Monitoring Media: Info ministry scraps circular amid outrage

In the face of a huge outcry, the information ministry last night cancelled its circular assigning 15 officials to monitor if private television channels were running any propaganda or rumours about the novel coronavirus outbreak.

In the latest circular, the ministry said it cancelled the March 24 circular "following the authority's directives as it contains errors".

However, a cell has been formed to monitor and assist the authority and the media whether any rumour or misinformation is being circulated on the social media and different other media outlets, the ministry said.

Signed by Nasrin Parvin, deputy secretary of the ministry, the previous circular said each official, with ranks between deputy secretary and assistant secretary, would monitor two televisions.

If the officials find that any television channel is airing any propaganda or rumour regarding the coronavirus issue, they will immediately inform the ministry to stop the propaganda or rumour, read the circular.

The decision to monitor televisions came at the first meeting of a publicity-related committee to prevent coronavirus infection. The meeting was held on March 24, it added.

The move drew a huge criticism from the journalist community and social media users, with many demanding withdrawal of the circular.

Rejoanul Haq, chairman of Broadcast Journalist Centre, a platform of journalists working at different television channels, strongly protested the government's move and demanded withdrawal of the circular.

Speaking to The Daily Star, Rejoanul said the mainstream media was actually working to thwart any propaganda.

For example, he said private television channels worked intensively when propaganda on shortage of salt was spreading in the country.

"Journalists are now working at the field level without any proper safety gears to make sure that people can get authentic information."

On the contrary, the government put the TV media under suspicion which is unfortunate, added Rejoanul, also the head of news of Maasranga TV.

Bangladesh Pratidin Editor Naem Nizam said journalists had worked with courage and sincerity during any previous disaster.

"We are now going through a hard time due to the coronavirus outbreak and the journalists are again working with sincerity and responsibility," said Naem, also the CEO of News24. 

He said the mainstream media does not spread any propaganda.

Terming the government's decision unfortunate and unexpected, Naem hoped that the government would withdraw it.

In a statement issued last night, Broadcast Journalist Centre demanded withdrawal of the "monitoring cell". It also urged the information ministry to come out of such negative attitude towards the private TV channels.

Asked about the criticism before the issuance of the new circular, Mizan Ul Alam, additional secretary (broadcast) of information ministry, said there was a mistake in the circular and they were going to change it.

"In fact, the officials will not only monitor the private television channels, but also all other media, including the social media," Mizan, also the convener of the publicity-related committee, told The Daily Star last night.


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