The Digital Security Act 2018 needs to be reviewed and amended with more clarity, and abuse of this act to stifle journalists and others should be stopped, speakers at a programme in the capital said yesterday.
Society for Media and Suitable Human-communication Techniques (SoMaSHTe) recommended immediate amendment of the act, especially sections 25 and 31, at a programme at The Daily Star Centre.
"DSA prevents journalists from reporting on many issues. Self-censorship is common among journalists and sections 25 and 31 of the DSA are particular barriers for the free press," said SoMaSHTe director (programme) Mir Shahidul Alam.
Journalists need to be united, and journalists' associations need to be more united to defend their rights, he recommended.
"Unjustified pressure from the ruling party, lawmakers and public representatives, law enforcement agencies, businessmen and other professionals, unfavourable laws and ownership of the media are the major obstacles to publishing news in media," said Mir Shahidul Alam at the event titled "Freedom of Expression and Media: Trend and Way Forward".
Journalists present at the event talked about their experiences with the repressive atmosphere in journalism.
Liton Haider, special correspondent at bdnews24.com, said, "There has recently been pressure from a certain vested quarter to remove some articles from our archive. We are trying to resist, but the outcome is still undecided."
President of Economic Reporters Forum (ERF) Sharmin Rinvi shared an experience about reporting at a television channel. "I once did a simple report on how a company is bringing children's snacks, which were banned abroad, to the local market. Following the report, I was threatened by several quarters. I was even the victim of a road "accident" which was orchestrated as a threat to my life," said Rinvi.
"If only the government investigated assaults against journalists with the same kind of importance as it does with cases filed under DSA…" wondered Mir Mostafizur Rahman, special correspondent of Financial Express.
Discussants also said journalists choosing to use the Right to Information Act are harassed personally so as to prevent them from seeking information.
Reaz Ahmed, executive editor at Dhaka Tribune, said laws to govern the digital sphere is necessary, but if it is being misused to repress freedom of expression, then it becomes a problem.
The discussants also recommended preparing a guideline mentioning the minimum criteria for being a journalist.
According to section 25 (1) of the act, "If any person using a website or any digital device-(a) deliberately or knowingly distributes any information or data that is attacking or intimidating in nature; or if a person publishes or distributes any information despite knowing that it is false to irritate, humiliate, defame or embarrass or to discredit a person. (b) Damages the image and reputation of the State or spreads confusion or with the same purpose publishes or distributes fully or partially distorted information or data despite knowing that it is false, and if any one assists in such actions then all such actions of the individual will be considered a crime".
Section 31 says, "If a person deliberately publishes or broadcasts via a website or any digital platform anything that creates enmity, hatred or acrimony among different classes or communities, or upsets communal harmony, or creates unrest or chaos, or causes or begins to cause deterioration in law and order, then that activity of the said person will be considered a crime".