Say Editors’ Council, DRU, BJC and TIB

BPSA statement a threat against media freedom

BPSA statement a threat against media freedom

The Editors' Council yesterday protested and expressed concern over the Bangladesh Police Service Association's (BPSA) statement on recent news about the police force, saying it is a manifestation of an "indecent, illogical and irresponsible" attitude towards independent media and impartial journalism.

The statement, signed by Editors' Council President Mahfuz Anam and General Secretary Dewan Hanif Mahmud, said several media outlets have recently published reports on the unusual wealth of both current and former high- and low-ranking police officials.

In response to the reports, the BPSA sent letters to all media editors, expressing concern, which have been reported by various media outlets.

In the letters, sent on Friday, the BPSA urged journalists to be more cautious and follow the principles of journalism properly while publishing any report about the police force in the future.

The association described the recent media reports, mainly on graft allegations against some former and current officials, as a "smear campaign" by the media. It claimed the reports being run by print, electronic, and social media outlets are "partial, motivated, exaggerated, and misleading".

The Editors' Council, in its statement, said that by issuing a sweeping statement, the BPSA has brought forth the culture of "blame game".

It added that the authorities concerned could have gone to the Press Council following proper rules and regulations regarding any doubt over media's responsibility in publishing the news.

Instead of doing so, it resorted to the "blame game" by protesting the reports and issuing threats to the media in the name of "being extra cautious" while reporting on the Bangladesh police force in the future – this goes against independent media and impartial journalism.

The statement further said that the media also publish positive reports regarding the police force. However, the media, at the same time, also publish investigative reports with due professionalism on the accumulation of illegal wealth by the government officials in responsible positions.

The Council added that it expects continued support from the police force in the media's efforts to implement the government's anti-corruption policies.

DRU, BJC statements

Two more journalist organisations -- Dhaka Reporters' Unity (DRU) and Broadcast Journalist Center (BJC) -- yesterday criticised BPSA's statement, stating that such a response is detrimental to independent journalism.

In separate statements, they said the BPSA statement may encourage individual corruption and create an atmosphere of threat in society.

"In recent times, some reports were published on the unusual asset amassment by some former and current officials. We don't think they were published with any specific intent," said the DRU statement.

"Journalists publish responsible and information-based news, and all the news about some of the current and former police officers is a continuation of that. The language in which some quarters and organisations are reacting to the news is against independent journalism.

"If an official is involved in corruption, it's his personal matter; it's not a decent job of the Police Service Association to blame the media over this. Rather, it could encourage personal corruption."

Meanwhile, BJC in its statement said, "At a time when it's necessary to continuously improve the environment of independent journalism in the interest of the public, such a statement targeting the media from an association of professionals will create a culture of threat in the society.

"Police officials, on different occasions, have said the institution will never take responsibility for any individual's wrongdoing. By making such a statement, isn't the institution taking on the responsibility of the individuals?"

BJC further said that issuing such a statement without any investigation into whether the media reports are true or false calls the BPSA's professional responsibility into question.

In the statement, BJC said if the reports about the former and current police officials are untrue and not based on evidence, the individual concerned can go to the Press Council to seek legal action.

Instead, the BPSA's statement terming all the reports "motivated" is tantamount to interference in independent journalism, it added.

On Saturday, Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists and Dhaka Union of Journalists also protested the BPSA statement, terming it a threat to independent journalism.

TIB's response

Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) yesterday strongly condemned the BPSA statement, calling it a direct threat to press freedom and an attempt to suppress the media's voice.

In a statement, the TIB said the association's statement appears to be a deliberate attempt to hinder the exposure of corruption, particularly in the recent cases of former top police officials who have amassed significant wealth, and an attempt to shield them.

TIB Executive Director Dr Iftekharuzzaman said, "The statement by the police association dismissing the recent reports of corruption involving former officials raises a red flag. It's not unreasonable to say that such a statement by the police officers' association potentially indicates a systematic effort to shield those accused within the force.

"On one hand, this statement by the country's law enforcement officers' association is a direct threat to press freedom and an attempt to suppress the voice of the media. On the other hand, it's a clear violation of the citizens' constitutional right to information. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the BPSA is attempting to 'bury its head in the sand like an ostrich' by essentially denying reality."

He blasted the BPSA's claim that reporting corruption tarnishes the police image. He pointed out that media reports detailing extensive investigations into corruption by former top police officials are being met with the weak argument of "tarnishing the police image".

"This raises concerns about the police forces' capability and integrity to stop corruption. A more constructive approach would have been a prompt announcement of an internal investigation or support for an independent probe into these serious allegations. Such a move would demonstrate the force's commitment in tackling corruption."

About the BPSA statement regarding the police force's contribution, Iftekharuzzaman said, "We always recognise and appreciate the police's contributions in various struggles, disasters, and crises, starting from the war of independence in Bangladesh. However, we can't recognise their abuse of power and corruption, and let their contribution be used as a licence to commit crimes or as a tool to protect criminals. This raises serious ethical concerns about the law enforcement agency."

Referring to the home ministry's letter to the information ministry, the TIB said it is as an ominous signal not only for media freedom in the country but also for the entire accountable democratic system.

The TIB reiterates the need for the home ministry and the BPSA to perform their constitutional duties and carry out thorough enquiries into these claims with transparency.