A GOVERNMENT notice prohibiting publication of news on public hospitals and their services without consent of the authorities and requiring journalists to obtain permission from hospital authorities to take photographs or videos inside the hospitals is worrying as much as it is a blow to press freedom. The health ministry issued the notice on Sunday, giving eight directives, including that journalists would require permission to publish any news on public hospitals. Media professionals and public health experts have come to criticise the government move, saying that the notice is an affront to the Right to Information Act and have, therefore, demanded an immediate withdrawal of the restrictions. Media professionals say that the notice will have a negative impact and will curtail people’s right to health, information and the truth. The restrictions, in their content and intent, appear to be a scheme to hide the ills and irregularities that the health sector is mired in.
An unrestricted journalism always serves the people and the country. The media have largely played an effective role in the past by exposing irregularities and shortcomings in the health sector and such exposures should, indeed, have helped the government and its agencies to curb the irregularities and address the shortcomings. In 2019, the media exposed a number of irregularities in the procurement process in many public hospitals and medical colleges. Sheikh Hasina Medical College Hospital in Habiganj spent more than Tk 3.5 million on 450 anatomy charts, with each coming to cost Tk 7,800 which sells for Tk 100–150 on the market and Tk 148,000 on each of 57 laptops that sell for Tk 30,000–45,000. Fairdpur Medical College Hospital bought a window curtain for Tk 3.7 million. The Chittagong Medical University sought to buy a pillow for Tk 27,720 and a pillow cover for Tk 28,000 while the prices range in Tk 300–1,000 on the market. Dhaka Shishu Hospital sought to procure a vortex mixer for Tk 500,000, which is 15 times the amount of Tk 32,000 that Jamalpur Medical College Hospital bought it for. The media also play a vital role in helping the hospitals realise its failures, reminding the hospitals of what needs to be done.
Restricting access to information has in no way served the people and has always been a design to cover the ills and misdeeds. Realising the benefits of unobstructed access to information, the government must withdraw the restrictions at the earliest.
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