The Daily Star editor's recent comment revealed that the mass media was forced to publish lies and distorted and partial information during the tenure of the 2007-2008 caretaker government, Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu said yesterday.
“Through Mahfuz Anam's comment, it came out that pressure mounted on the mass media after the 1/11 changeover. It has now become clear how the mass media was forced to publish lies and distorted and partial information and reports on politicians and businesspeople to assassinate their characters,” the minister said at a press briefing at the PID conference room.
At that time, Amnesty International didn't issue any statement criticising the repression on the mass media, said Inu as he slammed the AI annual report released on Tuesday.
The minister said the statements issued by several international organisations, including the AI, on Mahfuz Anam are nothing but crocodile tears.
Terming the AI report one-sided, he said it is motivated and disjointed.
Inu alleged that the organisation has taken a stance against Bangladesh's democratic system and is lobbying for “criminals”.
He came down heavily on the AI for not issuing any statement on the 1971 genocide, the killing of Bangabandhu and his family members on August 15 in 1975, repression during the tenures of the governments of Ziaur Rahman and Khandaker Mushtaque, and the 2004 grenade attack on the then opposition leader Sheikh Hasina.
They (the AI and other international organisations) are lobbying to protect the 1971 war criminals, he said.
The minister ruled out the AI's claim that not even a single person, directly involved in firebomb attacks during last year's anti-government agitation, was brought to justice.
He said 597 criminals were caught red-handed while throwing petrol bombs. They include 363 activists of the BNP and 205 activists of the Jamaat-e-Islami and its student wing Islami Chhatra Shibir.
"Not a single BNP and Jamaat leader was arrested for political reasons ... All of them were arrested on the basis of specific allegations," he said.
Like politicians, newspaper editors have to maintain a minimum moral standard. If politicians are criticised on moral grounds, newspaper editors can also be criticised on the same grounds, Inu said.
About the prime minister's comment on Mahfuz Anam, Inu said she made the remark not out of anger. It was about the undemocratic activities of the military-backed 1/11 government, he said.
“There was no personal attack or bad intention in her speech. Her remark rekindled the memories of how the caretaker government took over illegally and imprisoned politicians, businesspeople and others indiscriminately. She didn't speak of taking any political or administrative steps."
What the PM had said regarding the 1/11 was correct, said Inu. “Doesn't the prime minister have the right to tell the truth? he asked.
"Criticism against a certain editor doesn't mean interference or pressure on the media."
Referring to the defamation and sedition pleas against Mahfuz Anam, he said the government itself had not taken any step against the Star editor.
The minister said it is the aggrieved citizens who are filing these cases. "Now the court will decide whether these cases have any merit."
Asked about an alleged directive to private businesses not to give advertisements to The Daily Star and Bangla daily Prothom Alo, he said the government had not issued any such directive.
“The government has no jurisdiction over private sector advertisements. These two newspapers are getting government advertisements regularly.”
The minister also claimed the mass media is now enjoying the highest level of freedom in the country's history. And the government has no intention to control it.
On a query about restrictions on The Daily Star and the Prothom Alo in covering PM's programmes and getting access to the PMO and the Gono Bhaban, the minister said the intelligence agencies determine who would be allowed to enter the PMO and the Gono Bhaban.
"Many times even MPs and ministers are barred from entering the PMO."
Inu said the government does not have any animosity against The Daily Star or the Prothom Alo. "The truth is that important ministers are regularly attending their programmes."
Asked why the government didn't take action against the policymakers of the 1/11 government, he said those who grabbed power illegally and violated the constitution since 1975 would be tried.
The government would consider forming a commission to this effect, added the minister.
NASIM ON JOURNALISTS
Making an oblique reference to journalists, Health Minister Mohammed Nasim said “they are not sent to jail or made to pay compensation” for mistakes, while people in all other professions face jail terms for wrongdoings.
“Politicians, doctors and businesspeople -- all have to go to prison if they make mistakes. But there is a certain community that can resort to character assassination through their writings, but they don't have to go to jail,” said the minister.
“They think it is enough to say sorry…,” Nasim, also presidium member of the ruling Awami League, said at a programme at the Pan Pacific Sonargaon Hotel in the capital yesterday.
Bangladesh has made significant progress over the years. But the country could have done a lot better if its democratic journey continued uninterrupted.
Unconstitutional forces came to power several times, and various quarters had their roles in that, he said.
“It is for the people to decide who will form the government. Why should there be seminars and symposiums to facilitate the change of a government? he asked.
“A spade has to be called a spade. None should be belittled,” said Nasim.
There will be political crisis in democracies, but that doesn't mean unconstitutional forces will be brought to power, he added.