May 6, 2022
DHAKA – Bangladesh has slipped 10 notches in this year’s World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders, also known as Reporters sans frontières (RSF).
Bangladesh ranked 162nd out of 180 countries while its position was 152nd last year, according to the report released yesterday. Bangladesh’s position is worse than that of Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the report showed.
The country is one of the 28 in the world which saw “very bad” press freedom violations this year.
In order to assign the index, the situation in the country is classified according to certain criteria.
Countries are assessed on whether political pressure from the state or other actors impacts journalism.
They also assess the degree to which journalists and media are free to work without censorship or judicial sanctions, or excessive restrictions on their freedom of expression.
The index also notes whether there is impunity for those responsible for acts of violence against journalists.
Furthermore, it scrutinises the difficulty of creating a news media outlet, and whether advertisers and commercial partners create economic constraints. Also noted is whether media owners seek to promote or defend their business interests.
Of utmost importance to the index is whether journalists face bodily harm, professional harm, intimidation, coercion, harassment, surveillance and smear campaigns.
Bangladesh’s lowest score was in the “safety” category.
“Exposed to police violence, attacks by political activists and murders orchestrated by Jihadist or criminal organisations, Bangladeshi journalists are all the more vulnerable because this violence goes unpunished,” said RSF.
“The Digital Security Act is often used to keep journalists and bloggers in prison, in appalling conditions,” it added.
In the wake of World Press Freedom Day, the Editors’ Council called upon the authorities concerned to reform the DSA in order to ensure press freedom in the country.
The council came up with the call in a statement issued on the occasion, undersigned by the council’s President Mahfuz Anam and General Secretary Dewan Hanif Mahmud.
“From the very beginning, the Editors’ Council and journalists have been concerned and made objections regarding the Digital Security Act. Recently, the law minister also said that there have been numerous [incidents of] misuses of the law and hinted at reforms to it. The minister’s comments proved that the Editors’ Council’s concerns were genuinely on point,” the statement read.
Stressing that journalists are under digital surveillance across the globe and threatened in upholding their duty in dissemination of information, the Editors’ Council cited Unesco Director-General Audrey Azoulay’s call to protect journalism and journalists by generating awareness about the benefits and risks of working in the digital age and prepare a roadmap to this end.
“Digital surveillance can reveal the information collected by journalists and expose their sources, thereby lowering the security of the sources. Such surveillance can also expose journalists’ personal information that will in turn lower their own security,” it said, adding that such digital measures – surveillance, online harassment, hacking – are being utilised by both state- and non-state entities to disrupt journalists in their professional pursuits and also compromising their personal security.
The council observed that security forces in different nations are adopting various digital surveillance measures that are detrimental to the expansion of press freedom.
Stressing that use of digital technology in journalism has become important amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the council observed that the need to ensure security to journalists is now more than ever in the digital era.
A separate report by Article 19, launched on the same day, scrutinised the conditions of women journalists in Bangladesh and five other countries.
“Women journalists face additional, gendered, often sexualised threats, discrimination, and misogyny – in their workplaces, when out reporting, and online – not only from the powerful forces that attempt to silence them but also sources, colleagues, and even their own family members.”