While living, there was not a day he did not make news. His larger than life images adorned the pages of all dailies and weeklies. TV news started with his words. He was top news almost every day in Bangladesh. But after August 15, 1975, it was as if he had not even existed!
It was a media blackout. There was no news in the national dailies on his first death anniversary on August 15, 1976. A look at the pages of that day's major dailies will tell you nothing to remind of what had happened to Bangabandhu at dawn of August 15, 1975.
There was little change ahead of his second death anniversary in 1977. Yet, the media was unable to tell people the truth.
Read two news items published in the Ittefaq, the then top Bangla daily, for example:
"The programme chalked out by Bangladesh Awami League to mark its mourning day include Quran khwani at its central office at 91, Nawabpur at 10:00am and milad mahfil along with prayers at 3:00pm." This is what Ittefaq ran as news inside its broadsheet daily on August 15, 1977.
In a column titled "Indoor Politics" in its back page next day, August 16, Ittefaq ran another news item that read: "August 15 was observed through a Quran khwani at the Nawabpur office of Bangladesh Awami League since 10:00am, a destitute feeding programme at the residence of the organisation's convenor Begum Zohra Tajuddin at 12:00noon and a milad mahfil at the central office at 5:00pm. Special prayer was also offered after the milad."
Full texts of the reports mentioned nothing to indicate why AL planned and observed the programme to mark "its mourning day" and for whom “a special prayer” was offered.
There is no mention that AL observed the second death anniversary of Bangabandhu that day who, along with most of his family members, was brutally murdered in the early morning of August 15, 1975.
The reports published in Ittefaq are examples of how Bangabandhu became a forbidden name in the aftermath of August 15, 1975.
Dainik Bangla, daily Sangbad and daily Azad did not even publish any news of AL programmes, let alone publish their own reports of Bangabandhu's second anniversary of death.
Daily Sangbad however published a news item on the statement of Bangladesh Jatiya League leader Ataur Rahman Khan. The headline on the front page on August 15, 1977 was "Shok dibos noy, nazat dibos"[Not a day of mourning, but salvation day].
Senior journalists say newspapers were not confident of their journalistic duty to publish news on his death anniversary, not to mention any write ups on Bangabandhu over the years.
The situation did not change much during the second martial law regime led by Gen Ershad.
"There was unofficial pressure by the then martial law regime,” Syed Abul Maksud, a senior journalist, worked for the state run news agency BSS in those years, remembers.
"It pressured the press not to publish any news item on the death anniversary of Bangabandhu," he told The Daily Star.
He said officials of the government's Press Information Department also discouraged the media from running any news on his death anniversary.
"If journalists were bold enough and united, then news on Bangabandhu's death anniversary could have been published properly. But many senior journalists, editors and leaders of journalists' unions were engaged in sycophancy of the then military regimes to bag foreign tours and lands and many other benefits," he added.
In his view, the journalist community had utterly failed in their professional duties.
Editor of The Financial Express, Moazzem Hossain said fear factors—real and perceived—held back the journalists during the military regimes.
"Journalists could not write objectively about Bangabandhu for this fear factors," said Moazzem, who worked for the Bangladesh Observer and the New Nation during the regimes of Zia and Ershad.
PROPAGANDA RAN HIGH
Immediately after the gruesome murder of Bangabandhu, the killers asserted their control over the newspapers and the state run radio and television.
Ironically, it became easier for the regimes to intimidate and abuse the press because of Bangabandhu government's decision to allow only four newspapers to exist, taken a few months before August 15, 1975.
Propaganda became the main content of the four dailies the next day, controlled by the killers and their men in the new government.
Ittefaq, Dainik Bangla, Bangladesh Observer and The Bangladesh Times lauded the bloody changeover in reports published on August 16, 1975.
Dainik Bangla and The Bangladesh Times, both government-run newspapers, had identical first paragraphs in their lead reports: “The armed forces took over power in the greater national interest under the leadership of President Khandaker Mushtaque Ahmed …"
Daily Ittefaq and The Bangladesh Observer, the other state run dailies, ran the same report on the August 15 gruesome murders and changeover of power.
Like Dainik Bangla, Ittefaq also published a special editorial on the front page, terming the changeover a "historic new beginning."
Grabbing state power, Khandaker Mushtaque cancelled the Baksal government regulation on newspapers, allowing some newspapers including Sangbad and Azad to resume publication alongside Dainik Bangla, The Bangladesh Times, The Bangladesh Observer, and Ittefaq.
Gen Ziaur Rahman, who became chief martial law administrator in November, 1976 and later the president in April 1977, desired to get legitimacy for his illegal rule and to transform himself into a civil leader.
With this in mind, he allowed political parties to resume their activities, though only indoors. No party was allowed to have any function in the open.
