There is a clear question of ethics here.
If the Awami League-leaning faction of the Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists (BFUJ) can invite Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to an iftar at the National Press Club without any questions being raised about her security, the pro-Bangladesh Nationalist Party faction of the BFUJ has an equal right to invite former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia to an iftar at the same venue. If the underlying principle of this republic is a working or developing democracy, it is only fitting and proper that unambiguous respect be shown to an individual who has served as head of government and who remains in command of one of the two largest political parties in the country.
It appears, though, that journalists planning to invite Begum Zia to the NPC are in quite a bit of a problem. The management of the Press Club, as they have made it known, has not been forthcoming in the matter of letting Begum Zia’s followers in the journalists’ community go ahead with their iftar plan. That is most unfortunate, outrageous and certainly shocking, given especially the fact that those associated with the media, for all their political inclinations, are expected to go beyond partisan considerations when it comes to a matter of dealing with such matters of etiquette as making it easy for prominent political individuals to be able to enter the premises of the Press Club whenever they need to or wish to.
The argument of the NPC management, therefore, that questions related to the security of Begum Zia do not permit a grant of permission to her media followers to arrange an iftar in her honour remains unconvincing. If anything, it only reinforces the disturbing truth of how increasingly polarized journalists have become — and indeed it is a work in progress — through a pursuit of the brands of politics they subscribe to. More worryingly, this inability or unwillingness on the part of the NPC, which body is fully empowered to exercise its authority in the interest of each and every journalist in the country, to have Begum Zia step into the premises of the Press Club raises a whole plethora of questions. It is the credibility of the Press Club that will be marred, perhaps irreversibly, if its present attitude persists. Worse, it is fairly easy to draw the conclusion that a refusal to allow the chairperson of the BNP to attend an iftar at the NPC will set a dangerous precedent that can only exacerbate an already divisive political culture in the country.
The reputation of the media in Bangladesh, let us be frank about it, has been on a downward spiral in these past many years. The community, to the consternation of citizens, is divided right down the middle, to the extent that when journalists write or speak on national political and economic issues, it is fair to assume that they will echo the views of the political parties they tend to uphold in their imagination and in their work. The journalist who takes a non-partisan view of politics, who can provide scholarly analyses of conditions in the country without falling prey to unbridled political loyalty is a rare animal. That surely grates on the senses. And it surely does not enhance the reputations of those in the media forever keen to project the views of the politicians they identify with as unassailable truths.
If journalists cannot speak truth to power and to those who seek power, the entire premise of media objectivity goes missing. The journalist who genuflects before the chairperson of the BNP with little thought to upholding the purposes of his profession does grave injustice to the country. The newsman who peppers his questions to the Prime Minister with sycophantic verbal and body language in her presence is simply pushing journalism to new lows where it becomes as good as meaningless.
But that is the reality in Bangladesh today. A divided DUJ and a polarized BFUJ have elbowed journalists to the low public esteem they suffer through at this point. It is not the job of a newsperson to have his professionalism mutate into political partisanship in the course of his work. As the respected journalist and cultural activist Waheedul Haque once remarked, political partisanship is baggage a journalist ought to leave at the door of the organization he is employed in; work at his desk all day; and at the end of the day, pick up that baggage and give free indulgence to his political beliefs on his way back home.
That sage advice has not been heeded, if existing realities in the country’s journalism are anything to go by. The upsetting feeling grows that when individuals opt for conversations with journalists, they find themselves speaking, improbably, to men and women who have quickly and readily shed their professional skin for a disturbingly partisan one.
It is a condition that is patently enervating and unedifying for journalism. The longer it is sustained, the greater is the danger of the media shuffling away from its true calling and into the role of a propaganda instrument for all our mutually suspicious political classes.
Let everyone step back a little, reflect a little, act positive a little. A beginning can be made through the National Press Club moving swiftly in making it possible for Begum Khaleda Zia to attend that planned iftar at its premises. As an idea, the Press Club is an inclusive institution. Why must it hurt itself in the foot?