“Discuss the Major Laws Regulating the Media of Bangladesh”

1. Introduction

Media is one of the most common and important things of our life. From the time we wake up till the time we go to sleep, we are constantly bombarded with media channels, messages and all forms of mental stimuli popping up on our peripheral view momentarily. All this presumably make us think that our media is not much of use and is not well regulated and perhaps has enough freedom to execute whatever they want to do. However, media controls the flow of information to the public and this can substantially affect the way people think, evolve and create perception. A free, responsible and dynamic media shares information, acknowledges the people and legislatures, makes opportunity for diversified views of socio-economic and political processes, and enhances people’s participation in democracy (Hudock 2003)[1].As a matter of fact, media is such an important entity that proper functioning of all the medias can regulate the country itself efficiently and effectively, which is exactly why all the major Medias [2]of Bangladesh are regulated under certain laws irrespective to the fact whether those laws are implied in our country rightfully or not. There are laws to guide the television media, radio media, newspaper media and even the internet media. Since, 1885 or even earlier, media regulation had begun with restrictions and guidelines in Telegraphy[3]. But the laws and regulations also encourages the freedom of sharing all forms of valid information[4]; liberty of the media to acknowledge the world today regarding everything. While, looking into the content of a newspaper or listening to the news, one may conclude the undue influences of the government and the political parties over the major media, improvising and fabricating information for political gains and camouflaging against the eyes of the public[5]. Sobhan (2006) stated that the concept of freedom itself is regulated in Bangladesh[6]. Thereby, this research aims to unveil the major laws regulating media of Bangladesh along with the extent to which these laws have implication over the regulation and control over the media.

 Firstly, we would analyze about the different types of media present in Bangladesh and then the various laws regulating them.

2. Types of Media

            There are many forms and types of media. Starting from the broadcasting media of radio and TV, there is web-media, newspapers, magazines and so many of them. Today, the world of technology has moved so far that even cell-phones are used to spread information and create awareness. However, for the purpose of the research, major forms of media are discussed and their respective legal environment would be analyzed. The following are the list of different types of media available in Bangladesh and their respective brief discussions.


1. Television Media

This is one of the most popular forms of media and mainly accessed for the purpose of entertainment. This is an influential media which can send message to the masses which is essential for healthy democracy and proper governance. In Bangladesh, the viewer-ship growth has been substantially driven by satellite television. There is terrestrial TV (Bangladesh Television) which is the national TV of Bangladesh and it was the dominant medium of entertainment for twenty eight long years (1964-1992). For a long time people had to see what the government made them see in the BTV, and soon they realized that the programs are heavily stereotyped and non-attractive. Since the Bangladesh government permitted private satellite channels in 1997, a huge investment in the production and advertising industry has been aided by the influential political and other commercial people. There are other Cable-TV’s available in Bangladesh and there are about 15 local TV stations and an additional 50 plus international TV stations available[7].  However, this media has the lowest reach. This is still considered as a costly medium to most of the underprivileged population of the country.

 2. Radio

Another popular mass broadcasting media with one terrestrial station and other 26 stations serving with news, entertainment, talks shows all on the wireless medium of radio waves[8]. The national radio of Bangladesh, Bangladesh Betar broadcasts world class programs but it does not have the credibility among general people due to the government control. There are many FM radio channels which have been established. Even though this media lost its popularity in the mean-time, it again gained popularity among general people with the booming new radio stations which are adapting to changes and making the programs more attractive and entertaining to the people.

 3. Newspaper and Magazine

Newspapers and magazines are publications that consist of news on recent events, informative articles, fashion and trends, health issue, advertising and many other uncountable features.[9] This is mass media and is considered the primary source of information to the public regarding the issues of a country. There are bout 1800 daily newspapers and periodicals in Bangladesh while only 15% of the population reads them.[10] There is a big question that lies whether the news published are credible or not. The political tension in the country and the influence of political big fishes has a huge impact on the news published in different dailies. The risk of upsetting any dominant political icon lowers the credibility of the news in Bangladesh.

