It's been fifty years in the profession and so I am writing some reflective pieces on my own experience on the issue of censorship. Everyone who has worked in this sector will know that censoring is part of work life. And those of us who were workers rather than owners will naturally have a different perception of the issue than the bosses.

Sometimes, as luck would have it we have ended up as Editors or section chiefs and we also have censored but much less discussed is the reason behind them. Many journalists and consumers have this notion that censorship happens out of the blue but contrary to this, serious motivations exist when one operates in an unsettled market like Bangladesh where nothing is predictable. So the media outlet is also unsure what really should be done. But obviously, none wants to suffer. So, what is this unseen and sometimes imagined constructed beast called the Censor.

But this is not a Bangladesh phenomenon only. censorship variations are many and operate in the West too.

The Western media: The consensual censor

For most media workers in Bangladesh, the god is Western media. It's thought that no censorship exists there. Any news that outlets want to publish are done so. It's partly true as someone who has experience in working in that media will be able to say.

However, what is missed is that the Government, the owners and the workers all think the same in some cases. That is uniformity of thinking is at such a level that the system of agreement is total and on many if not most issues disagreement is not considered hence censorship is irrelevant.

Let us cite an example

The issue of the holocaust is the ultimate taboo in the West and very little discussion occurs on this but the question of disagreement with the dominant narrative of the West is out of the question. Although there are laws in several countries, -holocaust denial laws- they need no application. Nobody would do so. Hence censorship is not needed.

But here is the conflict. Holocaust is the killing of Jews. Jews live in Israel. So not defending Israel is considered an act of indirect condemnation of the holocaust. Consequently, support for actions that condemn the holocaust is impossible. That sounds great but what is the problem as far as the media is concerned? The problem is Palestine.

Palestine issue reporting

The logic goes this way. Palestine is against the state of Israel. Israel is the state of the victims of holocaust. Palestinians are therefore against the victims of holocaust hence they are condemnable as any support to Palestine tantamount to support against the victim state of the Holocaust. Therefore, no media can ever report on the issue objectively. They are all supporters of Israel and against Palestine not because of what is happening but what happened in another history. That the Palestinians are victims of Israeli actions never even enters their mind.

Why censor when it's impossible to be objective for the overwhelming majority of Western media on the issue. It will always be anti-Palestine.

This censorship is social and consensual. No orders are needed. Society thinks exploring this angle could threaten the stability or structure of Israel. It's called by many names but it prevents free dissemination of knowledge. The consumers of the media will never learn beyond what they want to learn.

Does it exist in Bangladesh?

Every society has this censorship in place and in fact our range could even be higher. There are many issues that are never discussed because they can't be discussed or are not. Most would say that nobody can discuss certain matters concerning the war of 1971 because they are part of the metaphysical core of Bangladesh. So is religion which can lead to massive backlash and rejection. But what we essentially know is that these are socio-psychological and political taboo so it's avoided like all taboo.

But can taboos exist in the age of social media where one individual is enough to discuss taboo topics and create discomfort and rage?

A study that is ongoing on censorship patterns in Bangladesh shows that some media workers think that the most powerful censor is the "public". When the response was discussed, the respondents said that no one ever says or writes anything that can anger the people including the truth. That the "people" have certain value structures which determine what they want to hear and that is what they are told. If not told, people will react either in rage or ignore. Either way the media outlet will be affected negatively. So the people are censors too.

The complex nature of censorship needs more study including in Bangladesh. Basically, before outlining what is media freedom, we need to outline who defines it and why.

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