Closure of Amar Desh is a threat to free press
WITHOUT question, cancellation of the declaration of the daily Amar Desh and its consequent closure on the not-so-convincing ground of having had no authorised publisher, is an ill-judged step of the government amounting to a threat to the freedom of the press. Which is not congenial at all to democracy nor is it good for the country's reputation.
The newspaper's publisher being picked up by the NSI, detained and put through questioning and his signature procured purportedly to frame up a complaint on the basis of which the paper's declaration was canceled give rise to a whole lot of questions about the mala fide intent of the exercise.
As Voltaire has famously said, "I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it." Motivated by the same spirit, we in The Daily Star, consider defence of dissent as an article of faith.
As a newspaper upholding journalistic professionalism and freedom, we have, however, found it difficult at times to appreciate the brand of journalism that the Amar Desh was pursuing. Still it is our firm conviction that a dissenting voice, however venomous and thinly founded, must be allowed space because it is an integral part of a functioning democracy, a touchstone of free press and an axiom that the people will be the ultimate judge of all opinions. No matter how opaque or squinted or biased a report and a view-point maybe for or against somebody it must get a free play not only to enrich environment of free press but also strengthen the institutions of democracy.
Experiences are aplenty that well functioning democracies have the maturity to countenance dissenting views by the power that be. For example, the Fox Television in the USA has been regularly spewing venom and fire against President Obama who has taken it in stride. The Greek president Karolos Popoulias has faced vitriolic attacks by a newspaper with equanimity and tolerance. Such examples abound.
Regrettably, tolerance and discretion are somehow missing in our way of dealing with perceived adversaries. The facts revealed by the government to justify the closure of Amar Desh are simply untenable. The government had several options, like initiating legal proceedings, other than shutting it down in such a crude manner. The ultimate action is coarse manifestation of intolerance of unpalatable views.
It must not be forgotten that Channel-1, an electronic media outlet, was closed down recently on rather flimsy grounds. It is also remarkable how within the hours of High Court judgement on ETV, it was closed down while instances abound where action has been deferred on the pretext of not receiving copy of court judgement for days.
Amid all the gloom and negativity of Bangladesh's image, its free, independent and vibrant press, democracy and free elections have earned good name and attention globally for us as the defender of people's right to know and govern accordingly.
In the end, what we would like to see happen, as the ambiguity about the publisher and the allegations against the editor are resolved by the court, the government must withdraw the cancellation of declaration and let Amar Desh resume publication.