Waiting for autonomy of radio and television
Ahmed and Sadrul Hasan Mazumder
In any democracy
access to media is one of the key measures of power and equality. Media
can shape power and participation in society in negative ways, by obscuring
the motives and interests behind political decisions, or in positive ways,
by promoting the involvement of people in those decisions. In this respect
the media and governance equation becomes important.
In a democratic society, therefore, the role of the media assumes seminal
importance. Democracy implies participatory governance, and it is the
media that informs people about various problems of society, which makes
those wielding power on their behalf answerable to them. The actions of
the government and the state, and the efforts of competing parties and
interests to exercise political power should be underpinned and legitimized
by critical scrutiny and informed debate facilitated by the institutions
of the media is a normative assumption uniting the political spectrum.
The government exerts a great deal of control over public broadcasters,
using them as a mouthpiece for government rather than as an independent
source of information for the public. It is only when the independence
of public broadcasters is guaranteed - in law and in practice -that they
can truly operate for the public interest, providing high quality information
from a variety of sources to the public. But the ill fate of the people
of our country is that the last two democratic governments of Bangladesh
attempted to devise mechanism to retain control over the electronic media
directly or indirectly. During the autocratic rule, the electronic media
was branded as a media devoted for the sole cause of the autocrat and
their close associates. Until 1991 the issue of 'autonomy of radio-TV'
did not come to the forefront of the societal discourse.
Granting autonomy to Betar and BTV was one of the main demands in the
joint declaration of the three alliances announced after the fall of Ershad.
After the first ever democratic election and with the restoration of parliamentary
democracy in 1991, the issue of 'public broadcasting autonomy' gained
momentum. But we have noticed with frustration that the BNP government
did not uphold its commitment to grant autonomy to electronic media during
its tenure (1991-1996). However the BNP government did form a commission
to assess the matter, the recommendations of which were never published.
The Awami League government constituted a 16-member 'Commission for Framing
Rules and Regulations for the Autonomy of Bangladesh Television (Radio-TV
Autonomy Commission)' in September 1996, coming back to power after long
report at a glance
The recommendations of the Commission included formation of a National
Broadcasting Commission (NBC) completely independent of the Government,
accountable only to a Parliamentary Committee on Information. The NBC
would administer both Bangladesh Betar and Bangladesh Television including
approval of the budgets for both Bangladesh Betar and Bangladesh Television,
which would function and operate from their own income. A Code of Conduct
would be signed between NBC and the private operators. A Standard Committee
would be formed by NBC to monitor Satellite and terrestrial programs,
and take action against violation of the guidelines. In the area of news
coverage, protocol value would replace news value. The commission suggested
that the President will appoint one chairman and six members of the National
status of the act
Instead of formation of a National Broadcasting Commission as recommended
by the commission, the Awami League government formed two separate authorities.
Each authority would have a chairman with some members to assist in running
the affairs of the two public broadcasting agencies. Under the two draft
laws approved by the cabinet - Bangladesh Betar Authority Act, 2001 and
Bangladesh Television Authority Act, 2001, the government can sack the
chairman of both the authorities without giving any reason.
key points of the draft law are:
-Separate authority for Radio and Bangladesh Television
-A committee of the five members would be selected by the government with
a Chairman as its head
-Telecast of news and programmes in accordance with the National Broadcasting
-The Government has the power to dissolve the authority
The provision of empowering the government to appoint Chairmen and members
for the two authorities, one for Radio and the other for Bangladesh Television
were being criticised in the political arena as a departure from the Autonomy
Commission's recommendation that President of the country would be the
of the present government
The very interesting part is that the present government has already celebrated
its first year of regime but has not yet taken any initiative on the issue
of autonomy of Radio and Bangladesh Television. It has been observed that
the present government of the 4-party alliances has already changed and
in some cases cancelled various decisions and policies of the previous
Awami League government on important national and local issues but has
remained silence on this issue. The former Information Minister Barrister
Nazmul Huda in a reply to a question why the BNP government took no steps
in this regard said that they intended to give autonomy to the state run
Radio and Bangladesh Television but time had run out before they could
complete the process.
There is a prevailing believe that just enacting law will not help these
media to enjoy actual autonomy. There are many who argue that media is
an elitist bourgeois construct, reflecting essentially bourgeois interests
and values and conditions of existence, and can thus never serve the genuine
interests of the common people. Despite its democratic faç
ade, it is said that the media remains exclusive, and people as a whole
do not have alternatives but radio or television for their necessary information.
Ahmed is Director and Sadrul Hasan Mazumder is programme officer, LSSP
of Manabik Shahajya Sangstha (MSS).