banlgaflag.jpegThe People's Republic of Bangladesh is a relatively young nation still struggling to solidify its economic and political standing since declaring independence from Pakistan on the 26th of March 1971. It is one of the most densely populated countries in the world and has a largely rural dwelling with over two-thirds of the people relying on agriculture for a living (Press Reference, 2012). Bangladesh is also subject to natural disasters such as floods and severe storms which are a significant hurtle hindering the development of economic stability. Illiteracy is a major problem for the country with more than half the population unable to read or write (Press Reference, 2012).The vast majority of people speak Bengali with English serving as an official language among the government and elite. Islam is the predominant religion with Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity forming the principle minorities. Bangladesh is a parliamentary democracy and everyone over the age of 18 has the right to vote. The legal system derives from both English common law and Islamic law. Islam became the official state religion in 1988 and is supported by the government which prohibits any criticism of it in the media (Press Reference, 2012).

Brief History of the Press

During Bangladesh’s war of independence which saw the implementation of a parliamentary democracy, many new newspapers and magazines began circulation. However in 1972 after a series of natural disasters, economic problems and civil disorder, Mujibur Rahman became president and banned all other political parties. His reign saw many human rights infringements, including severe restrictions on freedom of expression and press freedom. The Mujibur Rahman government took over control of four daily newspapers and one periodical (Morning News, Azad, Observer, Dainik Bangla and Purbodesh) and imposed severe restrictions on all others (Press Reference, 2012). In 1997, following the election of a new party, controls on the press were relaxed. Despite this, the current government still has considerable power over the media.

Ownership of Media

The media in Bangladesh is a combination of private and government owned media. This media can be broken up into categories consisting of newspapers, television, radio, and the internet/news agencies. The media ownership of Bangladesh in relation to these categories is detailed as follows.

1. Newspapers

Annually, there are over 300 newspapers published in Bangladesh in both the English and Bengali-language. Bangladesh currently has more than four hundred registered newspapers (Media and Politics, 2009) with total circulation exceeding 2 million (Bangladesh: Media, 2012). The top seven Bangla newspapers together sell about 800,000 copies every day (Media and Politics, 2009). Newspapers are entirely privately-owned with English- language titles appealing mainly to an educated urban readership (Bangladesh Profile, 2012). The major Bengali-language newspapers are the Daily Prothom Alo ("First Light") ,Dainik Ittefaq("Daily Coincidence") and the Dainik Jugantor ("Daily New Era") and the English language newspapers include The Daily Star, New Age, The New Nation, The independent, Daily Sun, and Holiday.

The Daily Prothom Alo ("First Light")
(bengali-language newspaper)
Danik Ittefaq ("Daily Coincidence")
(bengali-language newspaper)
Dainik Jugantor ("Daily New Era")
(bengali-language newspaper)
The Daily Star
(english-language newspaper)
New Age
(english-language newspaper)
The New Nation
(english-language newspaper)
the daily star logo.jpeg
new age.jpeg
new nation.gif

The Daily Star is the highest circulated, most respected English newspaper of Bangladesh (The Daily Star (a), 2012). In January 14, 1991 The Daily Star established its ground in the media scene of Bangladesh by setting out its journey to serve the nation as a truly independent newspaper (The Daily Star(a), 2012). The goals and responsibilities carried by the newspaper are to sustain democratic norms while simultaneously strengthening public opinion (Transcom tradition in excellence, 2012). The Daily Star is owned by Mediaworld Ltd, an associate of the TRANSCOM Group, headed by Latifur Raham (Transcom tradition in excellence, 2012). TRANSCOM also owns the largest circulating Bengali-language daily newspaper, the Prothom Aloas well as the news and current affairs station ABC Radio.

Other major Bangla Newspaper titles include:
Ajker Kagoj ("Daily Today's Paper"), Amar Desh ("My Country"), Amader Shomoy ("Daily Our Time"), The Azad ("Daily Free"), Bhorer Kagoj ("Daily Dawn's Paper"), Daily Inqilab ("Daily Revolution"), Daily Naya Diganta ("Daily New Horizon"), Jaijaidin ("Daily Joy Joy Day"), Janakantha ("Daily Voice of People"), Samakal ("Current Time"), The Daily Sangram ("Daily Struggle"), and the Kaler kantho ("Daily Voice of Time"). The newspaper industry in Bangladesh is entirely privately owned, mostly by limited liability companies.

