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Photo: bdnews24.com
Photo: bdnews24.com

Bangladesh just had one of its worst days in the international press after the British tabloid Daily Mirror claimed that the rescue operation of the “miracle girl” Reshma, who reportedly survived under  the rubble of a collapsed garments factory for 17 days, was a hoax. Following this publication, The Herald Sun (Australian), The Daily Mail (British), New York Daily News (U.S.), and MSN News (U.S.) have also claimed that the Bangladesh authorities staged the Reshma hoax to subdue popular outcry over the factory collapse back in May, where at least 1,100 workers have died.

The timing couldn’t have been worse

Just three days prior to the Daily Mirror news, the US revoked Bangladesh’s Generalized System of Preference (“GSP”) status. GSP is a tariff based incentive for foreign exporters to the US.

Some experts in Bangladesh have claimed that the removal of GSP will not directly affect Bangladesh’s multi-billion-dollar clothing export to the US, since exported garments are not eligible for duty cuts under GSP. However, the impact of the US action may be felt in other major export destinations, if any other governments or corporations follow the US and contemplate withdrawal of tariff incentives or future orders.

Currently, there is active bickering in Bangladesh whether the opposition leader Begum Khaleda Zia’s article in a lesser known US newspaper named The Washington Times had played any role in US’ revocation of the GSP. After months of the article’s original publication, Khaleda Zia has very recently disowned it simply by saying “wasn’t me”. Conspiracy theorists have blamed not only the opposition leader, but also Dr. Muhammad Yunus, with all his ties to the US policymakers, for the country’s GSP setback.

However, the most likely architects of the GSP revocation are not politicians from Bangladesh but certain media outlets and the left-leaning labour rights groups based in the United States. These groups are against export of the US manufacturing jobs to lower cost destinations like Bangladesh.

Therefore, when disasters like Tazreen fashion (Nov 2012 fire incident, 117 dead) and Rana Plaza happened in Bangladesh within a short span of time, these labour groups finally gathered the horrific photographs and death tolls they needed to attract the attention of consumers and policymakers in the US. Unfortunately for Bangladesh, the Reshma scandal broke out just three days after the removal of Bangladesh’s GSP status. Now if other countries want to follow the US and conduct hearings on Bangladesh, this story of hoax may only add to the laundry list of negativity.

Daily Amar Desh still pulling punches

The detailed investigative report on the Reshma scandal that caused so much outcries in the international media first appeared in Daily Amar Desh, the staunchly anti-government newspaper in Bangladesh. Mahmudur Rahman, the editor is no darling of the current government, and is still in jail. The newspaper is barred from producing print circulations and maintains an economically painful web-only presence. Against all the odds, the Daily Amar Desh is still pulling some mighty punches against the current government, as evidenced by the Reshma news story.

Point to note here is that the Daily Mirror did not just translate or re-use Amar Desh’s original article. It had sent its own investigative team to Bangladesh to verify the authenticity of Amar Desh’s supporting documents and other evidences on the Reshma scandal. It is perhaps safe to assume that all those verifications passed; otherwise several international dailies would not have thrown their weights behind Daily Amar Desh’s investigative article.

Reputation of government institutions

Various local and international media have criticized the government’s handling of the Savar disaster from the beginning. Corruption in building permit process, failure of inspection, absence of proper equipment at the beginning of the rescue operation, reliance on untrained volunteers, and shortage of disaster supplies were all valid criticisms bestowed by both supporters and opponents of the current government. The fact that the owner of the collapsed building was a ruling party honcho did not help.

CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in her globally televised interview of our honorable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina alluded that the Bangladesh government was somewhat negligent in handling the Savar Tragedy because the owner is the “Head of” the ruling party’s student wing. The statement is not factually correct, since Mr. Rana is only a local leader, not a central one. However, the Honorable Prime Minister’s less than adequate handling of the aggressive Amanpour throughout that interview did not help dispelling all the doubts that the US audience had as regards Bangladesh’s garments industry.