 4. Internet Media

This is one of the largest media not only in Bangladesh but around the world. This connects the world to Bangladesh and aids in infinite process and transmission of information around the world. Today, TV channels, radio stations, Newspaper and magazines are published online and information is shared much quickly and easily. A lot of general people are being exposed to the internet media gradually in Bangladesh. But this is still a very low percentage of the entire population. Even in the current time this media is considered as a middle class and upper class media. There are still a lot of technical improvements required in this media. Internet can be a vast medium of connecting the entire country if it can be made available to most of the population and the technical sectors are made advanced.

3. Major Laws Regulating Media

 Legal framework on Media is very fragile in Bangladesh and the implementation of laws is very futile. Most of the laws are more or less copied from the Colonial Laws[11] or from Indian laws. In addition, the freedom for media and improvement of media in all sectors are in some way blocked or restricted by government or political influences. The major laws on media are discussed in the following.

 Constitution, People’s Republic of Bangladesh[12]

The fundamental laws or the supreme laws of Bangladesh that declare the country’s sovereignty and create the legal framework with basic political principles. It was passed by the constituent assembly of the nation on November 4, 1972. Constitution directly or indirectly affects the movement of media and regulates it. In Article 39(1) of the Constitution, the freedom of speech and expression of opinions are encouraged. Contradictorily, Article 39(2) converges these rights of freedom and narrows it down to the extent where it would not affect or endanger greater interest that is national security. All these affect the scope of media as many a time, the flow of information is disrupted or controlled by the government. As the constitutional laws are fundamental and unbreakable laws, any information disseminated that might jeopardize country’s peace is stopped by the government. For example, the whole incident of BDR mutiny was kept hidden from people’s eyes for quite a long time in the name of preventing national security and for stopping further damages that could be caused by the reaction of knowing the whole story among citizens and other military/Para-military forces. Government and other officials restricted the media to uncover the inside story which in fact was the right of every citizen. However, the implementation of such law from the constitution in an illegal manner can provide the government the scope to delay the information symmetry and deprive the citizens from knowing the actual truth behind such incidents in the country.

 The Special Power Act, 1974[13]

This is an act that was made to provide with special measure in order to prevent certain prejudicial activities to facilitate the process of trial and effective punishment for certain severe offences.[14] The implementation of this law was to stop people especially journalists and the media from discussing, publishing or printing reports on prejudicial events so that any concluding or misleading directional information is not sustained within citizens before the trial is effective. Journalists could be immediately arrested and brought under trial and detained or punished with imprisonment. Though this act’s power was marginally diluted in 1991 allowing bail for journalists, but offense under this law could lead to five years imprisonment and /or fine for printing or publishing prejudicial reports.[15] In addition, journalists were asked to identify all sources of information while authorities given with draconian powers[16] to confiscate documents and newspaper including banning of publications.[17] Moreover, the Code of Criminal Procedure[18] made all printed materials, defamatory of country’s President or the Prime Minister, an offense where you would be punished with imprisonment for 2-7 years. On the other hand, the government is also empowered to ban any foreign periodical published in the country which was effective in 1975 when 20 newspapers and political papers were banned other than those taken over by the government.[19] All these leads to the understanding how much constricted the media can be in parlance with the government’s power of executing special laws, thereby indicating the citizen unawareness on diversified elements happening in the country. The previous example of the BDR mutiny prevails in this situation where the citizens are not reported about the proceedings and current situation of the trail going on the accused criminals.

 The Official Secrets Act, 1923[20]

This is an act to integrate and improve the law in Bangladesh related to official secrecy and confidentiality.[21] Any official model, sketch, plan or information of any sort should be transmitted or communicated under the guidance of this law. For analyzing media perspective, we would have to look into the Section 5 of this law where it is stated that any person possessing or controlling secret of classified information (sketch, plan, article etc.) under any official authority or government authority cannot be shared or disseminated to other including media. A person guilty of such an act would be punished and imprisonment can extend for two years. This prevents the media accessing much information where government or authority simply notifies about official secrecy and restrictions are applied.

