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IPI event highlights threats to press freedom, calls for legislative and self-regulatory reforms

(IPI/IFEX) - January 24, 2011 - Over 20 representatives of Bangladesh's print and broadcast media have met in the country's capital, Dhaka, to discuss threats and challenges facing the media in Bangladesh, and possible solutions.

The meeting, held on 10 January 2011 at the Jatri auditorium, at Karwan Bazaar, Dhaka, was organized by the IPI Bangladesh National Committee as part of a project aimed at investigating obstacles to press freedom in Bangladesh, promoting dialogue among editors and leading journalists throughout the country, and improving communication between the media and public institutions.

An IPI internal report highlighting the legislative obstacles to press freedom in Bangladesh was discussed during the meeting.

"IPI welcomes this important meeting. We believe that identifying and analyzing the problems affecting press freedom and the media in Bangladesh is a first step toward solving them. We trust that there is a strong enough political will to review the country's laws and policies and therewith improve the country's democratic standards. IPI will be glad to provide an international perspective in this process," said IPI Acting Director, Alison Bethel McKenzie.

Participants agreed that many of the current laws affecting the media need to be revised in order to respond to the needs of the 21st century and so that they are in line with international standards in this field. In particular, participants highlighted the urgent need for a broadcasting policy to regulate the ongoing expansion of the broadcasting sector and ensure, among other issues, that the allocation of frequencies is carried out in a fair and inclusive manner.

Numerous television and radio channels, community radios and Internet portals have been set up in recent years and deregulation in this field may lead to concentration of media ownership, cross ownership and politicization of the broadcasting sector, which would be damaging to the development of independent media institutions representative of the multiplicity of ideas and opinions within Bangladesh society.

Participants at the IPI meeting stressed the importance of implementing such a broadcasting policy by the end of 2011.

Furthermore, they urged the authorities to ensure that representatives of the media and other independent experts have sufficient input in the drafting of the new broadcasting policy through a clearly defined system of public consultation. The IPI Bangladesh National Committee and the IPI Secretariat in Vienna will seek to ensure that any policy developed to regulate the broadcasting sector fully respects the principle of press freedom and reflects international democratic standards.

Contempt of court charges, which have been handed down to journalists for criticizing court decisions or publishing information deemed likely to jeopardize a fair trial, have led to self-censorship, in particular with regard to politically sensitive issues.

The limited protection that current laws offer to press freedom has led to violations of this fundamental right, in particular during times of political change, participants at the IPI meeting noted.

In addition, investigative journalism is rare in Bangladesh. The causes for this deficit lie mostly in the lack of training and resources, the fear of repercussions in a judicial system that has yet to prove its commitment to the cause of press freedom, and the limited independence of media outlets as a consequence of their ownership structures.

Further to their call for legal reforms and a stronger commitment to press freedom, participants at the IPI consultative meeting also stressed the need for media companies to develop internal governance structures that ensure editorial independence and strengthen press freedom.

Participants at the 10 January meeting included representatives of the newspapers Amader Somoy, Destiny, Independent, Manabzamin, Prothom Alo, and Sheeshanews, and of ABC Radio. They were joined by representatives of the following civil society groups: Bangladesh NGO Network for Radio and Communication (BNNRC); Bangladesh Manobadhikar Sangbadik Forum (BMSF); Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS); Changemakers; The Dhaka Union of Journalists (DUJ); Journalism Training and Research Initiatives (Jatri); The Committee of Journalists against Repression & Torture (CJRT); and the Media Professionals Group (MPG).

IPI Board Member Monjurul Ahsan Bulbul, editor-in-chief & CEO of Boishakhi TV in Bangladesh, moderated the discussion. S. M. Mayeen Ahmed, IPI Bangladesh Programme Coordinator, welcomed the participants on IPI's behalf.

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