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BB decision over journos' entry remind about ancient monarchy

Chiroranjan  Sarker

Chiroranjan Sarker

Tue, 30 Apr 24

The parent organization of the financial institutions of Bangladesh is the Bangladesh Bank or the Central Bank. The recent decision by the Bangladesh Bank to impose restrictions on journalists' access to its premises has sparked controversy. According to the new policy, journalists can only enter the premises with specific authorization passes, and even then, they are restricted to meeting only the designated officials. Previously, journalists had unrestricted access to various departments of the central bank.

When the issues of transparency and accountability in various government and non-governmental institutions are gaining global attention, the decision of the Bangladesh Bank to restrict journalist access has left many bewildered. Do the officials at the Bangladesh Bank intend to hide something? Do they want to keep everything under wraps? If not, then why this decision to impose discretionary secrecy?

There is a critical need for unrestricted access to information related to banking and financial accounts in the interest of the public. This transparency is essential to bring to light all sorts of irregularities and misconduct in financial accounts, enabling the central bank to adopt appropriate policies and strategies. What could be the reason behind closing off this opportunity? Is it merely an attempt to evade criticism from the media? Or is it a big scandal to cover up?

We're aware that the banking sector in our country has been grappling with various crises for a long time. Issues such as fraudulent loans, financial misappropriation, and overall lack of governance have been persistent. In such times, by deciding to curtail the free flow of information, what message does the Bangladesh Bank administration want to convey? Do they intend to conceal their own failures in governance by keeping information about the crisis in bank accounts hidden? Or is this initiative aimed at protecting those responsible for the crisis, including loan defaulters and perpetrators of fraud and financial malpractice?

It's noteworthy that despite various limitations and weaknesses, the media in our country continues to strive to bring to light instances of financial misconduct. Over the past few years, much of the information regarding thousands of crores of taka involved in financial irregularities has come to light through journalists gaining access to the Bangladesh Bank. Does this mean that the Bangladesh Bank has decided to protect wrongdoers involved in irregularities like loan defaulting, fraud, and money laundering?

The initiatives being touted by the Bangladesh Bank, such as instituting a dependency system and proposing training programs, are not entirely supportive when it comes to gathering information for investigative reporting. Journalists often have to work like detectives, and such prohibitions prevent any bank official from even entertaining a conversation with them. Any official found communicating with them risks facing severe consequences, masked under the guise of administrative discipline.

This will impede information access. By restricting access to information about bank accounts, why they exist, and who benefits from the financial losses of the people, the rights of citizens will be curtailed. This is why in our country, there are various attempts to suppress the voice of the media. When a certain party holds power, they often find ways to control the media first. Independent media is always under the scrutiny of those in power, especially those who do not value citizen freedom, i.e., democracy. The question, "Raja, where are your clothes?" is repeatedly asked to those in power through impartial media. This question is unsettling for those in power, resulting in media censorship attempts.

When the voices of the powerful don't align, the fate of journalists or media outlets can be precarious. They often face legal repercussions or investigations. Many times, cases are dismissed after years of running between courts, leaving the accused innocent. However, the process itself becomes a punishment – without crime, without trial, there is punishment.

There are no allegations against the media. Here, sensational news or distorted information is published. In many cases, false or misleading news is also propagated. The biggest allegation is that the media sits in its own trial. The media never crosses the limits of its rights; hence, it's inappropriate to claim otherwise. But it's undeniable that those accustomed to holding media trials often wield power against them because they cry out against the powerful. Regardless of which side the media's trial leans towards, it must be kept within the democratic boundaries. However, determining what the media will say, how much it will say, whom it will talk to, and from whom it will gather information should not be the prerogative of any institution. It must be remembered that delivering information and opinions to citizens is essential for the health of democracy. To ensure that the media can perform this task, it's imperative to quickly withdraw the decision made by the Bangladesh Bank.

To make society healthy and strong, the power of democracy must be ingrained among the common people. For that, newspapers need to take a firm stand. Officials at the Bangladesh Bank remind us of ancient monarchs. They fear facing the truth, so any attempt to expose it threatens them.

The proverbial editor Ben Bradley once said, "The job of the media is to apply the brakes to those in power." Our constitution grants the media the power to fulfill their role properly in democracy. The media's job is not to praise the powerful or criticize them blindly. Rather, it is to bring their faults to light so that democracy can progress on the right path. The importance of newspapers in a democracy is paramount, and there are high expectations from the media.

Rabindranath Tagore once said, "When condemnation turns into habit, it strengthens in the secret recesses of the heart." Imposing strict rules on media workers at the Bangladesh Bank and the desire to suppress reports related to irregularities and misconduct further reinforce this. What is suppressed upfront gains more strength in the background. The media should have the opportunity to publish both informative and critical news. If you try to keep your mouth shut, the critical things spread even faster. It spreads as gossip, through social media. Lack of accurate information leads people to believe it as "news," especially in this age of high technology where cutting off communication is impossible, as evidenced.

What is the reason behind the Bangladesh Bank's discomfort towards media workers? Attempts to control the media's opposition have been less prevalent in our country. Has it benefited from it? It has been shown that suppressing the media leads to even greater risks.

Finally, I mention a few lines from Rabindranath's essay "Kantharodh," which he wrote while under British rule in India. Today, why do we remember him again? There's no need to delve into his explanation.

"If a snake roams freely around the house, why increase fear by lighting up more lamps? What's the point of increasing fear when the only way we can express ourselves, introduce ourselves to you, and make you familiar with us is blocked?"

Before the Indian Rebellion (Sipahi Bidroho), there was not a single word written on the bread that was distributed hand to hand among the soldiers. Is that illiterate and ignorant newspaper really so terrifying? ... No matter how extensive and unrestricted the newspapers become, the country will not be able to hide itself according to natural rules. If ever, during a dark moonless night, our oppressed motherland ventures into revolution out of desperation, then even without calling the dogs to the lion's gate, without waking up the king's guards, without recognizing the palace guards, the anklets and the bells of her own will jingle, her strange language will resonate through her strange newspapers, they will make some noise, they will not obey the ban.

Author: Columnist

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