 Bangladesh Television Authority Ain, 2001[22]

This act was amended in the year 2001 with 21 sections describing the existence of an authority that would control, monitor and manage the Television sector of Bangladesh. This includes the functioning, managing information flow, power of television media in information exchange, control over transactions and monetary policies etc. and all other activities and authorities related to television media in Bangladesh. This put further shackles over the broadcasting media and led the television authority mentioned to control over the transmitted media programmes.

 The Press Council Act, 1974[23]

This is an act for the establishment of a Press Council that would have the authority to supervise the press of Bangladesh encouraging and improving the freedom of press along with the improvements of newspaper standards. This gives this council the power via the government to have unlimited authority to hold and dispose information and other newspaper related elements[24]. In addition, the council will be responsible for a code of conduct for the newspaper and news agencies guide the newspaper companies and journalist in accordance with the professional standards[25]. The power of the council over the news agencies is discussed within Section 12 to Section 13 of the Act which was to maintain standards and promote freedom for news agencies. However, these are used only to eliminate conflicts and discrepancies with the government. In addition, the council do not possess the power to go against the government when government intrudes in newspaper or journalism freedom of information flow.

 The Telegraph Act, 1885[26]& the Wireless Telegraph Act, 1933[27]

These acts are amended to law relating to telegraph and wireless telegraph (regulating telecommunication and related media) of Bangladesh. These acts provide government with the exclusive right to provide licenses, to control the flow of information with the power of possession of the infrastructure and creating rules for the proper functioning of telecommunication. These acts mainly affect the telecommunication industry and their respective functioning. Government possesses the power to control entry and exit of telecommunication companies and companies are condemned to various restrictions like sharing of information through text messages or changing their tariffs etc.

 The Censorship of Films Act, 1963[28]

This act is for providing with the censorship of cinematograph films and certifying them on some particular grounds so that it is suitable for public exhibition[29]. There would be a board that would examine the film made and prescribe any changes to be made to the film. In addition, this board would also judge the publicity of these films including photographs, posters, sketches etc. along with any required translation in case of foreign films or display of films in foreign country[30]. Moreover, government influences and authorization would prevail and might lead to imposition of restrictions under this act on special cases if any other law (the official act, special powers act or constitutional acts)[31] are violated or the film depicts incidents that stimulates religious sentiments, abuses political views, disrupts law and order and security of the nation or consist plagiarism. However, there is merely much control over the film media these days, be that on vulgarism in cinema or the quality control of the films while only penalizing or restricting film media when it portray in contradiction with the political views related to the history of independence of Bangladesh.

 The Printing Press and Publication Act, 1973[32]

This act is to guide and control the printing press and publication of books in Bangladesh in accordance with the legal framework of Bangladesh maintaining the standards of publication and printing along with the censorship and preservation of trademarks, names etc. This also includes the various standards like the edition, paper quality, printing style, requirements, editors and writers participation etc[33]. All books or publications must be sent to the designated government agency for censorship approvals and Ministry of information and Broadcasting also looks into these matters before external publicity.[34]

 The Right to Information Act, 2009

The right to information act specifies the liberated flow of information ensuring people’s right to share information freely. The Constitution of Bangladesh denotes the independence of thought, speech as basic right and accordingly the right to information is an essential part of it. As a democratic country, the general people hold all the power and their strength is ensured through the freedom of sharing any information publicly. The liberty of information will make sure that all public and private associations or organizations will have more clarity, transparency and accountability. It will also aid in diminishing corruption and thus superior authorized control shall be established in this country.[35] However, several government and legal entities are excluded from this act which includes DGFI, NSI, CID [36]etc. and under certain conditions, demanded information cannot be provided depending on whether those information violate other laws like Special Powers Act or Official Secrets Act[37].

