Two weeks ago Social Welfare Minister Syed Mohsin Ali had news to break. On July 20 he told journalists present at an inter-ministerial meeting at his secretariat office that a law was being formulated to make sure that the electronic media didn't have any freedom. He broke the news to warn journalists whom he did not like. Two weeks later, the cabinet-led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina approved the national broadcast policy, imposing numerous restrictions on television channels' news and other programmes.
The broadcast policy did not satisfy Mohsin. He expressed his anguish on August 9 at a public meeting in Sylhet. In his view, the policy was not as stringent as he wished. In his words, he was not present at the cabinet meeting that approved the policy. He would have insisted on making the policy more stringent had he been present at the meeting. He did not refrain from bashing journalists on the day's programme. He used abusive and vulgar words against journalists. In his words journalists are scum. His indecent remarks triggered a huge uproar, forcing him to seek apology.
Earlier, Mohsin smoked openly on the dais of a public programme. He did not take time to seek apology for this. His apology was appreciated at that time as in our present political culture ministers and politicians forget to say sorry even after committing wrongs. Against this backdrop, Mohsin's apology was an exception. But the way he used abusive and vulgar words against journalists exposed his poor state of mind. If such a man leads the social welfare ministry, what welfare the ministry under his leadership will do for the people?
Mohsin's behaviour however generated the crucial question if the government supports him or not. His continuation as the minister with the same portfolio proves that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is not annoyed with him. Information Minister Hasanul Haque Inu on Monday termed Mohsin's remarks as his personal opinion. Constitutionally, the cabinet is a collective body. The prime minister is the leader of the cabinet. The premier must take actions to uphold the image of her cabinet. If any disturbing element exists in her cabinet, she must not tolerate it.
If there were a functional parliament with a genuine opposition, the social welfare minister would have been held accountable for his remarks. The prime minister would also have been criticised for this had she not taken any visible action against her cabinet colleague. Mohsin may feel fortunate.
One of the crucial functions of the parliament is to speak. It speaks for people. It embodies the will of the people who seek to realise their aspirations and expectations through the parliament. Being the supreme political institution, the parliament acts as a forum for ventilation of the people, their difficulties and their passions, anxieties and frustrations. Various grievances, aspirations and needs of the people are discussed in the parliament and necessary legislation is enacted in this regard. Excepting legislation, the media has been playing all those crucial functions. This is why the talk-shows of various private television channels have become so popular.
In the talk-shows, participants engage in debate and discuss on various crucial issues. They criticise the government's functions. They speak about people's sufferings and difficulties. So, people love to watch the talk-shows. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on several occasions said she and her government know how sour the talk-shows are. So, her government finally has come up with the national broadcasting policy imposing a set of restrictions on television channels to broadcast news, advertisements and talk-shows. The broadcasting policy says nothing about the development of the electronic media. It only deals with dos and donts. This is really funny. How can this be a national broadcast policy?
The Awami League-led government paid no heed to its electoral manifesto to formulate the national broadcast policy. The AL in its electoral pledges before January 5, 2014 parliamentary election promised that the policy to preserve freedom of all mass media and to ensure free flow of information will be continued. But it did not take much time to forget the pledges. In fact, the AL did not need to make the pledges before the January 5 election as it did not require people's vote to assume state power.
The writer is Senior Reporter, The Daily Star.