Mediation Specialist In Bangladesh

1. Introduction:

Freedom of press is one of the signs of practicing democracy. As a democratic country Bangladesh is not practicing the freedom of press properly. It can be said that press is like a bridge between government and people, so freedom of press is needed for fair communication between them. According to the UNESCO, freedom of expression and freedom of the press both are counted as a basic human right and that highlights the media independence[1].

Generally contempt of court is behavior that opposes or defies the authority, justice, and dignity of the court. If press itself involves with the contempt of court then the end result will not be satisfactory for both government and general people.

At present the freedom of press is under threat and some members of press media are involving in the contempt of court which is very alarming for present judiciary system. As I said earlier that freedom of press is needed for fair communication but if that media involves in unfair activities then how it will be possible? Yes, we know that the government makes mistakes most of the time, they are not accountable to general people, their judiciary system is not sound and so many issues are there. We have the right to know about every steps of government and their activities and through press media general people get aware about their government’s activities.

Freedom of press, right to know, freedom of speech and access to information are the hallmark of an undiluted democracy. Media’s freedom, democracy and good governance are as inseparable as the human rights sere. So a free media is essential for building a society with moral, ethical and democratic values that impact our society and culture largely. The information, in general, and the media, in particular, can also be decisive by tipping the social and political balance on issues of authoritarianism and democracy, autocracy and theocracy, development and parasitic consumption, war and peace, conflict prevention, conflict resolution and reconciliation in post conflict situation. If the Media can function freely in a democratic atmosphere, the society is benefited and civilization gets a boost from such freedoms. Bangladesh Journalists rights form – BJRF working to create greater unity healthy atmosphere in the field of journalism of Bangladesh.

In some cases at present, some journalists are getting involved in the contempt of court so the image of judiciary system is getting affected. According to the Law Commission, it has been stated that “There is no statutory law in Bangladesh governing the powers, authority, procedure and practice in respect of contempt of court of both Divisions of the Supreme Court”[2]. If the contempt of court happens usually then one day the judiciary system will be collapsed badly, there will be no respect for the court. On the other hand, if the government restricts the freedom of press then that will be against the human right. So for both cases that problem needs to be reconciled as soon as possible otherwise the condition will be out of control.

2. Freedom of Press and Contempt of Court:

Judiciary is the fountainhead of justice, free press is the vehicle of freedom of expression of all citizens and as such an essential pillar of democracy[3], that statement is hundred percent true but in reality that does not happen because judiciary system is not sound in Bangladesh and also the press is not free. Through the press a communication system build up between general people and government so freedom of press is needed to maintain a better communication between them. Press media works for the sake of people and government; they should not be biased on any side. Through press general people can know what their government is doing and on the opposite side government can know about the demands of general people. So press media has the right to present the true information in front of general people, also general people have the right to know the information. Here press should be independent to represent the right information without any fear of criminal charges[4], but point should be noted that information related to government or judiciary system will be presented with the respect of government and judiciary system. Otherwise that can hamper the reputation of a country or the image of the judiciary system in a country. So, for both cases, the freedom of press for representing right information to people and effective law against contempt of court are mandatory but that should be in balance.

2.1. Situation in Bangladesh for Freedom of Press and Contempt of Court:

At present the not only the freedom of press is under threat but also the electronic media. About 5500 newspapers and periodicals are published from Bangladesh in Bangla and English, most of those are published in Bangla language. The year of 1990’s marked a new era of media freedom as granted in the Constitution of Bangladesh. Despite these freedoms, the media face many challenges in performing their functions. Members of the press and media routinely face violence or restrictions making it difficult to practice journalism or carry out media activities in a free manner. Though, the privatization trends towards the broadcasting and advertising have given the media a taste of independence than ever before. That is a good practice of independence indeed but some times some journalists represent information which becomes very harmful for some sectors of government or image of the country, that information contempt the court or judiciary system.

