THE foreign ministry’s notification asking all Bangladesh missions abroad to monitor activities of journalists travelling abroad is another manifestation of Bangladesh getting to be a police state. The ministry issued the notification after the parliamentary standing committee on the foreign ministry at a meeting on April 30 asked the ministry to take necessary steps for such oversight to establish whether any journalists get engaged in activities abroad that were against the interest and the image of Bangladesh. And if any journalists are detected to be so doing, the missions abroad are asked to report back to the foreign ministry. This is a clear indication of intimidating independent journalists.
Why do journalists visit other countries? They do so primarily to cover events, having local and international bearing, taking place abroad. They also go to other countries to attend seminars and symposiums, to cover the events and to present papers. They also visit foreign countries to represent the media outlets they work for, to represent the local journalist community to the outside world and to get training for insights that could be of use to the local media here. They do this sometimes at their own expense and sometimes at the invitation of foreign countries or entities there.
In view of why journalists go abroad and what they do in foreign countries, the issuance of the notification seeking oversight on journalists’ travelling abroad seems to be ludicrous. Local journalists presenting a paper in an international seminar on anything that concerns Bangladesh or discussing issues in journalists’ forums abroad might come up with their own independent, intellectual observations. But they should in now way be brought under surveillance just because their observations might not be pleasing to a government in the country. And their observations and criticism of the state of affairs in Bangladesh should in no way be held to be running counter to the interest and image of Bangladesh. Besides, down the history of Bangladesh, governments of the ruling class — civil, military or quasi-military — have already tarnished the image of the country and its people by impeding the growth of democracy in the first place. Public money is plundered and the government fails to do anything about this, people are killed extrajudicially and the government fails to stop it, governance is mangled and the government fails to set it right. Such failures of the governments, down the history, are enough to have been against the image of the people of Bangladesh and their interest to the outside world. The whole world knows that the present parliament, a standing committee of which has been instrumental in the issuance of this notification by the foreign ministry, is not a properly elected forum and it, therefore, substantially lacks in popular legitimacy. This is enough to tarnish the image of Bangladesh to the international community.
The government, under the circumstances, is well advised to do some soul-searching and put in political efforts to earn legitimacy to govern, democratise an otherwise autocratic political system and the crudely partisan administrative culture so that people of the country, including journalists, can hold their head high when they stay inside the country or travel to other countries.
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