A test for Bangladesh
Through my interactions with him over the last 25 years, I can honestly testify that Mahfuz Anam is a man of impeccable integrity, and a patriotic Bangladeshi of the highest order. Recent attempts by certain individuals and organisations to harass and intimidate one of Bangladesh's most admired newspaper editor, who has promoted Bangladesh's interests selflessly for decades, tarnishes Bangladesh's image abroad.
Lately, there has been a proliferation of legal suits against the editor for admitting, during a TV interview on February 3, that he had a lapse of judgment in publishing reports based on information supplied by the country's Task Force Intelligence Cell (TFIC), without independently verifying the allegations. The target of litigation, if there had to be one, should have been the TFIC, the supplier of the misinformation, not newspapers that were forced to publish it. Almost all other Bangladeshi newspapers published the same report, but no other editor has regretted the error in judgment; yet, only the honest editor of The Daily Star is being charged with defamation and sedition!
In the 23 years since Mahfuz Anam took over the reins of the fledgling newspaper following the untimely death in 1994 of the Founder and Editor of The Daily Star, the legendary S. M. Ali, he has transformed it into a shining beacon of journalistic excellence, ethics, and integrity, and made it into a most respected English daily in all of Asia. The Daily Star is Bangladesh's face to the world.
There is a reason why journalists around the globe showered accolades on Mahfuz Anam and his paper on the occasion of The Daily Star's 25th anniversary celebrations on February 5. Comments by renowned journalists in Asia are worth perusing. "It is an arduous task that the Star is performing without fear or favour… commendable and speaks high of all those engaged in producing the paper" (Kuldip Nayar, eminent Indian journalist). "Since it was established in 1991, The Daily Star has earned a reputation for its quality, non-partisan reporting and investigative journalism. It is an achievement well deserved, driven by its commitment to serve the people's right to know" (Pichai Chuensuksawadi, Editor-in-Chief, Bangkok Post, Thailand.)
"The Daily Star has been an outstanding example of the positive evolution of professional media in the South Asian subcontinent. Independent, engaged, and profoundly committed to the highest journalistic standards, The Daily Star is an asset to Bangladeshi democracy and a credit to the society it serves (Dr. Shashi Tharoor, MP, Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs, India).
"Responsible journalism drives a robust democracy. The Daily Star has remained a very important voice for Bangladesh and South Asia at large these 25 momentous years. Warmest greetings to the Star family and Editor Mahfuz Anam for the milestone" (Akhilesh Upadhyay, Editor-in-Chief, The Kathmandu Post, Nepal).
"The Daily Star could be called Bangladesh's first modern newspaper in terms of its expanded news universe and presentation. It represented the needs and yearning of an independent readership which its brilliant editor Mahfuz Anam recognised as the emerging powerhouse of a new demographic. My admiration and congratulations for a superb and historic achievement" (MJ Akbar, Editor, The Sunday Guardian, India).
"The Daily Star is shining in the sky of journalism with the light of truth and objectivity for the last 25 years. It's very difficult to follow a pro-people and pro-democracy policy for any good media outfit in this age of materialism but the success of The Daily Star has proved that good journalism can become a good business. I congratulate its staff and readers on the 25th anniversary of The Daily Star, Bangladesh" (Hamid Mir, Executive Editor, GEO TV, Islamabad, Pakistan).
"The Philippine Daily Inquirer joins in the celebration of the 25th anniversary of its esteemed Asia News Network partner, The Daily Star. For the last quarter-century, The Daily Star has been a beacon of the free press in South Asia; through his example and unwavering commitment to improving the quality of journalism in Asia, Mahfuz Anam, the newspaper's acclaimed Editor-Publisher, has widened the scope of The Daily Star's influence. We in the Inquirer Group laud the achievements of The Daily Star, and look forward to the next 25 years! (John Nery, Editor-in-Chief, INQUIRER.net, The Philippines)
I concur wholeheartedly with each of the laudatory comments by our peers. In my numerous conversations with Mahfuz Anam I found him to be, first and foremost, an uncompromising Bangladeshi patriot, a fierce defender of Bangladesh's history and heritage, and an ardent advocate of freedom of speech and a democratic Bangladesh. He is also brave to a fault. When Professor Muhammad Yunus was unfairly castigated five years ago, he fearlessly published several Op-Eds in The Daily Star, including some from me, defending Bangladesh's lone Nobel laureate's integrity. A freedom fighter who embodies Bangladeshi nationalism, Mahfuz Anam wholeheartedly backed the trial of the war criminals of 1971. It is shameful that the integrity of such an honourable man is being impugned. He has a proven record of being far more patriotic than those who charge him with defamation and sedition.
Every newspaper makes mistakes. Every day, The New York Times publishes corrections to the mistakes it made in earlier editions. Such admissions and corrections are the hallmarks of a great newspaper. Mahfuz Anam should be commended for correcting a mistake his newspaper had made.
The Daily Star is the most widely read newspaper among expatriate Bangladeshis everywhere. It is the first Bangladeshi newspaper that the diplomats and foreign office personnel in every country read. In the field of journalism, The Daily Star represents Bangladesh. When the editor of The Daily Star is unfairly hounded, foreigners take note, to the detriment of Bangladesh's vital interests.
People in the West take freedom of speech very seriously. The First Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and the freedom of the press. In the West, any curtailment of the freedom of the press is considered a step towards dictatorship. The spotlight now is on Bangladesh. Freedom of speech and the independence of the judiciary in Bangladesh are on trial. Whether the world reacts negatively or positively towards Bangladesh will depend on whether Bangladesh treats Editor Mahfuz Anam fairly or unfairly.
The writer is a Rhodes Scholar