World Press Freedom Day is being observed in Bangladesh and elsewhere today amid a growing animosity towards journalists across the globe.
With 335 incidents last year, violations of the right to freedom of expression in Bangladesh reached their highest point in five years, according to new figures released by British rights organisation Article 19.
A journalist was killed, 28 suffered serious injuries, and a further 75 suffered serious assaults last year, it said in a statement.
The attacks were carried out with impunity, it observed.
World Press Freedom Index-2018, published on April 25 by Reporters Sans Frontières, said self censorship among journalists in Bangladesh was increasing as a result of violence against them and media outlets.
Moreover, the day is being observed at a time when newspaper editors, journalist union leaders and human rights activists in Bangladesh are raising serious concerns over the proposed Digital Security Act-2018.
They have been arguing that several sections of the proposed law would hamper freedom of speech and independent journalism.
The draft law has already been placed before parliament.
The United Nations declared May 3 as World Press Freedom Day in 1993. This year's theme of the day is “Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and The Rule of Law.
UN Secretary General António Guterres, in a statement, said, “I call on governments to strengthen press freedom, and to protect journalists. Promoting a free press is standing up for our right to truth."
In a statement marking the occasion, Article 19 said the nature of violations of the right to freedom of expression was changing significantly.
“Over the last five years, criminalisation of expression and the use of laws to restrict expression have been a rising trend, while physical violence has been less employed to silence communicators.”
Cases of legal harassment of communicators rose from 33 in 2013 to 169 in 2017 while the use of physical force and assault as a silencing tactic dropped from 173 in 2013, to 113 in 2017, it said.
“The problem of physical violence is still urgent. There were nearly twice as many physical attacks on journalists and human rights defenders in 2017 as there were the previous year, and attacks on journalists occurring with impunity, with investigations slow and convictions of perpetrators rare.”
Almost 70 percent of violations were against grassroots and local journalists.
It observed that women journalists were not adequately protected from gender-specific threats, particularly on online platforms.
Local leaders and activists of the ruling party emerged as dominant groups acting against the safety and security of journalists. In a number of cases, the student wing of the ruling Awami League, were directly involved in violations, it added.
In many other cases, state actors including law enforcers were responsible for violations.
“Our new research reveals an urgent truth about the environment for expression in Bangladesh: violations of this crucial human right are more prevalent than ever. With elections on the horizon, we are deeply concerned about the situation,” Tahmina Rahman MBE, ARTICLE 19's regional director for Bangladesh and South Asia, was quoted as saying in the statement.
“This spike in attacks on the rights of journalists and activists nationwide and continuing restrictive legal framework create fear and self-censorship, and prevents people in Bangladesh from speaking out, or exercising their human rights.
We call on the authorities to act to ensure that laws are brought in line with international human rights standards and attacks on our free speech do not continue to go unaddressed.”
Although Bangladesh's position, according to World Press Freedom Index 2018 compiled by the RSF, remains 146th, the same as last year, self censorship among journalists was growing.
Instead of amending the ICT act, the government proposed a new digital security law in early 2018 “with vaguely-worded provisions that would allow the authorities to clamp down even more on dissent.”
Transparency International Bangladesh yesterday urged the government to review some sections of the proposed act and repeal Section 57 of ICT Act.
RSF said the World Press Freedom Index reflected a growing animosity towards journalists.
“Hostility towards the media, openly encouraged by political leaders, and the efforts of authoritarian regimes to export their vision of journalism pose a threat to democracies.”
It said hostility towards the media from political leaders is no longer limited to authoritarian countries, rather more and more democratically-elected leaders no longer see the media as part of democracy's essential underpinning, but as an adversary to which they openly display their aversion.
Verbal violence from politicians against the media is also on the rise in Europe, although it is the region that respects press freedom most, it said. It is the Middle East and North Africa region that has registered the biggest decline in Media freedom.