Dhaka Courier

Media in time of elections

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Many of us so-called senior journalists, that is those who have put in 2-3 decades of work, are not only involved putting our fingers in the service of specific outlet(s) but also visit TV stations for talk shows and give interviews to media . As a freelancer, I suppose I do it more than many others and do get a feel of media as a sector.

It’s a curious feeling to try to understand media- both institutions and individuals- because most are politically involved and have strong views, for one side or the other. Interestingly, there is the third kind, that is media workers who are non-partisan and it’s perhaps not an accident that they are the media workers from lower down the line.

The Editors and such other powerful people do hold political views usually called pro-party. However, many outlets also like to give space to others of other views and engage with them. Of course they are also hoping in the process to engage and score debate points. Some, that is those who are part of the trade union scene or once were are strongly partisan and feel they have an obligation to do their bit for the party they were or are loyal to. This is natural. With elections on the 30th of December, it’s going to intensify.

This is not unexpected and the audience or observers accept this. What, however, such people should be careful about is the degree of partisanship they display in media that is acceptable to consumers and which will not damage the political credibility of media.  Any damage to that will ultimately make public consumption of media, written or spoken, difficult. It will kill the reason why one is partisan.

Is media trusted?

Sadly, media is not a fully trusted institution anymore. Or it’s possible that they were never trusted much and people have their own way of making up their mind including about media. That verdict will not make media look terrific.  Many if not most think , media manipulates news, provokes reactions and even manufactures news to suit their own interest or attract audience.  So we media workers are not exactly the brilliant servants of the public we would like to think ourselves to be. The relationship between media and the consumer is not a benign one.

So given that media is not so rosy a brand that we have developed over time, is it possible to behave in such a way that public confidence in media is enhanced?

What can be done?

Though it’s a pretty absurd task list to ask for but is it possible to be a little less sensational in reporting political events as it unfolds on the way to the election?  Let me give a couple of examples. On November 15-16 I received several calls from media workers on what I thought of the remark made by the EC member that “no elections are ever 100% perfect”.

It seems that many have found in this statement evidence in advance that the polls are going to be fixed and going by the way some people reacted, it was being sold to the audience as such. In response to the question, I suggested that EC members should talk a little less and when they do talk at all, it’s best to be reticent.  As it’s the situation is incendiary and so EC members needn’t add to it.

The other question that has found media favour is, who is becoming the PM of the BNP linked Front if they come to power. This is because no names have been floated by them. So speculation is on that Tarique Zia might become the PM and that this is a real “breaking news”. The reporter who asked me this question was breathless with excitement and was almost seeing TZ in robes and mace.

 

My answer was that the constitution is clear on this and so such speculations are silly and pointless.  The reporter was undeterred and asked if that meant a constitution amendment was on if JF won the elections. At this point I scolded him and he left happily knowing if there is no real news, speculation will have to do and he can add on and on.

Media and the problem of not knowing what to report

So what we media workers are doing is making the situation more volatile simply because we have not been taught to get real news, do reporting properly, have our editors guide us properly and perform as professionals.

So we not only fool the consumer, we fool ourselves and in the process we end up adding oil to the already  raging fire called political reporting in Bangladesh.

The problem is that there are more media than professionals, more politicians than editors and more news breakers than actual available news. Because there is no market regulation and quality control system, we are spending time working on matters that neither reaches our consumers and if it does convince our consumers that we are serious about our profession.

  • Limited freedom, limited journalism
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  • Afsan Chowdhury
  • Vol 35
  • DhakaCourier

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