 The Draft Broadcasting Act, 2003[38]

This act provides with the establishment of independent broadcasting authority to observe and regulate terrestrial, satellite and cable TV with and independent perspective of improving media performance. This authority would look into the matters of issuing licenses and promote free flow of information among all the medias in Bangladesh and control over them.

4. Findings

  1. There are about 25 laws on media regulations in Bangladesh starting from laws in 1800 till 2009. However the regulation on media is still inadequate, inappropriate and inefficient.

  1. The implementations of the laws are very poor in Bangladesh. The main reason behind it is corruption and government influences. Either the laws are not implemented properly or they are implemented inappropriately. For many instances the laws are misused and media is regulated in such a way that government bias and political influences are very much prevalent. In most cases the freedom of expression of media is disrupted by government and political pressure. As a matter of fact, The Special Power Act and The Official Secrets Act are often misused by government or political parties in order to constraint media’s access and ability to disseminate transparent information. Moreover, journalists and people associated with the media are many a time threatened and harassed legally or illegally by influential authorities when media in any way contradicts with factual information against the corrupted authority.

  1. Bangladesh Television is the only terrestrial television in Bangladesh and thereby is in complete monopoly with adequate support and intervention by the government. Thereby other media cannot compete with BTV and many of the information that could be transmitted around the country where cable TV is not available and people could get aware with everything that is going on the country is again completely filtered by the government.

  1. Regulation on media’s quality control compared to the international standard is insufficient in Bangladesh. There are no acting and efficient law that regulate the quality of the media and at times media is also supported by the political parties. Often the media itself get biased and portray information that are fabricated either to harass individuals or to create a buzz improving their popularity.

 5. Conclusion

 Laws and legal framework are established around the world to guide and facilitate the performance of media so that citizens are enriched with adequate information. As mentioned earlier, proper media and information sharing helps well functioning of a country through constructive criticism of the government, sharing of views between citizens and the government and maintaining continuous flow of information all through. However, the legal framework of Bangladesh is sufficiently corrupted and influenced by the government and political parties. The freedom of sharing information as maintained around the world should also be the case for Bangladesh which requires quite a few laws to be amended to maintain international standards. Freedom of expression and information are vital and in no way can be exempted from a country’s policy and constitution which to some extent is also the case of Bangladesh but proper implementations are not there. Moreover, media is controlled and manipulated which is why fabricated information is portrayed to the public by the influences of political parties and the corrupted wealthy individuals of Bangladesh. This is not acceptable and definitely is not healthy for a country’s development. On the other hand, along with limitation on the media, many incidents have been observed where political parties and government influences terrorizes, harasses and at times kills journalists dedicated towards dissemination of true information and events. Recently, two TV reporters[39] were brutally murdered and government seemed to have taken no actions on it. Rather, many clues have been observed showing strong connections of government influences on this matter[40]. All these not only negatively influence true journalism and effective broadcast media but also trembles the liberty of citizens and their security. Thereby, media should realize their importance and start being fearless to political influences and government must provide media with adequate security and abide media under the various laws in such a way that freedom of expression is not violated, information is validated and checked. Media should be regulated but not controlled or suppressed which is why along with the improvement and proper implication of the existing laws, government should come with more changes in the legal structure creating scope for the different authorities to investigate and sustain healthy media growth within the international standards.

[1] Ali. I. S., Governance of Media, Para-1, p1, Retrieved from www.cgs-bu.com

[2] All the medias including radio, television, newspaper, mobile-phones, internet, billboards etc.

[3] The Telegraph Act, 1885 that was implied to regulate the telegraphy in Bangladesh.

[4] Sharing information and incidents that have actually occurred and needs to be shared to the public in order to ensure that people’s awareness, safety, securities and peace is maintained. Government influence sometimes disrupts free flow of information. In other case, media fabricates and no longer shares authentic information.

[5] Fabrication of information such that the public develops a perceptual prejudice ultimately government or political parties manipulating the people’s mind and their awareness of an event.

