Journalism in the Indian subcontinent has changed little since the 1940s as newspapers are still heavily influenced by politics and financial interests, speakers told a programme in Dhaka recently.

"Political allegiance is harmful to free and independent journalism," said Dr Sakhawat Ali Khan while delivering a lecture at a discussion titled 'The Interplay of Politics and Journalism: 1945-50' at Dhaka University's RC Majumder Auditorium.

The lecture was the first of a series titled 'Unpublished PhD Dissertation Speech' organised by Gyantapas Abdur Razzaq Foundation. Sakhwat Ali Khan, an honorary professor of Mass Communication and Journalism department of Dhaka University, presented his PhD dissertation.

He said leading newspapers from the 40s and 50s - such as the Daily Azad, the Morning News and the Saptahik Milat - largely treated politics as their main news element.

The roles played by major newspapers were "to much extent provocative" in the Muslim League-declared Direct Action Day and the Great Calcutta Riot in 1945, Dr Sakhawat said.

"Politics still remains the main element of newspapers even after Bangladesh's independence," he said.

Serajul Islam Choudhury, a Professor Emeritus of the Dhaka University, who chaired the session, noted how the Azad heavily supported the cause of Muslim League and played a role in the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan based on religion.

This religion-based bifurcation had caused major tragedies for the people of this region, he said adding that there would not have been so much of communal problems if 17 language-based nations had been made independent after the British had left the subcontinent. Commercial interests also influenced the Azad, he noted.

Dr Sakhawat pointed out how the major newspapers had changed their positions on the issue of state language of the then East Pakistan in 1948. The Daily Azad, published from Kolkata in the 1940s, had once spoken in favour of Bangla and then for Urdu.

Dr Sakhawat noted how many newspapers were politically biased in Bangladesh's pre-independence era and supported the Pakistani government rule. "As a result, they did not stand on the people's side," he said.

'Miles to go'

"Impartial and neutral journalism is not possible," Professor Emeritus Serajul Islam observed. "Journalists must take the side that would favour the common people and justice."

He urged the mass media not to be dominated by politics and financial interests.

"Maintaining objectivity is also important," he said. "But, the journalists of our country cannot do that very often as they are directed by owners."

Dr Sakhawat told the discussion that the government was "not lenient" about the newspapers. "Even if it is, they [the newspapers] are not independent from big advertisers," he said.

Professor Serajul said Bangladesh needed objective journalism.

For independent journalism, Dr Sakhawat noted, "There're miles to go."

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