Occupational Hazards

Afsan Chowdhury
Thursday, February 16th, 2017
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The attack on the journalists was inevitable. This is not adversarial but systemic. Journalists have been pushed into this situation because of the nature of the profession. So trade forces the employed to report on the misdeeds of the powerful when the journalist is oneself powerless. But journalists are prisoners of their professional call and that makes them the most reluctant conscience of the nation. It’s this role that is pushing them into a headlong confrontation with the powers that be.


Three cases have drawn attention and the latest is that of a journalist attacked by a van trying to kill him.  He was left with two broken arms but survived though hospitalized in a serious condition.  He is not the only one. A few days back another journalist was killed by a gun fired by the Mayor of  a city or his supporter who has been arrested. Before that a journalist working for a TV station was arrested, remanded, refused bail, etc for reporting on the goings of a garments strike. And we are not even mentioning the savage attack the police mounted on the media workers of ATN news. Clearly the clash is not accidental or incidental to the work done. Media is becoming a major thorn on the flesh of the ruling and powerful clash.  And soft hands are not on show but fists of brutality.


It’s also interesting that all four affected media workers belonged to outlets which are not anti- Government. One belonged to Observer which is run by Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury, the PM’s media advisor.  His reports were on drug lords of Bangladesh and fingers were pointed at top AL  leaders including Joynal Hazari famous for clubbing a journalist to near death. He has now filed a 10 million taka libel suit against the Editor and the matter caused a serious uproar in the Assembly too. Nobody could be more pro- AL than Iqbal Sobhan chowdhury. And yet he was pushed into the counter space.


Daily Samakal, for which … worked is also well known for its pro-AL stance yet he was caught in the midst of the clash and lost his life. … for Ekushey TV which is of the same ilk and headed by Manjurul Ahsan Bulbul, the pro-AL journalist Federation and ATN news cluster has the same pro-establishment identity.  So it’s not an attack on opposition media because none of these are that but on media as a sector. The conflict is systemic and the affected groups have no option but to got for violence and media has no option how to report. In many ways it’s not journalists who are not safe but media is not. These attacks have brought the governance system into question. Can a robust media survive under such conditions ?. Or has governance reached a point whereby media by nature, loyal or not, has become a threat which has to be crushed?


Fortunately till date, the situation is not that dire and there is no official clampdown. The attacks were “isolated” action of sorts. The mayor has been arrested and the late journalist’s wife given a job in the government.  The journalist taken into custody for reporting on the rmg sector strike is out after media workers made a hue and cry. The Dhaka Metropolitan Police Commissioner has apologized for beating up the ATN News TV crew and while most suspect the drug lords behind the attack, no evidence has yet arrived.


However, the incident also show that mere performance of duty has become dangerous as the line between criminal and legal fades in the face of thug-capitalism and just because one works for a pro-AL outfit doesn’t mean one is safe. It is no longer a safe sector as a whole. And there is no telling when one will become a victim even while doing a routine professional task.


The conflict between media and the powerful who feel they have right to do whatever they want is not going to decline. It’s not even in their hands even as both continue to do what they will have to.  Profit making has been criminalized to a great degree and has therefore become a source of collective anxiety hence of interest to media. And to survive media has to pay attention no matter on which side of the political fence one is in. That is why it’s become a clash of systems of governance and till that is resolved this will not end.

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