The government is formulating a policy for the booming online media, incorporating all restrictive provisions of the recently approved National Broadcast Policy.
However, in the wake of widespread criticism of the broadcast policy, the information ministry now appears to be working behind closed doors on the draft of the National Online Mass Media Policy 2014.
Formulation of another policy to streamline the country's film industry is also in the works. Unlike the broadcast and the online policies, the proposed National Film Policy 2014 doesn't contain any controversial provisions, according to government sources.
Most of the journalists from the broadcast and print media have rejected the broadcast policy, saying it would gag the media by imposing restrictions on broadcasting news, discussions and advertisements.
A sub-committee prepared a draft online policy, which was supposed to be finalised by another committee headed by the principal information officer (PIO), for placing it before the cabinet.
If the draft is approved, all contents of the online media will come under government monitoring.
“The online policy is similar to the broadcast policy. We are waiting for the formation of a broadcast commission and will move ahead with it in line with the commission's guidelines,” said the PIO, Tasir Ahmed.
Like the broadcast policy, the draft online policy seeks a ban on publishing inconsistent and misleading information and data. No information and data can be published or broadcast demeaning the armed forces, law enforcement agencies and government officials who can sentence people for criminal offences, it says.
The online media cannot publish information and data that may spark separatism and unrest or create hatred among people of different castes, creeds and religions, or may satirise national ideals, undermine people and harm the unity and solidarity of the country, intrude on privacy, impede state security and hurt religious values and non-communal spirit.
The draft seeks a ban on publishing anything indecent that might affect children's psyche or something that might encourage harassment and violence against women and children.
The online media is not allowed to publish photographs and footage of murders and dead bodies that hurt human feelings. Besides, there will be a ban on publishing abusive and terrorising photographs and videos of local and foreign films which militate against the culture of the country, according to the draft.
Each online media organisation must obtain a licence from the authorities concerned, while the existing ones will get licences upon fulfilling the required conditions.
According to the draft, the main objective of the policy is to ensure free flow of information, and to expand education, encourage patriotism, project government's development activities, provide pure entertainment, uphold the ideals and spirit of the Liberation War, glorify freedom fighters and reflect women's contributions to society.
The conditions and restrictions relating to advertisements in the draft online policy are also similar to those of the broadcast policy.
It puts restrictions on online publication of any information or advertisements that might hamper friendly relations with foreign countries or may cause conflict with a friendly state.
Moreover, the online media will not be allowed to publish any advertisements, containing language and scenes that may hurt political and religious sentiment. No photographs or video footage of mosques, temples and churches can be used in advertisements for commercial purposes.
The draft proposes mandatory publication of government-provided information on events of national importance. Like the broadcast policy, it also proposes forming an independent commission to implement the policy.
If any content of the online media goes against the policy, the commission will issue a show-cause notice to the media organisation, and submit report to the government with recommendations for action.
At present, anyone can launch a website and put information, photographs, video or audio clips there. Many government officials, especially deputy commissioners (DCs), have been pressing for a policy to impose restrictions on such online media workings.
The draft film policy proposes replacing the existing censor board with a certification board for giving clearance to a film.
Under the policy, the government will give soft loans to producers and tax facilities in importing films and film-making instruments, and grants for educational and alternative movies.
It proposes improving the atmosphere of cinemas and introducing a separate award for alternative films.
Legal steps will be taken to preserve copyright and intellectual property rights and stop piracy and plagiarism, the draft says.
“If implemented properly, the draft policy will help save the country's dying film industry,” said Shafiul Alam Bhuiyan, professor of film and television studies at Dhaka University.
Shafiul, who played a key role in preparing the draft, said an independent film commission would be formed to implement the policy. “The commission will promote film-related research and education,” he said, adding the policy would encourage production of decent films and help bring back the audience to cinemas.
Contacted recently, Information Secretary Murtaza Ahmed said he didn't receive any of the drafts.