This gave AL a chance to observe Bangabandhu's second death anniversary in 1977 with some indoor programmes.
Ittefaq was the first among the major national dailies to publish the news item on AL's programme to mark Bangabandhu's second death anniversary on August 15, 1977.
Next year, in 1978, Sangbad ran a news item on AL's programme under the headline "Awami League er udyogay aaj jatiya shok dibos" [Today is the national mourning day organized by AL] in its front page on August 15.
Ittefaq ran a news item based on AL's programme to mark the third death anniversary of Bangabandhu in the column titled Political Activities.
Dainik Bangla, a state run newspaper, did not publish any news item on August 15 of 1978. Next day, it published a news item based on a speech of Mizanur Rahman Chowdhury who was leading a faction of AL. Mizan gave the speech at a discussion to mark the death anniversary of Bangabandhu.
SANGBAD MADE A DIFFERENCE
In 1979, Sangbad gave prominent coverage to Bangabandhu. It published a news report from its reporter and a double column photograph in the front page. In the beginning of the report, the daily termed Bangabandhu the founder of Bangladesh and the father of the nation.
In double column in its front page, Sangbad published a separate news item of a seminar organised to mark the national mourning day under the headline "Seminar on national mourning day: determination to resist reactionary force."
The changing political situation might have encouraged Sangbad to take the initiative. Military ruler Gen Zia had already withdrawn martial law and AL had emerged as the main opposition in parliament by contesting the general election held earlier in 1979.
But Dainik Bangla did not publish any news on Bangabandhu's death anniversary in 1979.
It however prominently covered the news of imposition of section 144 at Dhanmondi road-32, banning any gathering at Bangabandhu's residence on the occasion of his death anniversary. AL had announced that they would visit Bangabandhu's residence to pay tribute.
ERSHAD FOLLOWED ZIA'S FOOT STEPS
The changeover of power in March 1982 brought challenges for newspapers again. The anti-Bangabandhu strategy continued during the regime of Gen Ershad who grabbed state power in March 1982 and declared martial law.
Freedom of the press was curtailed again. Self-censorship was also in force among the journalists.
Major newspapers including Ittefaq and Sangbad published reports mainly on the day of the death anniversary of Bangabandhu. They were tactful in doing so. Most of the reports did not mention how he was brutally murdered by some disgruntled army officers. In most of the reports, newspapers did not mention the names of the killers of Bangabandhu. However, they did not suppress news on August 15.
The then Ershad regime's attitude about Bangabandhu was apparent in one of his party's discussions on the day of Bangabandhu's death anniversary in 1987. Deputy Prime Minister MA Matin spoke as a chief guest of Jatiya Party's discussion programme titled “Significance of August 15.”
He termed August 15 as the most important day in national life and said the country's independence and sovereignty were consolidated on this day. Dainik Bangla, the state run newspaper, published it in a double column front page treatment.
It gave single column coverage of AL's programme observing Bangabandhu's death anniversary under the headline "AL and Baksal observed Sheikh Mujib's death anniversary."
Dainik Bangla published a single column news of Freedom Party, right next to AL's news with the headline "Great salvation day of the nation" on August 16, 1987.
Along with news of Bangabandhu's death anniversary during the Zia and Ershad regimes, the newspapers continued to publish news on programmes organised by different parties in support of the August 15 changeover.
Freedom Party of Bangabandhu's killer Major Faruk, Bangladesh Jatiya League of Ataur Rahman Khan, Islamic Party and National Front among others held discussions on August 15 to express their support for the changeover. In their discussions, they criticised Bangabandhu's government and lambasted AL for observing the day as national mourning day.
In many instances, newspapers published their news with more prominence than the news of AL programmes to observe Bangabandhu's death anniversary. This trend continued more or less until the fall of Ershad in December 1990.
WIND OF CHANGE
From 1991, the situation changed significantly when several new newspapers, including The Daily Star, Ajker Kagoj, Bhorer Kagoj, Prothom Alo and Janakantha, were published. Major newspapers including The Daily Star started publishing extensive reports, write-ups and articles on Bangabandhu.
But the word Bangabandhu was forbidden in the state run media--Dainik Bangla, The Bangladesh Times, Bangladesh Television and Radio Bangladesh.
No video footage of Bangabandhu was broadcast on Bangladesh Television for a long time after August 15, 1975. Bangabandhu returned to BTV only after AL returned to power in June 1996. His historic March 7 address was broadcast immediately after Sheikh Hasina took oath as the prime minister on June 23, 1996.
From 2001, several private television channels started broadcasting. Now a number of web news portals are in operation. Alongside newspapers, they all are making reports, features, articles, and documentaries on the life of Bangabandhu.
All these have been possible with the end of martial law regime and the restoration of democracy in the country.