2. Television

The majority of the television channels are privately owned exlcluding Bangladesh Television (BTV) which is a state-owned national TV station. Most of the private television channels were founded by political leaders who continue to exert significant influence (Media and Politics, 2009). Depsite this, channels such as Channel i, ATN Bangla and ETV have been founded by businessmen and media personalities.

Television Channels:
Bangladesh Television (BTV)
(government run)
ATN Bangla
(private, via satellite and cable)
Channel i
(private, via satellite and cable)
channel i.jpeg
(private, via satellite and cable)
(private, via satellite)
Ekushey TV
(private, via satellite)
external image insert_table.gif

Terrestrial Networks
Bangladesh Television
March 1965
Sangsad TV
January 2011

2. a) Bangladesh Television (BTV) (Government-owned)

This state-owned national TV station began in 1964 and is one of the main types of broadcast media in Bangladesh. It is the only terrestrial channel in the country serving an effective means of communication to the population (Local television of Bangladesh, 2012). Programs telecasted comprise of education, drama, musicals and documentaries including 14 News bulletins in English and Bangle daily (Bangladesh TV, 2012). As a state run organisation it is accountable to the mass people of Bangladesh with a main objective to extend education, development, motivation and entertainment as well as information.

Satellite Networks (Bangladesh TV stations, 2012)
ATN Bangla
July 15, 1998
BTV World
State owned
Channel i
State owned
Desh TV
March 26, 2009
Diganta Television
Ekushey Television
April 14, 2000
Islamic TV
Mohona TV
ATN News
Channel 9
Independent Television

3. Radio

The majority of Bangladesh radio stations are privately-owned with only one government-run station, Betar-Radio Bangladesh. Until recently, Bangladesh Betar was the only radio option available in addition to the BBC Bangla Radio Service broadcast from London. However, within the last five years there has been the formation of several private radio channels (Media and Politics, 2009). The most popular including: Radio Today FM, Radio Foorti FM, ABC Radio, and Radio Aamar.

3. a) Betar-Radio Bangladesh (Government-owned)

The major electronic medium ‘Bangladesh Betar’ which can also be known as ‘Radio Bangladesh’ is a government-run radio station that started broadcasting in December 1939. The role of a ‘propagada machine’ shifted the radio’s broadcasting in 1971 during the Bangladesh Liberation War in order to support and assist the nation in achieving independence. During this time period the station relocated several times due to ‘shelling’ resulting in the creation of the name of the station ‘Bangladesh Betar’ (Bangladesh Betar).

Regulation of Media

Despite the fact that the majority of broadcast media are privately owned, the government still exerts a significant amount of control over these platforms. The government uses a number of techniques to control the press. This includes rewarding pro-government newspapers in distributing government advertisements. Government-sponsored advertising is the main source of income, representing 50% of the space in newspapers (Mass-line Media, 2012). In this sense, the government can control what a publication prints based on financial pressure exerted over editors and staff. The government is also know to issue threats of torture and kill journalists who openly oppose them (The Daily Star (b), 2011). Maintaining the state ownership of Bangladesh Television and Bangladesh Betar has also allowed the government to use the television networks as propaganda machines that promote the ruling party (The Daily Star (b), 2011).

Legislative Protection

The Constitution of Bangladesh guarantees freedom of expression and press freedom with 'reasonable restrictions' in Article 39. This reads:

39. Freedom of thought and conscience, and of speech.
  1. Freedom or thought and conscience is guaranteed.
  2. Subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interests of the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence -
a) The right of every citizen of freedom of speech and expression; and freedom of the press, are guaranteed.

The Press Council Act 1974 was implemented to improve the quality of news and information in Bangladesh. The Act attempts to enforce the following:
  • to adjudicate complaints against a newspaper, news agency or a journalist. The council can also, on its own initiative, investigate an offence arising from the violation of the principle of journalism and rebuke or give warning to the guilty person or organisation;
  • to help maintain freedom of the press and of the people engaged in the profession of journalism;
  • to formulate from time to time the code of conduct for the newspapers, news agencies, and journalism in the light of high professional standard;
  • to ensure that the news agencies or journalists should be conscious of their rights and obligations in addition to maintaining a high professional quality in their jobs;
  • to create a sense of duty as well as motivation for public service among those who are engaged in journalism;
  • to ensure presentation and transmission of news in the interest of the masses and make sure that there is no obstacle in this respect;
  • to watch if any agency connected with a newspaper and the news world takes financial assistance from any foreign source;
  • to undertake research on national and foreign newspapers and their influence;
  • to make arrangement for research on instruction and training for those engaged in the profession;
  • to assure technical and other kinds of research;
  • to make effort to establish professional contacts among those engaged in the management of newspapers and news agencies; and
  • to take steps to accomplish these activities (Laws of Bangladesh, 2010).

