This summer I spent a couple of weeks in Bangladesh. I went there for personal reasons, but I also gave a talk at ULAB (the University of the Liberal Arts of Bangladesh). The talk was based on our book Collaborative Media, and the audience consisted of teachers and students of ULAB, most of them coming from Media Studies. ULAB has the biggest Media and Communications Department in Bangladesh, and as can be seen in the picture below, they are not exactly bad in making their invited speakers feel special.
In the talk, of course I tried to relate our writings to the current media situation in Bangladesh. Two topics in particular came into focus. On the one hand, what struck me coming to Bangladesh was realizing how economically prosperous the situation still is for traditional mass media. There are a largy number of daily newspapers doing well or at least reasonably well (most newspapers are published in Bangla, some in English). And commercial television is doing very well. This also means that in relation to the situation in Western countries, job prospects for students graduating from journalism and media programs are good – even to the extent, as faculty at ULAB told me, that it sometimes is difficult for departments to get their students to finish their degrees: they get picked up by companies anyhow.
However, the big media related story in Bangladesh during my visit concerned a draft of a new National Broadcast Policy that was approved by Bangladesh’s cabinet while I was there (on August 4). The constitution of Bangladesh guarantees freedom of the press, but the broadcasting policy was interpreted by many journalists as an attempt for much stricter meda control. According to the policy, it will, for instance, not be possible to write satirically about the armed forces or the police. There will also be a ban on reporting on events that may be deemed as destructive, and where the reporting may lead to unrest. It is understandable that the policy has led to unrest within the media sector. Given the fuzziness of the formulations, there is a risk both for self-censorship and for the actual closing down of freedom of speech. Unsurprisingly, two weeks ago prime minister Sheikh Hasina defended the policy, arguing for the need for concrete guidelines for commercial media. That will hardly put Bangladesh journalists at ease, however. The debate will continue,