Bangladesh is one of the most dangerous and violent countries in South Asia for journalists. The risks are on the increase day by day with harassment, torture, and arrest and death threats for news reports and opinions which expose the truth. Local journalists say they are increasingly under threat for reporting on political violence, graft, and organized crime, but that the main cause of brutality against the press in Bangladesh is pervasive corruption. The professional rights and freedom of journalists are being curbed frequently now either by laws or by other restraints imposed by the government.

Recently we have seen that a daily newspaper called ‘Amar Desh’ published a report on April 21 under the headline “chamber manei sarkar pakkhe stay” (chamber bench means stay order in favor of the government)[5]. That headline directly stated that judiciary system runs by the favored of the government. Though we know that government in Bangladesh is already corrupted but with the respect of the judiciary system and government press should publish their information and opinion. Journalistic ethics is needed and every journalist should have that. But they have to consider some limitations. That newspaper headline was the express of freedom, but according to the law, the court found that reporter guilty. Here, the problem is that if the court gives him punishment against his report then independence of press will be hampered. On the other hand that report created a bad image of judiciary system and contempt of court which is not tolerable at all. That might affect on the general people’s mind and the trust on judiciary system might decrease.

Fair representation and flow of information are essential which can make the government accountable and transparent. Here press plays an important role on behalf of the country. According to the situation in Bangladesh journalists are not getting the right information and government is not giving the proper information to them, in that case a noticeable number of journalists were assaulted or targeted with death threats, one reporter murdered, 16 news rooms or press clubs brutally attacked and four journalists detained by the authorities in scarcely over eight months-is by far the country with the highest incidents of violence against members of the press according to the data of June, 2002[6] and in 2008 about 33 journalists were assaulted or harassed in a total of 18 incidents across the country[7]. Those are totally against the freedom of press and also against the law. From the previous event we can see that press media deprived from the freedom and the judiciary was not sound enough for them. So, a distance has been made between the press and judiciary system in Bangladesh.

v     Some Significant Dates for Press

?       1996: Free and Fair elections; press plays a major role in the proposal for a pre-election care-taker government.

?       1997: The Government disbands the state-controlled trust which was in charge of publishing four important newspapers since 1974.

?       1999: Private television ownership permitted.

2.2. Interaction between Press, Government and General People:

Press, government and general people three of them are interconnected to each other. For the betterment of a country three of them play major roles so if any one of them plays negative role then other two will be affected. In the case of Bangladesh we have seen the same thing; our government is corrupted so other two factors press and general people are getting affected. The government heavily influences the activities of the press, where newspaper reporters go beyond their allowed guidelines, they face potential replacement. Often times, journalists practice self censorship out of fear of the consequences of speaking out against the government. Violent attacks and intimidation by government leaders and political activists are not unusual consequences of news reporting. For example government uses the press media for their own benefit but when government changes then other government blame that press for committing unfair work. Independent newspapers that do not praise the government are not given any privileges..Here press media is being misused by them and general people suffer from that.

2.3. Support of the Law:

Laws are available in Bangladesh for every major sector but most of those are deactivated or unused. Here, laws for freedom of press are in same case, on the other hand laws against contempt of court are also existed. In Bangladesh laws are organized in such a way that the press will not be able to act independently, it has some limitations. Actually Bangladesh only practices symbolic form of democratic government. In reality, government and laws are not supporting the democracy. So press is not getting the full right of freedom, they are under restriction of rules and regulations.

According to the Article 39(1) of the Constitution provides for freedom of speech, expression and the press[8], but Article 39(2) makes the enjoyment of these rights subject to reasonable restrictions in the interests of the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency and morality in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence[9]. In Article 39 it clearly states that the freedom of thought and conscience is unlimited but the other freedoms such as speach and expression and freedom of the press are not without Restrictions. So, most of these types of acts restrict the freedom of press.

Recently Supreme Court of Bangladesh has passed a verdict on August 19, 2010 related to protecting the image of judiciary, according to the report published on “Amar Desh” newspaper. The decision was six months in prison for gross contempt of court.  In contrast though, the High Court on 22 March 2007 rejected an appeal for contempt proceedings against the Daily Manabzamin, which also doubted the qualifications, honesty, and impartiality of judges. But its editor received jail term in a prior contempt case (Cassette Scandal) in May 2002[10]. So it has been seen that the rule of law is not well established yet in Bangladesh.