Several of the international news outlets are running news stories showing pictures of Bangladesh Army personnel with Reshma in press briefings. Several of these international outlets have noted that they contacted the Bangladesh army spokespersons on the Reshma scandal, but failed to gather meaningful answers beyond “No Comments”. It is imperative that the relevant government officials and the patriotic armed forces of Bangladesh take necessary media actions to successfully prove that the Reshma rescue was not a hoax, if that is indeed the case. Bangladesh’s reputation is on the line here, and no one should expect saying “no comments” is going to help. ISPR did publish a rejoinder to the Daily Mirror, however, the rejoinder should have been more direct with stronger arguments against some of the key questions highlighted by the international and local press regarding the Reshma rescue.

The garments industry is the bread-winner for millions of Bangladeshis and the country as a whole. The fact that a disaster of Rana Plaza’s proportion have happened is already causing havoc to the sector. Now that the international media is claiming that Bangladesh authorities can stage hoaxes to fool the world may well be a bigger disaster for the garments industry’s image, which would be difficult if not impossible to remedy.

Shafquat Rabbee is a freelance contributor

7 Responses to “The Reshma scandal: Disaster on top of a disaster?”

  1. M.Mozammel Haque

    It is disgusting to comment on this scandal made by our hungry media reporters. We are so narrow minded and hungry for money that we are now ready to prove the fact as false to get a packet with unknown amount may be only fake notes.
    Here I remember one memory- 2 old sisters one sister with happy and rich children and the other is with poor children were in Chandipur Rajshahi.
    And it was found the sister with poor children used to transfer information about so many interesting secret events to the wives of rich family and in turn she used to get Panta Bhat,Paan,bettle nuts,curry etc and the other sister nodded to it and men had no voice against the practice.
    And I am observing this practice of media after 50 years in Bangladesh with Reshma scandal in stead of a small village.

  2. WQ

    Maybe Amar Desh should reveal supporting documents and other evidences which was used by the Daily Mirror. We have no idea of the verification process by foreign media in assessing the authenticity of local reports. There have been controversy already in the Washington Post about whether Khaleda Zia actually provided any input to one of their reports, which she denies.

  3. Syed M.Hussain

    My observations on Afsan Chaudhury’s write-up on Reshma-hoax/no-hoax theme apply here as well.
    It is a media circus, but only a scandal since our Army is involved. In what manner or form we have no idea, nor the truth would perhaps ever emerge.
    All these misdirections of our attention away from the original and real disaster are the fresh darts of cruelty.
    My question as to the findings of the enquiry committees touches on the escape of the guilty party and the overlords who are accessories before and after the facts of the Rana Plaza man-made disaster of deepest criminal nature. We are already gone into our usual national habit of a trance of forgetfulness.
    It takes only the silence of the good people to enable the evil to generate and re-generate.
    We should not let that happen when 2000 souls bleed for no, yes NO fault of their own.

    Syed Muhammad Hussain

    03 July,2013

  4. Golam Arshad

    Media in limbo! What a remarkable story of Life in Truth, turned into a dismal degrading drama. Who is responsible? I wonder!!!!

  5. Kaiser

    All the main stream media must play active role to divulge the fact of ‘Resma rescue operation’ rather than defaming the news of ‘Herald Sun’, ‘The Daily Mail’, ‘New York times News’, and ‘MSN News’ etc. blaming propaganda against BD and pinching the scandal of the journalist whereas the credibility & strategic journalism of those news agency are on top in the global arena. As this issue trigger the image crises of our beloved country to the other nation badly. The patriotic Army badly will loose their reputation greatly, both in locally & internationally, let alone the political party as well their role of good governance.

    • Golam Arshad

      Kaiser: The Mission of Magical rescue operation blown apart in shreds of vested conundrum.

  6. Mohammad Zaman

    Extra-ordinary story requires extra-ordnary scrutiny.

    Only the physicians of Bangladesh Army can put all the hoopla to rest by releasing the medical records including all lab results that can effectively refute any argument to the contrary.

    They should come forward soon before the story sweeps the main stream media taking a high toll on their reputation.

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