Journalists not bound to divulge sources
The High Court has observed that journalists and the media are constitutionally and legally authorised to expose corruption, including money laundering, in public interest, and they are not legally bound to disclose their sources.
"Corrupt people are responsible for breeding, creating and sustaining an atmosphere of graft with impunity. Corruption is an insidious plague that has a wide range of corrosive effects on societies. It undermines democracy and the rule of law; leads to violation of human rights; distorts markets; erodes the quality of life; and allows organised crime, terrorism and other threats to human security to flourish."
In the 50-page full text of a verdict, released yesterday, the HC bench of Justice Md Nazrul Islam Talukder and Justice Kazi Md Ejarul Haque Akondo also said it's the corrupt who are destroying the nation that Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had dreamed of.
The verdict came on a prayer of the Anti-Corruption Commission for taking action against a journalist of the Daily Inqilab over a report on corruption.
The ACC filed the prayer after the HC bench issued a suo motu rule on March 8 last year, enquiring about what actions were being taken in response to the report -- "20 Kotite Prokousholi Ashrafuler Daaymukti! Durniti Domone 'Dudok Style'" -- published by the daily on March 3 that year.
The report, by the Inqilab's senior journalist Sayeed Ahmed Khan, was about the corruption allegations against Ashraful Alam, former engineer of Public Works Department, and his wife Sabiha Alam, and how the ACC exempted them. It mentioned that around Tk 20 crore was spent just to have the allegations disposed of.
The judgement was delivered on June 21 this year.
"Newspapers make people aware of every field of society. At present, corruption is present in almost all of those. Newspapers play an important role in highlighting the menace of corruption and thereby, people are made aware of the corrupt practices prevalent in various state-run departments, organisations and agencies, and private organisations," the court observed in the full verdict.
The ACC can approach Bangladesh Press Council if it has any allegation about the report and the council will take necessary steps as per the Press Council Act, 1974, it added.
The HC further observed, "They [journalists] are the part and parcel of a democratic process. In a modern world, right to information is being treated as one of the preconditions for expression of opinion. Journalists act as helping hands in ensuring rule of law and democracy.
"They work as watchdogs ... They disperse information not to undermine any person, but to serve the cause of justice. In a democracy, there should be an efficient and fearless press to act as a watchdog for democracy."
The verdict also mentioned that yellow journalism will always be disapproved and discarded.
"Newspapers should concentrate on giving only the true picture of the society."
It added, "So, based on the aforementioned facts, circumstances and the propositions of law, we have no hesitation to hold the view that the laws have protected journalists from having to disclose their sources of information."
The bench observed that article 39 of the constitution guarantees freedom of thought and conscience.
"To be specific, article 39 (2)(b) has clearly mentioned the term 'freedom of the press'. Furthermore, it guarantees the right of every citizen to freedom of speech and expression subject to certain exceptions -- (i) in the interests of the security of the State, (ii) friendly relations with foreign states, (iii) public order, decency or morality, or (iv) in relation to contempt of court, (v) defamation or (vi) incitement to an offence."
Apart from the above, investigative journalism is the necessary corollary of such freedom and rights, the bench said.
About the HC judgement, ACC's lawyer Khurshid Alam Khan told The Daily Star that there might be both positive and negative impacts of it.
"Those who do honest investigative journalism have got judicial recognition from this verdict, while on the other hand, those who make twisted reports based on rumours and do yellow journalism may take advantage of it."
Mohammad Shishir Manir, lawyer for journalist Sayeed Ahmed Khan, told this correspondent that thanks to this verdict, the concept of freedom of press will be upheld and the scope for investigative journalism will be widened for journalists according to their constitutional rights.