Those at the top should let reporters get on with their jobs

By Meer Ahsan Habib, The Daily Star/ ANN

Bangladesh — As a communication for development professional, I have always had an interest in press freedom and freedom of expression. While surfing the internet recently, I made an amazing discovery: the Department of Films and Publications (DFP) in its website boasted to have documented the historic March 7 speech of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. This courageous documentation took place during the rule of the Pakistani military regime. This is not just a lone example of upholding press freedom; we all know how journalists risked their lives and played a critically important role and contributed to our independence. The way they operated was similar to present day BBC which was established by a royal charter, and operates under its Agreement with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

As I write this piece, I am taking into consideration many issues which have been best told by my mentor Professor Rehman Sobhan who once said, “Today when I write an article, it takes me one week and five readings of censorship before I am ready to publish it. I have to think of every word I write today as everyone else in independent Bangladesh. But when we were fighting the martial law we could sit on the desk and write in two hours.” Today, as we mark World Press Freedom Day, the world press stands at a crucial junction.

According to Freedom of the Press 2017 findings commissioned by Freedom House, 2016 witnessed the decline of global press freedom to its lowest point in 13 years — journalists and media outlets in major democracies received unprecedented threats, and authoritarian states came up with new control mechanisms within and beyond their borders. Countries that witnessed the largest decline in press freedom are Poland, Turkey, Burundi, Hungary, Bolivia, Serbia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Today, only 13 percent of the world’s population enjoy a free press which includes an environment where media can report on political issues without fear or favour, journalists are not subject to any threat and their safety is guaranteed, state intervention is minimal and the press is not oppressed by legal and economic instruments.