The UK Minister of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Asia and Pacific Affairs) Mark Field said free media is essential for Bangladesh to meet its full potential.
The minister, exchanging views with senior journalists of Prothom Alo yesterday, laid emphasis on the importance of media freedom. He visited the Prothom Alo office on the second day of his visit to Bangladesh, where he was received by Matiur Rahman, editor of the leading Bangla daily.
Mark Field said media freedom featured high on the agenda of talks this time, his third visit to Bangladesh. The UK, along with Canada, is organising an international media conference in London on July 10 and 11 this year.
While exchanging views, British High Commissioner Robert Dickson said media freedom was an important focus of Mark Field's visit.
Field said they were committed to media freedom, and particularly to the protection of journalists. He said last year some 80 journalists were killed, which was the worst year on record, and hundreds were either in prison or kidnapped and found themselves in great danger just for doing their day to day job. “We don't preach to other countries because we have
our own controversies to deal with,” he added.
“We do recognise that here in Bangladesh there has been a restriction on press freedom with the Digital Security Act,” the minister said, also referring to some detrimental impacts of social media.
The state minister went on to say, “We are very keen friends of Bangladesh and we are not preaching. This is genuinely a matter of concern. If this country wants to fulfill its full potential, it needs to have a free media.”
The UK minister pointed out that alongside media freedom, it was also essential to ensure the rule of law. These elements are the foundation stone for any functioning democracy, he said, adding that only a functioning democracy can see economic growth and create opportunity for prosperity.
Dwelling on the issue of forced disappearances and extrajudicial killings, Mark Field said, “We are vocal about this,” adding that they discussed these matters in “conversations that take place privately as well as in a public way”.
Across the board, the notion of extrajudicial killing needs to be discussed in order to resolve the issue, he said. “We are concerned about human rights abuses and these by no means are phenomenon of one country alone. But it is important to stand up and be counted every opportunity.”
On the Brexit issue, the state minister said, “It is a very fluid situation as I tell my constituents.” He said his government was having to devote a lot of time to Brexit.