The cabinet yesterday approved the National Broadcast Policy-2014, keeping much scope for the government to misuse the policy in the name of maintaining standard of news, programmes and advertisements in the electronic media.
Once in force, all contents of radio and television will come under strict government monitoring.
False, discriminatory and misleading information and statistics must be avoided in news and programmes, according to the draft policy.
Media professionals and experts oppose any policy that may curb the independence of the mass media.
“We expected a cooperative broadcasting policy, not a regulatory one,” said Monjurul Ahsan Bulbul, chief editor of Boishakhi television, when asked about the draft.
Some main features of the policy include upholding the spirit of the Liberation War, protecting the country's language, culture and values as well as broadcasting news related to the development.
Briefing reporters, Cabinet Secretary Musharraf Hossain Bhuiyan claimed the policy was made to ensure freedom of speech, free flow of information, social responsibility of the media and have independent and responsible mass media flourish.
DON'TS FOR THE MEDIA
The policy will restrict the airing of programmes that satirise national ideals, undermine people and harm the unity and solidarity of the country.
It also aims to prohibit broadcast of programmes that may spark separatism and unrest and create hatred among different castes, creeds and religions.
The policy will restrict airing news or programmes that intrude on privacy, impede state security and hurt religious values and non-communal spirit. It will not allow any news or programmes in favour of any country, which in turn proves harmful to other countries and thus affects relations with friendly nations.
Under the policy, news that can encourage mutiny, anarchy and violent activities and inspire corruption directly or indirectly will have to be avoided. It also prohibits advertisements demeaning or ridiculing the armed forces and law enforcement agencies.
Photos or videos that hurt people's feelings, such as murder, bodies of victims of accidents or suicide, torture of people or animals and victims of rape cannot be shown or aired.
DON'TS FOR AD INDUSTRY
The advertisement industry will have to restructure significantly to follow the policy, which bans direct or indirect inclusion of the Liberation War, the Language Movement and the Independence Day in any advertisement to "uphold their dignity".
Radio and television cannot broadcast any advertisement without obtaining a clearance certificate. The advertisers will collect the certificate from the "respective organisations" on their own and give it to the broadcasters.
The policy, however, does not say from which authority advertisers will have to take the certificates.
Nationally important establishments like parliament, Prime Minister's Office, Bangabhaban, court, cantonment area, Shaheed Minar and the national mausoleum cannot be shown in advertisements for any product.
Professional advice should be avoided in advertisement. Advice and identity of doctors cannot be used in advertisement of medicines and healthcare products.
Many commercial advertisements relating to health and sexual health products cannot be aired, as the policy does not allow them. Most private television channels currently run such advertisements during off-peak hour.
The cabinet secretary said the policy would be applicable for both state-run and private media.
The information ministry will implement the policy until the formation of an independent broadcast commission, he said, adding that it was not possible to fully implement the policy until the formation of the commission.
A law will be enacted for the full implementation of the policy.
“After enactment of the law, the chairman and members of the commission will be selected through a search committee, comprising members of mass media and other professional bodies,” he added.
The president will appoint the commission chairman and members.
The commission will oversee issuance of licence of radio and TV and check unjust, unfair and unwarranted infringement of privacy. It will also monitor whether the broadcasters are following the policy and the rules.
The commission, upon getting specific allegations, will investigate the accused person or organisation and send recommendations to the government under the rules (yet to be formulated).
The government will then take action according to the law (yet to be enacted).
Talking to The Daily Star, Boishakhi Chief Editor Monjurul Ahsan Bulbul said the draft, especially the contents and advertisement sections, shows that the government wanted to control the media.
According to him, all these issues can be settled through discussions with the independent commission.
He urged the government to immediately form the commission.
“We can modify the draft upon discussion with the commission, which will be truly independent, not like the Election Commission," said Bulbul, who is also president of Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists.
Sanaullah Lablu, chief operating officer of Radio ABC, said, “If the draft policy is implemented, it will create an uncomfortable atmosphere for the media.”
“How will one determine if someone has given false or misleading information on talk shows?” he said.
Mozammel Babu, chief editor of Ekattur Television, said there was no need for formulating a policy that may curb media freedom.
“We had some objections regarding the draft. But we don't know whether the government considered those," said Babu, who is also managing director of Ekattur.