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PARTIES AGREE TO SUPPORT FREE MEDIA DURING ELECTIONS

A recent International Press Institute (IPI) mission to Dhaka wheedled a promise from Bangladesh's main political parties to protect media in the run-up to and after the 29 December election.

The political parties - the Awami League and arch-rival the Bangladesh Nationalist Party - also promised to undertake a review of all murdered journalists, and to review the case of Mohammad Atiqullah Khan Masud, one of many journalists who had urged the newly-appointed interim government to take a stand in favour of press freedom and against censorship. He was arrested in March 2007 and accused of corruption, criminal activities and carrying out propaganda against the caretaker government.

IPI's decision to carry out a press freedom mission to Bangladesh was largely prompted by the country's interim administration imposing strong restrictions on the media since it came to power in January last year. The authorities have not hesitated to use emergency power rules and anti-terrorism laws to persecute journalists, said the mission.

Although the mission found that press freedom had improved in the country, concerns remain over pressure from politicians, intelligence services, law enforcement agencies and other groups, and the use of laws such as criminal defamation to punish critical reporting. The political polarisation of the media within Bangladesh has not helped this situation.

"Elections... could represent the beginning of a new, more democratic era in the country," said IPI. "However, IPI is concerned that restrictions imposed on journalists might prevent the media from fairly reporting on the elections, the parties and the issues, as well as from exposing potential failings and irregularities in the voting system."

The mission, in Dhaka from 27 November to 2 December, included IPI director David Dadge, Owais Aslam Ali of the Pakistan Press Foundation, and Padma Singh Karki, chair of IPI's Nepal National Committee and editor and publisher of the Kathmandu-based "Gatibidhi Weekly".

An in-depth report about the delegation's findings will be published on IPI's website ( http://www.freemedia.at ) in the coming weeks.

Also visit these links:
- IPI mission statement: http://tinyurl.com/5hpxo8
- IFEX Bangladesh page: http://tinyurl.com/6ynl3d
(10 December 2008)

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