VHS can’t work on mobile

Afsan Chowdhury
Wednesday, June 21st, 2017
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The Government has given a nod of sorts to an online media policy. It was framed in 2015, at least the website says so and it’s in mid 2017 that it has passed the cabinet. The policy also says that the National Broadcasting Commission will be the focal point of the policy but since it has not been formed yet, the Ministry of Information will do the task.

 

Given that the issue is instant media, the huge time lag between policy drafting, passing the scenario is hardly encouraging. It seems the Government is spiritually not in sync with the digital world. The rushed through approval followed by the inordinate delay in having a Commission which is supposed to manage the policy seems unusual. It faces a media world which old fashioned governance policies are not able to keep pace with.

 

After discussing with several media persons including those involved with online media – which media isn’t? I found almost no one who had read it and the few who did, did so cursorily. The government apparently even had a few consultations but the near universal reaction to that is, they were not inter-active and many just felt that the sessions were not “serious”, more like   going through the motions. Few if any of the ideas conveyed have been reflected in the draft it was remarked. This may not be true fully but in the absence of any recording mechanism or follow up, we have no way of knowing.

 

What is the big stumble?

 

The big stumble is that the Government is not assuming a position of partnership with media but of hostility and control. The clauses mentioning the causes for punishment are so broad and open to interpretation that almost any news/opinion, caption may be interpreted as “malicious, defamatory, anti-national etc. The kind of punishment if it’s even remotely close to what is being speculated- 7 years jail and 5 crores fine- will be such a threat that people will shut down rather than risk such massive punishment. What this also means is that the authorities don’t trust media at all.  The policy is a cracking whip and will not make either side popular to the other. And everyone loses in such a scenario.

 

The other problem is that while separate terms have been used to designate media streams like print media under the Press and Publications Act to online news portals to radio and TV, in essence, in today’s technology state,  all media has only one identity which is digital media. Given the rise of convergence in media, how one can separate an online portal which also broadcasts TV programmes and radio is not understood.

 

Citizen journalism

 

But the biggest media branch is not even professional media but citizen journalism which is Facebook based. As everyone powerful has found out to its great pain, it’s simply impossible to control it. But insisting that registration is paramount and media can be controlled is an absurdity which the West has found out to its great pain.  Bangladesh itself has seen that our cyber security level is so low that even the ICT Ministry website is hacked. There is no need to mention the Bangladesh Bank heist but by shutting down or controlling the digital domain, one runs the risk of digital counter-attacks too. Is all this necessary in the name of controlling media which is mostly about controlling politics of the elite?

 

Finally, the policy has been an exercise of bureaucrats largely which challenges the very purpose of media policy making.  The government needs to understand that we live in a digital world and the all encompassing ecology requires a policy which is digital media friendly. The age of control is largely gone, something which worked years back when conventional notions of censorship and punishment worked. But with digital presence in every space, with a growing expansion of the IT economy, we need less one sided control and more partnership. But the online media policy is not an example of that. It needs more structured consultation, revision and editing to make it fit for our world today.

 

Bangladesh deserves better.

 

Dhaka Courier condemns, in the strongest possible terms, recent attempts to harass Afsan Chowdhury through the court system. Such attempts to quell his independent voice are destined to fail, and we will always stand by him.

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