When media men become muggers

The press is a force for accountability and truth. It should never become a tool for extortion

Ekram Kabir, Head of Programme at ABC Radio FM 89.2
Ekram Kabir, Head of Programme at ABC Radio FM 89.2

There was a big fire at a social club in Dhaka recently. It broke out at around two in the morning when no one was around. Reporters rushed to cover the incident and the club authorities briefed them about what happened.

But a particularly combative reporter of a newspaper (that no one has ever heard of) began accusing club members for being responsible for the fire. The club authorities refused to talk to this reporter. He left in a huff warning that he would write "anything he wanted to" about the cause of the fire.

He was right. The next morning, he reported that the fire broke out when club members were having sex during a DJ party. There was not a single word in the report which was true.

While it would be unfair to say the media industry in Bangladesh is rife with such journalists there are some who behave like muggers or blackmailers. They give the profession of jounalism here a bad name. Such individuals have not come to the world of journalism to seek truth. They have come to see it as a means for extortion.

Although the government of Bangladesh, in the last 43 years, has formulated laws and policies to ensure objectivity in reporting it has failed to prevent rogues from becoming journalists. In an increasingly competitive and commercial environment some media owners and journalists in the country have turned reporting into an extortion racket.

There was a popular rumour about a local TV channel that it didn’t pay its journalists much, but used to tell them: "We’ve given you your ID, now it’s your responsibility to earn money." If this rumour is true then I find it extraordinarily outrageous.

To be fair the media in Bangladesh, for most part, does not engage in such behaviour and most newsrooms reward journalists that demonstrate integrity. But some media outfits use their news reports as blackmail for securing advertisements. I know of an online news portal that routinely cooks up negative reports against companies that usually have budgets for their product promotions. It does so with the aim of forcing them to buy advertisements on its website.

I remember this particular online portal had run a series of negative news stories about a juice company for three consecutive days. On the third day, the firm paid up. It bought advertisements on the portal. The very next day the website replaced the negative news items with an incredibly positive report about the same juice company.

There is a prevailing culture of plying journalists with gifts. It is common for firms and even some non-profit organisations to tip reporters and camerapersons for covering their event and/or attending their seminars/workshops.

The government here lacks the capacity to bring errant mediamen to trial. So as far as Bangladesh is concerned I think it will take a strong collective action by the media industry to hold rogue journalists to account. The press is a force for accountability and truth. It should never become a tool for extortion.

Ekram Kabir is based in Dhaka, Bangladesh

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