The need for freedom to express remains urgent in light of the growth of a true democratic nation, illustrate and explain.
Freedom of expression is a key element to unlocking the true potential of a democratic country. The freedom of speech is the medium through which the expression is revealed. The constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, like any other nation of the world, exercised very cautionary steps in the constitution regarding freedom of speech, expression and thoughts. Although at some points the freedom provided have somehow become blurred due to some restrictions, there are some arguments for and against it. Talking in a broader perspective, the freedom of speech and expression applies to two levels: the individualistic level and the institutional level. In the individualistic perspective, any citizen of the country can express anything in written or verbal form as long as it does not pose any threat to the security and sovereignty of Bangladesh. In the institutional level, any organizations, such as the press and the media, are free to publish whatever they want as long as they do not incur defamation of anyone or of be of great concern to national matters. Defamation and the freedom of the press are long debated. The government, while allowing explicit freedom to the press, at the same time put some restrictions to what it can say. The television media is also not spared from these restrictions. However, the need for freedom to express remains urgent in light of the growth of a true democratic nation.
Freedom of speech and expression is a vital ingredient in ensuring the most common right of the citizens and the organizations of any country. It is the freedom of expression which defines how the citizens and the organizations of a country contribute to the development of the economy as a whole. Without effective right to express what every citizen and the organization wants, there would be stalled growth as well as transparency of government’s and non-government’s activities would be questioned. There would be no democracy. As a result, criminal and unfair activities would prevail. The citizens of the country would be denied justice. Freedom of expression and speech has several concerned units to deal with. There are the citizens of the country, the organizations such as the media which includes the newspaper, television media as well as the social networking sites and blogs. The constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh ensured freedom of expression and speech in the Article 39(1, 2) of the Chapter 3. There are some restrictions which are clearly stated and are fairly reasonable. However, these restrictions are only enforceable through law, as the article states.
A BRIEF DISCUSSION ON THE ARTICLE 39
The Article 39(1) of the constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh states that the freedom and conscience is guaranteed by the Government of Bangladesh. The Article 39(2a) states that the government guarantees the right of freedom of expression and speech explicitly provided that the freedom exercised does not interfere with the security and sovereignty of the state; or any relations with foreign parties is not hampered. The article recognizes that freedom of speech and expression is rather a basic human attribute and every step has been taken to ensure it. The Article 39(2) actually talks about the freedom of the press and what it can do by remaining within the legal barriers (i.e. the restrictions). The article also emphasizes that any citizen can express themselves thoroughly provided they remain within the legal limits as defined in the constitution. A violation of such makes any citizen or any organization prey to legal actions. Although many aspects of the freedom of expression are there, most of them are not explicitly mentioned. One of those worthy discussing is the viewpoint of the government regarding defamation.
CRITICISM OF THE ARTICLE NUMBERED 39
Freedom of thought and conscience and freedom of speech and expression is interrelated. Without the first one, the latter one does not come into effect. While the Government of Bangladesh does not put any restriction on the freedom of thought and conscience, due to reasons related to security and sovereignty of the state and several other reasons, some restrictions had been put on the freedom of expression. This raises question because while a citizen of the country or the members of any organization may think of anything, they might not be able to express that in public. This is something like a one-sided verdict in some aspects. There rises an aspect that whatever someone thinks is not right according to their judgmental ability; they have to accept it ‘forcefully’ because they cannot express it. Now, taking into account the freedom of expression at the institutional and individual level, it can be seen that there are several cases filed about defamation. It is such an aspect which is not clearly mentioned in the article. According to Clerk and Lindsell, ‘when a person directly communicates to the mind of another, matter untrue, to disparage the reputation of a third
person, he is on the face of it guilty of a legal wrong, namely defamation’. Defamation can both be verbal and written. Considering the law of defamation practiced in the United Kingdom, it can be found out that if a defamatory statement is issued in written form it is called ‘libel’ and if it is expressed verbally it is called ‘slander’. Considering the case of Bangladesh, there is no statutory law regarding defamation. However, Chapter 21 of the Penal Code states that if any person finds out that a statement has been issued either verbally or in writing, that person can file a petition with the civil court for compensation. The constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh allows the press to publish anything related to corruption, criminal activities but at the same time, puts a condition that it should, in any way, follow defamation of anyone. This is something like allowing someone to express something but at the same time restricting the way to express. Another cause of concern is that the electronic media is not fully autonomous. In some ways it is governed by the state. Here, the electronic media follows a 27-point guideline issued by the government. However, very recently, the Ministry of Information, Bangladesh, has recently approved a new broadcast law aimed at all the television channels currently operating at Bangladesh. The law is planned to be in effect within the next three months. This law can be seen as a major barrier to freedom of expression. The rights of the religious minorities of Bangladesh, namely, Christians, Hindus and Buddhists are hampered because this law prohibits the broadcast of any ‘promotional’ or ‘advertisement’ material concerning the religious festivals of these three as well as other religious minority groups. The law also states that prior approval must be taken from the Ministry of Information before any such publicity materials are broadcasted. Currently, Bangladesh is at the forefront of encouraging a harmonious, friendly and respectable pact between all the religions being followed by the citizens of Bangladesh. Private television channels continue to air live programs on the occasion of Puja and Christmas events. At this point in time, such law brings about a barrier to freedom of expression. Popular movie channels such as HBO, Star Movies, Star Gold and AXN would also be banned from broadcast if this new law comes into effect without immediate amendment. If that happens, the citizens of Bangladesh, who are already deprived of entertainment facilities, would be left with no options, no good watchable programs to see. Also, in the era of globalization, where promotion of culture is very important through free expression of the media, would be seriously blockaded. This would surely constitute a bar on the freedom of expression and would come into conflict with the article of the constitution. Some striking features of the new law are:
§ Private television channels would be required to be in favor of the ruling government only. They cannot, in any way, be of any supportive media of any other political party. Critically speaking, the decision to not let the channels favor any political party is good but at the same time, it is equally obstructive to kind of ‘force’ them to be in favor of the ruling party. This would damage the freedom of expression and speech.
§ Now a day, talk shows aired on the private television channels are really popular. In fact, these shows have become a source of open ended discussion aiming at improving democracy and ensuring free flow of thoughts. The latest amendment to the law requires that these types of television programs are allowed but no criticism can be drawn regarding the activities of the ruling party. This could rather be a little liberal, for example, the government could have considered constructive criticisms to flow around in the programs, rather than completely stopping it happening.
§ The law also presses that no individual, be it anyone, cannot be criticized in any means.
§ The law continues to stop broadcast of any reports or programs related to trafficking in women, rape, and forced prostitution. No clue can be derived as to why the government planned to ban these types of reports.
There are many other aspects of the law, which if discussed in more detail, would not be relevant. However, there are some good sides to the law as well:
§ The father of the Nation, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman cannot be criticized in any way. This ensures that the honor of this great leader is upheld.
§ Criticism regarding national ideologies and goals are also barred. It is positive because some group of organizations always tries to defame the current government actions which hinder the growth of the economy.
Expression is a prime source of revealing of thoughts. Expression is powered by speech. So, both expression and speech are equally important. Without expressing something, thoughts cannot come out of someone or from some organization and development or improvement cannot occur. A stagnant state arises which promotes anti-legal activities. This is the prime reason freedom is important in both cases.
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