A government circular banning publication of any public hospital’s information without the consent from the authorities concerned has sparked criticisms with media professionals and experts considering the move as a blow to press freedom.
Terming the restriction arbitrary, they said such steps go against the spirit of the Right to Information Act, 2009 and demanded the immediate withdrawal of the ban for the sake of people’s right to information.
On Sunday, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare issued the circular to the chiefs of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), medical college hospitals and specialised hospitals.
The circular, signed by Deputy Secretary Abu Raihan Mian, said taking pictures and videos of patients and health services inside hospitals without permission is not allowed.
“Consent on the authenticity of the information must be taken from the authorities before publishing it,” it said.
The ministry also directed the officials concerned to implement an eight-point directive, including introducing visitor’s entry pass for every public hospital and maintaining register books for visitors.
The circular said a patient can have a maximum of two attendants.
It also asked all on-duty physicians, nurses and other hospital staffers to make sure their ID cards are visible.
Copies of the circular have also been sent to directors of all public hospitals and clinics, all divisional health directors, civil surgeons, and officials at upazila health complexes and family planning offices across the country.
Media personnel are critical of the government’s restriction on publishing hospital’s information.
“Such a move would certainly hamper press freedom … In fact, it is hostile behaviour towards the media and a blow to press freedom,” Sohel Haider Chowdhury, general secretary of Dhaka Union of Journalists (DUJ), told The Daily Star yesterday.
He questioned the move, saying all mainstream media outlets run news reports maintaining journalistic norms and professionalism.
Sohel demanded the circular be taken down immediately.
Talking about the issue, Supreme Court lawyer barrister Jyotirmoy Barua said, “If anybody violates journalistic ethics, there are judicial remedies. Formulation of such rules and regulations, bypassing those jurisdictions, is not legally right.”
He termed the government’s move a violation of people’s fundamental rights mentioned in the constitution.
“Hospitals deal with life and death … this is absolutely an arbitrary exercise.”
Asked, Md Asadul Islam, secretary (health service division) at the health ministry, said the move was made “just to ensure journalistic principles.
“With patients, hospital is a restricted place. Whoever goes inside must take permission from the ward in-charge,” he said.
Asked whether ward in-charges were given the authority to allow reporters in, he said journalists would be referred to the hospital director.”