Journalism cannot thrive under digital siege

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We are deeply concerned by the utter lack of interest in the continuing deterioration of the state of press freedom, and freedom of expression more generally, in Bangladesh. This was reflected most recently in the 2022 World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders, on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3. Bangladesh, unsurprisingly and very much in line with its record of the past decade, put in a dismal performance as it ranked 162nd out of 180 countries and territories. This marks a 10-point drop from last year, when Bangladesh ranked 152nd, when its score – 36.63 – was the lowest of any country in South Asia. While this is more or less predictable by now, there are some important takeaways from our last show, including how social media has replaced traditional media as the new frontier of censorship and repression of journalists.

The role of social media in endangering journalists – which was recognized in this year’s Press Freedom Day theme “Journalism Under Digital Siege” – cannot be overemphasized. To this end, Bangladesh offers a “successful” model. Between January 2020 and February 2022, more than 200 journalists were implicated under the Digital Security Act (DSA). There have been cases of involuntary disappearance and pre-trial detention. Editors and media managers have repeatedly blamed authorities for arming the DSA to pressure journalists so they are forced to toe the official line. The problem is that DSA doesn’t need to be weaponized, it’s the weapon. It is filled with vague terms. Most of his articles are also non-releasable, meaning the accused, guilty until proven guilty, faces an uneven path to justice. However, few people prosecuted under the law have been convicted, indicating that the main purpose of this law is not to judge, but to intimidate. In other words, a culture of fear has been created by this law.

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Bangladesh’s score in the Press Freedom Index was 57 in 2011. In 2022, it is 36.63. Bangladesh’s score in the Democracy Index was 60 in 2011. In 2022 it is 39. It is clear that our slide in press freedom and democracy has been simultaneous, and we cannot expect improvements in either if authorities fail to respect the voice of the people and fundamental principles. rights. Unfortunately, instead of trying to improve our scores in these vital indices, authorities recently drafted new laws to regulate personal data, mass media, social media, and over-the-top media services ( OTT) which, if enacted, will put journalists, critics and rights advocates at greater risk. We urge authorities to turn away from this dangerous route and take steps that truly empower journalists both in the digital sphere and in their professions on the ground.

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