[6] See Para-2, p6, Sobhan. F, & Khan. S.E., Bangladesh Enterprise institute, Media in Development.

[7] Basic Data on Bangladesh Media, Retrieved from  http://www.pressreference.com/A-Be/Bangladesh.html

[8] Basic Data on Bangladesh Media, Retrieved from  http://www.pressreference.com/A-Be/Bangladesh.html

[9] Newspaper, Wikipedia, Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newspaper

[10] About  15% of the population read a newspaper/periodical once a week. The readership in the urban areas is comparatively higher at about 32%, while the rate in the rural areas, especially among rural women, is very low – only about 2%. Retrieved from http://www.banglapedia.org/httpdocs/HT/N_0169.HTM

[11] Laws that were in the British regiment before the Liberation.

[12] Constitution of Bangladesh, Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constitution_of_Bangladesh.

[13] Act No. XIV OF 1974, pp410-434, Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary affairs, Bangladesh

[14] Act No. XIV OF 1974, p410, Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary affairs, Bangladesh

[15] Press laws, Online source, Retrieved from http://www.trulybangladesh.com/en/index.php?view=article&catid=70%3Aothers&id=232%3Athe-media-in-bangladesh&format=pdf&option=com_content&Itemid=53

[16] Draconian is an adjective meaning great severity, which derives from Draco, an Athenian law scribe under whom small offences had heavy punishments (Draconian laws).

[17] See footnote 13

[18] Section 99(A), The Code of Criminal Procedure, Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary affairs, Bangladesh

[19] A state of emergency declared in 1974.

[20] Act No. XIX of 1923, Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary affairs, Bangladesh.

[21] Throughout this Act, except otherwise provided, the words `Bangladesh` and `Government` were substituted, for the words `Pakistan` and `appropriate Government` respectively by section 3 and 2nd Schedule of the Bangladesh Laws (Revision And Declaration) Act, 1973 (Act No. VIII of 1973)

[22] Act No. 55, year 2001, Bangladesh Television authority Ain, Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary affairs, Bangladesh.

[23] Act No. XXV of 1974, Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary affairs, Bangladesh.

[24] Section 3(1), The Press Council Act, 1974.

[25] Section 11(1) & 11(2), The Press Council Act, 1974.

[26] Act No. XIII of 1885, Law on Telecommunication, pp184-202, Ministry of Law.

[27] Act No. XVII of 1933, Law on Telecommunication, pp397-401, Ministry of Law.

[28] Act No. XVIII of 1963, Ministry of Law.

[29] Section 4, 10(1), The Censorship of Films Act, 1963.

[30] Section 4(1-11), The Censorship of Films Act, 1963.

[31]  Section 11, The Censorship of Films Act, 1963.

[32] Act No. XXIII of 1973, Ministry of Law.

[33] Section 2-12, Printing press and publication Act, 1973.

[34] Press Laws, report published online, retrieved from http://www.trulybangladesh.com/en/index.php?view=article&catid=70%3Aothers&id=232%3Athe-media-in-bangladesh&format=pdf&option=com_content&Itemid=53

[35] Section 1-4, Rights to Information Act, 2009.

[36]  National Security Intelligence (NSI),  Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), Defence Intelligence Units, Criminal Investigation Department (CID), Bangladesh Police, Special Security Force (SSF), Intelligence Cell of the National Board of Revenue,  Special Branch, Bangladesh Police,  Intelligence Cell of Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) are the excluded institutions.

[37] Section 7, Rights to Information Act, 2009.

[38] The Bangladesh media Environment, pp3-4, published by IPI, retrieved from http://www.freemedia.at/fileadmin/media/Documents/IPI_mission_reports/Bangladesh_Media_Environment_final.pdf

[39]  Sagar Sarwar, a news editor of private TV channel Maasranga Television, and his wife Meherun Runi, a senior reporter of ATN Bangla

[40] The Lawyers and Jurists, Facebook Page, Retrieved February 27, 20120, from http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=282477871820672&set=a.175258175875976.42482.143810572354070&type=1