The press council consists of 15 bodies and is only chaired by a judge of the Supreme Court of a body of equal qualifications which is to be nominated by the President of Bangladesh. The other 14 bodies would include 3 working journalists, 3 editors of news agencies and 3 owners or executives of news agencies.

Legislative Censorship

Despite its constitutional declaration, a number of Acts directly prohibit freedom of press. These include the:
  • The Special Powers Act 1974:This Act legislates that it is an offense to print, publish or distribute any prejudicial reports. Among this definition includes prejudicial comments against the sovereignty of Bangladesh (Banglapedia, 2006).
  • Section 99A of the Code of Criminal Procedure:makes any printed matter, defamatory of the country's President or the Prime Minister, an offense punishable by imprisonment from two to seven years (Press Reference, 2012).
  • The Press and Publication Act of 1973: requires four copies of each publication to be sent to a specified government agency (Press Reference, 2012).

Censorship is most commonly used in order to prevent immodest photographs/information from entering the public sphere, and negative representations of Islam or national leaders from circulating. The Government does not limit internet access, however, as a consequence of a largely rural dwelling the majority of the population do not have access to computers.

Non-Governmental Organisations

Bangladesh NGOs Network for Radio and Communication (BNNRC)
BNNRC is a national networking body working to build a democratic society based on the principles of free flow of information, equitable and affordable access to communication technologiesBNNRC.jpeg for remote and marginalised populations (BNNRC, 2012). BNNRC was established in 2000 as per Article 19 charter of Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states: 'Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.' (BNNRC, 2012)

It aims to implement basic broadcast and network communication rights into the media of Bangladesh, as it should no longer be a privilege but a basic right in everyday life. They work with ordinary people focusing on rural populations to implement free flowing and basic communication facilities by organising local activities such as reading and writing workshops.

Mass-line Media Centre (MMC)
The Mass-line Media Centre (MMC) is a non-profit organisation that was established in 1995. It aims to promote media freedom, access of information and journalist safety in Bangladesh (Mass-line Media Centre, 2012). Its overall objective is to advocate freedom of opinion, expression and free flow of information in the media. It also aims to improve relevant and affordable media access to the rural community which makes up the majority of the Bangladesh population. MMC is currently working towards improving the democratic participation of all citizens in the political process and good governance through promoting a pluralistic, independent and professional media sector (Mass-line Media Centre, 2012).

MMC has a General Board of 27 people made up of people from different professions and social strata. The Executive Board is made up of 9 members from the general board who have been elected into the position (Mass-line Media Centre, 2012). This attempts to avoid government interference and preserve the organisation’s independence and professional integrity.

Since 1995 the organisation has trained community journalists from rural areas, improved reporting and writing skills through training initiatives and increased awareness of gender inequality, human rights, good governance and environmental problems (Mass-line Media Centre, 2012). MMC has also managed to generate collaborations and networking among journalists. It also created positive attitude of press houses to develop/reformulate guidelines of local newspaper for its staff members. It has also mobilised journalists to advocate for laws against repression of journalists (). MMC collects information on repression of journalists and also advocates for freedom of press and right to information and thus helps achieve a better transparency in society. Finally, MMC works together with specialized institutions to help journalist access required legal services (Mass-line Media Centre, 2012).

Freedom of Press Breaches

Despite its constitutional declaration and reinforcement through legislation and Non-Government Organisations, freedom of press is still well below international standards. Bangladesh is currently ranked 129 out of 179 on the Reporters Without Borders 2011-2012 Press Freedom Index (Reporters Without Borders, 2012). Since 1992, 19 journalists have been reported murdered in Bangladesh. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 75% of the murders were carried out with complete impunity with the murders evading any form of trial or justice (Committee to Protect Journalists, 2012). Crime, corruption and politics represent the main areas murdered journalists were investigating before killed (Committee to Protect Journalists, 2012). There have also been dozens of reports of police brutality towards journalists including severe beatings and stabbings. From these examples it becomes evident that freedom of speech and press represents a severely underdeveloped area in Bangladesh. Although organisations such as BNNRC and MMC have been founded in order to advance media freedom, progress continues at a slow rate. Ultimately, a stronger political and economic framework is essential in order to improve not only press freedom, but also observance and respect for all human rights.


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