-based national TV channel news producer who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal by the government.

‘Chilling message’

“Journalists got a chilling message that if they flouted the guidelines they would face serious retribution from the government. In such a terrifying situation, the rigging-related activities went largely unreported.”

Other journalists who told VOA similar stories did not want to be quoted, saying they feared reprisals from the government.

“They are facing severe pressure on many fronts, including arbitrary arrests and beating by police, forced disappearances and tough criminal defamation and online security laws that have put many in jail,” said Steven Butler, Asia Program coordinator of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

“They also endure repeated intimidating advisory phone calls from police, army intelligence and the government. The net result is a siege mentality. So, it’s not surprising they are afraid to report on election irregularities they have witnessed,” Butler added.

Bangladesh, Media
Activists of the leftist alliance join in a rally to demand a new election under caretaker government, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Jan. 3, 2019. VOA

Vote fraud allegations

After the schedule of the general election was announced by Bangladesh’s election commission in early December, the government reiterated that the election would be free, fair and all-inclusive.

But hours before the polling began on Dec. 30, the opposition alliance alleged that activists of the ruling Awami League (AL) were illegally stuffing ballot boxes at many voting centers across the country in the presence of election and security officials.

On the day of the polling, the alliance also alleged that tens of thousands of its polling agents, intimidated by AL supporters, had been driven away from the voting centers across the country.

After the election commission announced that the Awami League and its allies had overwhelmingly won 288 of the 300 parliamentary seats in the election, the Jatiya Oikya Front (JOF), the main political opposition coalition, rejected the results, saying it was a “massively rigged, farcical” election.

Bangladesh, Media
Bangladeshi President M. Abdul Hamid administers the oath of office to Prime Minister-elect Sheikh Hasina in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Jan. 7, 2019. The new government is Hasina’s third in a row and fourth overall. VOA

AL leaders, however, said the charge of rigging was baseless.

“Can they show any evidence of any booth being captured by force or some people casting votes fraudulently? They cannot present any evidence in support of their charge. Yet, they are claiming that votes have been rigged,” senior AL leader Mahbubul Alam Hanif told VOA.

JOF leader Iqbal Hasan Mahmud Tuku said there was far less evidence of vote manipulation in this election largely because many journalists were not allowed to work freely during the polling.

“While rigging was going on at almost all voting centers in the presence of the election and security around, we asked some reporters to go and cover the incidents. But they all said they were too scared to report on those wrongdoings and stayed away from the voting centers,” Tuku told VOA.

Social media activity

Although the mainstream media largely refrained from reporting on the allegations of fraud, social media remained very active. Many users wrote on Facebook about their experiences at the voting centers.

Bangladesh, Media
Activists of the leftist alliance cover their mouths with black cloths as they join in a rally to demand a new election under caretaker government, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Jan. 3, 2019. VOA

Hundreds of video clips, in which people claimed that they had been stopped by AL activists from casting their votes, circulated across social media. Video clips that claimed to show AL activists casting illegal votes also surfaced on Facebook and Twitter.

Pro-democracy activist Pinaki Bhattacharya said the threat of the Digital Security Act also kept many journalists away from the election.

“Journalists in Bangladesh fear of being framed in multiple cases under the Digital Security Act. So, they are refraining from reporting the truth in many cases as it happened during the December 30 election. This act has robbed the spirit and freedom of journalism in Bangladesh,” Bhattacharya, who is also known as a popular online activist, told VOA.

The Dhaka-based activist, who has been in hiding since August after a military intelligence agency reportedly began hounding him, used his Facebook and Twitter pages to report on alleged malpractice during the election.

The election was not sufficiently documented, with most mainstream media outlets largely staying away from reporting the alleged rigging, Bhattacharya said.

“No independent international election observer group operated during this election. In such a situation, reports in the mainstream media in Bangladesh would have played a key role to document the election. In 95 percent or more voting centers, votes were rigged. But such malpractices have now remained largely undocumented in the absence of proper journalistic reporting,” Bhattacharya said.

Bagladesh, election, media
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina gestures after casting her vote in the morning during the general election in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Dec. 30, 2018. VOA

‘Immeasurable’ suppression

Hong Kong-based rights activist Mohammad Ashrafuzzaman of the Asian Legal Resource Centre, said the media “blackout” during the election was “immeasurable and irreparable.”

He said the charge of election fraud “should have been independently investigated by the mainstream media outlets that have extensive networks across the country. It would have helped the world to know how a government is being installed in Bangladesh via a massively rigged election.”

Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury, media adviser to Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, said that “few” journalists might have “faced restrictions” in Bangladesh.

Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury, media adviser to Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, said that “few” journalists might have “faced restrictions” in Bangladesh.

“But, if you generalize the comment like this, that the journalists in Bangladesh are working under some sort of threats or restrictions, that will not be fair because it may have happened to just one, two, three or four journalists,” Chowdhury told VOA.