2.4. Way to Reconcile:

Freedom of the press is a fundamental right of all citizens as guaranteed in the constitution in Bangladesh. Government’s Corruption, illegal position eviction, expedition against corruption, terrorist activities, market price, development news, political, violence, democracy, education, fire, decline of law and order, women torture, rescue arms, stealing-robbery, meeting-seminar, expedition of joint forces, agriculture problem, extortion and other different reports have published in 2007 in all presses but those journalists were stopped by the law enforcement agency. Some journalists expressed deep anxiety that some musclemen and political parties have taken their own advantages from journalists for the lack of unity of among the journalist’s community. Those situations are common in Bangladesh.

On the other hand, The Rule of Law is not established yet. So the judiciary system in Bangladesh is very weak in position. But we have seen that people in Bangladesh do not raise their voice, it does not mean that they are happy with all they have and also the role of the judiciary and its judges. There is no press criticism of judges and their judgments, though such criticism is rare for a variety of reasons. One of the reasons is the fear of contempt of court action. The objective of the contempt proceedings is to protect the prestige, dignity, and authority of the court.

Balanced judiciary is a sign of good governance which is both independent and accountable in exercising its judicial powers. Judicial independence is not a privilege for judges. It is for protecting the citizens’ freedom and rights in law. So Establishment of rule of law with balanced judiciary can endure the freedom of press and their rights. Since judges are in the positions of power to provide justice, pressure for accountability has increasingly been brought to bear on them. In exercising its constitutional power on behalf of the people, the judiciary owes its accountability to the people, who are entitled to an institution in which they can be confident. And its judges must be able to defend and explain the ways in which they exercise their judicial powers. An effective balance must be achieved between the role of judges and journalists as well as between freedom of press and the administration of natural justice.

3. Recommendation:

?       Assure the protection of human rights, notably the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

?       Stop all assaults against the press

?       Revoke of all emergency legislation that provides for imposing prison sentences on journalists based upon what they write, following procedures contrary to the standards of international justice.

?       Elimination of all political and financial pressures on press.

?       Ensure the Rule of Law and Freedom of press.

?       Press should be out of biasness and free from politics.

?       No political parties can run press, which will be out of political parties.

4. Conclusion:

The fundamental rights being guaranteed by the fundamental law of the land with some restrictions, no organ of the state, executive, legislature of judicial can act in contravention of such rights. Any Act which is repugnant to such rights must be void. The liberty of the press is essential to the nature of Free State. Every free man has an undoubted right to lie what sentiments he pleads before the public, to forbid this is to destroy the freedom of the press. But this freedom is being hindered due to the scope of use of the word government and other employed terms bearing manifold interpretation in the related laws.

The people of Bangladesh are exposed to a wide array of information and it is impacting all strata of life in all regions of the country. The freer flow of information has not only empowered women and the underprivileged; it has also generated enthusiasm among all segments of the population to take part in development activities. Press is one of the most effective ways to make government accountable, if government more involvement of sharing information with press, more accountability and transparency will come and we can get less corrupted government.

So government should take steps to make the press more effective and more communicative. Press media is on behalf of the country to both government and general people should help the press to make it more effective for them. Then we can reconcile the freedom of press and contempt of court.

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[1] “UNESCO promotes freedom of expression and freedom of the press and fosters media independence”

[2] Law commission report, published in JUNE 09, 2005

[3] The Daily Star, editorial section, August 26, 2010

[4] According to CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “Journalists should be able to report on the legal system without fear of criminal charges.”

[5] According to the article on ‘The Daily Start’,T Thursday, August 26, 2010

[6] According to the Press Institute of Bangladesh Archive, RSF NETWORK MISSION REPORT, June 2002

[7] Report by Zahid Al AminFebruary 25, 2009, from BLITZ

[8] Article 39 (1) “Freedom of thought and conscience is guaranteed.”

[9] Article 39(2)” Subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the society of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence”

[10] From ‘The Daily Star” Law & Our Rights section, September 4, 2010


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