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No restriction on journalists entering Bangladesh Bank

Zeauddin Ahmed

Zeauddin Ahmed

Fri, 21 Jun 24

The journalists boycotted the post-budget press conference chaired by the finance minister due to the ban on their entry to Bangladesh Bank. Traditionally, this annual event includes the governor's significant role in addressing questions on various economic issues such as inflation, government loans, liquidity crisis, defaulted loans, money laundering, and reserves. However, this year, journalists protested by refusing to attend the conference if the governor spoke, leading to his exclusion from the Q&A session. Consequently, questions that would typically be addressed by the governor were instead answered by Finance Minister, Prime Minister's Finance Advisor Moshiur Rahman, State Minister for Finance Wasika Ayesha Khan, and Finance Secretary Md. Khairuzzaman Majumdar.

It seems there are significant concerns regarding the access and treatment of journalists in Bangladesh, particularly concerning their entry into Bangladesh Bank. Despite Bangladesh Bank's press release on May 15 affirming no restrictions on journalist entry, there have been ongoing criticisms, workshops, seminars, and talk shows discussing the issue. Prominent figures in Bangladesh have also voiced strong opposition to the alleged ban, suggesting it has impacted journalists' ability to access information freely.

However, the perception of journalists in society has changed, with some fearing them akin to law enforcement. This shift is attributed to media outlets focusing on business interests, party politics, and financial pressures, leading to unethical practices and undermining journalistic integrity. Consequently, journalists face skepticism and resistance from institutions that were previously more open to their inquiries and access to information.

It appears there is widespread anger and concern surrounding the false rumors of Bangladesh Bank allegedly banning journalists, to the extent that some have resorted to making baseless accusations of money hacking against the bank. Debapriya Bhattacharya, a Fellow of the Center for Policy Dialogue (CPD), has expressed apprehension that if any issues within Bangladesh Bank are not transparently addressed, they could potentially lead to significant sabotage.

Bhattacharya's statement, "Dal me kuch kala hai," which translates to "there is something fishy going on," seems to have further fueled speculation among journalists and opposition party leaders. This phrase implies suspicion of hidden motives or wrongdoing, suggesting that the alleged restriction on journalist access to Bangladesh Bank could be aimed at concealing financial irregularities or misconduct.

Overall, the situation reflects deep-seated distrust and suspicion regarding transparency and accountability within Bangladesh Bank, exacerbated by rumors and perceptions that efforts are being made to suppress information rather than disclose it openly.

The President of the Newspaper Owners' Association has expressed concern that restricting journalist access to Bangladesh Bank could potentially embolden those with nefarious intentions. Meanwhile, Obaidul Quader, General Secretary of Awami League and Minister of Road Transport and Bridges, defended the restriction by stating that all necessary information is available on Bangladesh Bank's website. He pointed out that journalists are not allowed unrestricted access to central banks worldwide, citing Malaysia where access was also restricted during a visit to Bank Negara Malaysia.

The security protocols in place at institutions like Bangladesh Bank, which are designated as Key Point Installation A-One (KPI A-1). Such institutions typically have stringent security measures, including restricted access and surveillance through CCTV cameras. Journalists usually do not enter these facilities unless they have specific business there.

These statements reflect differing perspectives on the balance between transparency and security in
During my visit to the Central Bank of Uzbekistan as an invitee, I encountered a strict requirement to present my passport, which I did not have initially. Despite a request from the Deputy Governor of the Central Bank, the security personnel, who were not official employees of the bank, initially did not accommodate the request. I later retrieved my passport from the hotel and was able to enter the Central Bank. This incident surprised me, as it highlighted the stringent security measures in place.

In contrast, accessing Bangladesh Bank has historically been less strict. Outsiders seeking to meet with officials at Bangladesh Bank could simply contact them and arrange for a pass at the reception desk. Previously, journalists enjoyed a more flexible arrangement where they could register their identities in a reception room book, sign in, obtain a pass, and enter without needing a recommendation from a specific official.

However, recent changes have standardised the access procedure for all visitors, eliminating the previous flexibility that journalists once enjoyed. This shift reflects broader global practices where central banks, due to their critical financial roles and handling of sensitive data, enforce stringent security protocols.

Bangladesh Bank has historically been considered friendly towards journalists. During the movement against Hussain Muhammad Ershad, Deputy Governor Mahbubur Rahman Khan maintained a close relationship with journalist Ataus Samad, providing him with information. The office of Deputy Governor Ali Kabir, husband of renowned chef Siddika Kabir, was a regular meeting place for journalists who contributed editorials to the Dainik Sangbad over many years. Under the leadership of Dr. Atiur Rahman, Bangladesh Bank was a sanctuary for journalists, with the governor frequently interacting with them on a daily basis.

When Fazle Kabir assumed governorship, there were no new restrictions imposed, but journalist interactions decreased. However, during Governor Rauf Talukder's tenure, amidst global economic pressures leading to some contraction, journalistic interest in Bangladesh Bank increased again. The bank handles sensitive information that, if disclosed, could potentially confuse the public and undermine trust. Maintaining public confidence is crucial to prevent a crisis of credibility for the institution, necessitating careful management of information in the national interest.

Recently, certain banks' financial conditions have been publicly scrutinised through classifications like red, yellow, and green, which Bangladesh Bank typically does not disclose. It appears that journalists obtained and published this information as exclusive news, raising questions about responsible journalism. The consequences of such disclosures are not merely governmental but also impact the nation and its state. Despite these unintended revelations, Bangladesh Bank has not restricted journalists' access. Journalists wishing to visit can approach the reception desk or contact the bank's spokesperson or officials in advance to request a pass, which is typically issued promptly, avoiding prolonged waits akin to those in government secretariats.

Once inside a building at Bangladesh Bank, there are no barriers to free movement within that building. While ordinary pass holders might face restrictions accessing the executive floor, journalists can bypass this by coordinating with the bank's spokesperson or their colleagues. The rationale behind journalists refusing to listen to the governor's speech due to this slight change in the rules is unclear. Journalists' cooperation is vital for promoting Bangladesh Bank's policies and monetary measures, and thus, the bank would not undermine its own interests by restricting their access. According to the new rules, there are no hindrances to journalists' free movement within the building after entry. If any issues arise with obtaining a pass, journalists can resolve them by communicating with Bangladesh Bank.

Author: Former Executive Director of Bangladesh Bank and former MD of Mint

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