Also Read: Bangladesh PM Gets Global Support, Will Withstand Calls To Investigate Allegations

If any journalist received a threat from police or a military intelligence agency he should have filed an official complaint within the country, he said.

“[In Bangladesh] there are professional bodies like the Editors’ Council, Press Institute and Press Council. If it is so that they have been restricted, they have been threatened by the intelligence agencies or police, I don’t know whether they have complained to these bodies. I don’t think that there is any complaint received by these bodies. Also, here they can file any case against these [security] agencies in the court,” he said.

He added, “I would not comment on what these reporters and journalists said to people or bodies outside the country [to VOA or CPJ]. At least if we do not receive any complaint from any reporter, we cannot comment on this.” (VOA)

Next Story

India Should Crack Down Upon The Terror Sympathizers Within The Country

The road to a victory must be undisclosed. More so, when our enemies within the country are more insidious, more intelligent, more brutal and more warlike

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india
They have systematically misled and “incited” millions of our Indians to voice against the Indian ethos, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly. But mind, all these formidable forces are sweet-hearts of the media.

By: Salil Gewali

After the terrible Pulwama attack by Pakistan sponsored terrorists, India is apparently standing up. Yes, it is practically gearing towards the better strategies to “hit the evil heads”. True, the realization that the enemies are getting more “brutal” and more inhumane than ever before should make India realistic and visionary. Of course, our “battles” to fight against are many, because the adversaries are of various kinds.  While India should send its army deep into the terrorists’ hideouts in Pakistan, India should also “spare its thought” in dealing with those forces who eat, drink and luxuriate in the facilities provided by India, but their hearts ache for something others. There are an increasing number of forces which even try to disestablish the nation and its integrity.

What more? When the questions of sedition are raised against those dangerous forces then the media comes forward to denounce the whole country. Are Kanhaiya  Kumar, Umar Khalid, Anirban Bhattacharya, Shehla Rashid Shora, Mr. Jignesh Mewani, Arundhati Roy, Rajdeep Sardesai, Mehbooba Mufti, Omar Abdulla,.. ….  and lot many other leaders from Kashmir….. not inciting our youths?

JNU
There are an increasing number of forces which even try to disestablish the nation and its integrity.

                 They have systematically misled and “incited” millions of our Indians to voice against the Indian ethos, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly. But mind, all these formidable forces are sweet-hearts of the media. The “treacherous adventures” of those people make the majority of Indian intellectuals cheerier and lustier! Each anti-nationalist “scream” by these elements never get wasted. It is effectively used to degrade the nation, demean the culture and denigrated the religion!

The notion of “discrimination” against the particular community or particular religion is in factcreated in the newsrooms. The idea of “intolerance”, which was coined by those people to attack the majority, has just vanished into thin air when the same term was applied otherwise!

nationalism
Each anti-nationalist “scream” by these elements never get wasted. It is effectively used to degrade the nation, demean the culture and denigrated the religion!

              My serious questions —  “has India practically failed to treat its country’s citizens lovingly? Has India ever discriminated its citizens on the basis of religions and languages?” Absolutely not. Here in India the minorities are provided especial facilities, they are well caressed and insanely pampered than the majority.

                       But still, the elite intellectuals and media houses blame the government or certain parties and organizations, and deliberately “ferment the anti-nation” feelings. Bhakt, Sangi are overused terms to belittle any persons who show love towards the nation. Who knows, after few years from now, it will be considered as a crime to praise the country and its culture. Please watch out, enough is enough! India should not faff about any longer. Rather, it should find ways to come down heavily upon such dangerous forces. Bluntly speaking, India should hold down and deal appropriately those subversive forces with equal seriousness and urgency!

media
The TV channels round the clock struggle to broadcast almost every inch of the army’s movement.

Well, the recent three successful strikes by India on 26th February should not be a case of joy either. Because today’s joy could bring a load of sorrows tomorrow! What is most important is the “silent preparedness” for the battles. It can only ensure an easy victory.  The noises only contribute to shaking the firmness and determination of our military forces.

Also Read:  Cloak And Dagger: Indo-Bangla Ties

                 Is it not too childish that we get prior information as to the plans and modus operandi of our fighters onWhatsApp and Facebook these days? I think it is too disgusting; it is ludicrous! The TV channels round the clock struggle to broadcast almost every inch of the army’s movement. Why are the sensitive action plans discussed to the bone in the newsrooms? A bigger mission should be executed under the cover of privacy. Please kindly note we have an equal number of enemies within the country.  Those within the countries may be passionately working to weaken India and its ethos rather than making it stronger. The road to victory must be undisclosed.  More so, when our enemies within the country are more insidious, more intelligent, more brutal and more warlike.

Salil Gewali is a well-known writer and author of ‘Great minds on India’. Twitter: @SGewali.