Although the role of mass media is very crucial in national elections, the mainstream media in Bangladesh are failing to play their part, speakers said at a seminar yesterday.
Expressing concern over the prevailing situation ahead of the coming polls, they emphasised on creating a congenial environment so that people can vote freely on December 30.
They were speaking at the seminar titled 'Media Engagement for Fair Elections” organised by the Centre for Governance Studies at the capital's BIISS auditorium.
In his keynote speech, Nurul Kabir, editor of New Age, said, “While the government's prime focus of control remains on the electronic media due to its greater reach and influence on a larger number of the country's population, the print media is also not spared…”
Kabir said it was clear that the media engagement was very much there in the coming election, “but it is predominantly a partisan engagement devoid of broader public interests”.
He said independent media outlets and even individual journalists were trying to serve the people, “but that is quite inadequate in terms of the huge responsibilities that the democratic media are expected to discharge during national elections.
“The political implication of such inadequacy is bound to prove bad for all concerned in the days to come. However, I am optimistic that things would change for the positive, some day.”
Matiur Rahman Chowdhury, editor in chief of the Daily Manabzamin, said, “What will I say? When self-censorship has already weakened journalists, what else can I say?
“If journalists want to come out of this situation, they can do it in three days. But we don't want it. Because, we are in a stiff contest to take partisan benefits,” said the senior journalist. “We [journalists] are no less responsible for this situation.”
About the upcoming polls, he said the question was now whether people would be able to cast their vote. “People want to vote… But the situation in the countryside is very dangerous. A good election can't be expected in this situation.”
Brig Gen (retd) M Sakhawat Hussain, a former election commissioner, blamed both the political parties and the media managers for the current state of the press.
“Why don't you go to the Election Commission and raise your point? You went to the commission when we were there. I think the media managers have some faults,” he said.
Hossain Zillur Rahman, adviser to a former caretaker government, said the election process had entered into the last phase and whether the voter could cast their votes was now the prime issue.
He said three matters -- poor presence of opposition men in campaigning, continuous filing of ghost cases and limited number of observers -- had become a matter of concern.
The media has to play their due role, he added.
Prof Nazmul Ahsan Kalimullah, chairman of Jatiya Nirbachon Porjobekkhon Parishad (Janipop), said the media would be counted as the “last resort” as relatively less number of election observers, as per the latest information, would be deployed during the election.
“So the role of the media here will be very vital,” he added.
Shamsuzzaman Dudu, vice chairman of the BNP, claimed that a very dangerous situation was prevailing in the country and that it was going towards darkness.
“I don't want to blame the media because there is a question about their capability in this situation,” he added.
Yusuf Hussain Humayun, member of the ruling Awami League advisory council, claimed the government was giving all kinds of support to the Election Commission and a very congenial atmosphere for election was prevailing in the country.
Prof Syed Anwar Husain of Dhaka University's history department, Ikteder Ahmed, a former judge, Rezwan Siddiqui, acting editor of The Daily Dinkal, Chandan Nandi, executive editor of South Asian Monitor in India, Shakhawat Hossain Sayantha, general secretary of BNP think-tank G-9, among others, spoke at the programme moderated by CGS Executive Director Zillur Rahman and chaired by CGS Chairman Prof M Ataur Rahman.