WHEN the politically powerful sections of society are out to harass the journalists by using the infamous Section 57 of the Information and Communications Technology Act, the inspector general of police has asked all units of the police to consult the legal wing at the police headquarters before recording any case under the section. The intentions of the IGP may well have been to stop harassing people if he really meant so. He should have rather endeavoured to scrap this section in consultation with the government so that there was no scope for journalists to be harassed under the autocratic provision of the law in question. This instruction, as New Age reported on Thursday, came on Wednesday a day after a journalist of a local daily newspaper in Khulna had been arrested in a case filed under this section, which unleashed protests on the social media. Notably, about a dozen journalists have been arrested in cases under this section in the past eight months although the minister for road transport and bridges observed on Wednesday that Section 57 was being misused. Moreover, different quarters, including rights activists, journalists, television channels and civil society actors are demanding an immediate repeal of this section saying that it is hindering the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the constitution.
Notably, Section 57 has been a preferred tool of the government to intimidate into submission or silence the critical and objective sections of society, in general, and the mass media, in particular. Bereft of any political legitimacy, and also social acceptability, following the manoeuvred and manipulated general elections on January 5 2014, which precluded not only all the opposition parties but also the majority of the electorate, the incumbents have appeared increasingly autocratic in their actions and attitude. Meanwhile, with the democratic political process in doldrums and the opposition yet to regroup amidst seamless harassments by the state machinery, the ethical section of the media has sought almost singlehandedly to play the watchdog of policies and actions of the government, most of which have been undemocratic and anti-people. To this end, it has had to cope with overt and covert interference, and direct and indirect intimidation, by government agencies.
The government’s attempt at curtailing media freedom may be ironic, in view of its tireless trumpeting of the spirit and ideals of the liberation war, but is hardly surprising because of its political illegitimacy and near-complete estrangement from people. Be that as it may, such a sinister section such as Section 57 must be repealed soon; or, else it must be resisted and repulsed by not only the journalist community but also society at large. Meanwhile, the incumbents need to realise that any attempt at controlling the media is unlikely to pay any dividend; it never has. As such, a course correction is needed — the sooner, the better.
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