The Human Rights Watch in a report has urged the Bangladesh government to revoke the newly formulated National Broadcast Policy immediately, saying the policy imposes draconian restrictions on media freedom.
“This policy is a frontal assault on media freedom, which is essential as a check on government power, corruption, and human rights abuses, among many other issues,” Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW, said in the report published on Wednesday.
“It empowers an increasingly authoritarian state with tools to go after critics. It needs to be revoked if the government is serious about its commitment to freedom.”
“This policy exemplifies how little appreciation the government has for free speech,” Adams said.
In the report, the HRW high official said the “vague policy” would allow the Bangladesh government to take arbitrary action against those it sees as its political opponents.
The policy, which was published in the official government gazette on August 6, contains overly broad language and imprecise definitions that appear aimed at significantly curtailing critical reporting, according to the report.
Donors should make it clear to the Bangladesh government that limits on freedom of expression that violate international law are unacceptable, it said.
The report added Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's veiled threats in defence of the media policy are of particular concern.
Speaking with reporters on August 28, she warned journalists not to “cross the line” set down in the new guidelines, said the New York-based rights organisation, quoting local media.
She was quoted as saying: “[D]on't try to cut off the branch you are sitting on. You too will fall. I think a hint is enough for the intelligent.”
In its introductory paragraph the policy states that it is necessary for the government to create a framework for determining whether broadcasts are consistent with the history, ideology, and spirit of the country's 1971 Liberation War and Bangladesh's social, cultural, geographical, and political tradition and values.
The clause restricting the reporting of “anarchy, rebellion, or violence” seems aimed at limiting reporting of opposition protests, according to the rights body.
Hasina claimed the media policy was modeled on the BBC media policy guidelines. But the foundations underlining the BBC policy are absent from the Bangladeshi policy, it observed.
HRW noted: “Slippery slope allowed by the media policy could have broad-ranging effects and that no media area is exempt from its reach.”
“The new media policy appears to be little more than an attempt to establish a state ideology and set a trap for critics,” Adams said in the report.
“It's almost like the government is living in a bygone era when it could tell people what to think, watch, and read.”
Meanwhile, PM Sheikh Hasina, in parliament yesterday, claimed the National Broadcast Policy was formulated in a “very transparent way” after discussions with all stakeholders.
The policy was formulated recently.