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AUGUST 2012 BBC Media Action

Support to media where
media freedoms and rights
are constrained

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Front cover


Girls talk on mobile
phones, Chittagong
education fair.

Mobile phones:
ubiquitous among the
younger generation and
increasingly important
across all sections of

Executive summary
The media market in Bangladesh has mushroomed over to stimulate public debate and generate change. This is an
the past 10 years, with a large range of highly profitable increasingly varied, dynamic and complex market, with
newspapers and satellite TV channels springing up. At major implications for public dialogue on policy issues
the national level, the media and for donor support.
Some observers suggest has become dominated by a
The media in Bangladesh has a rich tradition of
few large corporations often
that the media is, increasingly, with primary interests in other
independence. It can, in general, speak out on most issues,
and its right to do so is guaranteed under the Constitution.
filling the political vacuum left commercial sectors. Brand new
But media outlets particularly at local level can still
web-based initiatives, which go
by the lack of any real policy right down to the village level,
face pressure and intimidation from national and local
administrative, commercial and even criminal bodies, and
are now being driven by a few
debate. energetic individuals and by
self-censorship is common at every level.
donors. Bangladesh has one of the highest mobile phone Legislative changes, such as the Right to Information Act
penetration rates in the world, and, as mobile services (RTI) in 2009, seem to demonstrate the commitment of
improve (even in rural areas), they have massive potential the current Awami League Government to media freedom.


However, the Government has shut down some media
and online outlets, and ideas for a new media bill rang Background and methodology
many alarm bells in 2011.
This report is one of a series of case studies examining
Political discourse in Bangladesh has become increasingly support to, and development of, the media in countries
divisive over the past 20 years, moving towards a rather where media freedoms and rights to information and
sterile reflection of personal antagonism between political communication are restricted with a particular focus
leaders. Despite the size and complexity of the media, as on people, politics and media. Five case studies focus on
a whole it tends to repeat and magnify a national political Bangladesh, Cambodia, South Sudan, Syria and Uganda.
culture based around personalities. As a result, most public They consider the impact of both policy and practice, and
dialogue in the media is Dhaka-centric, and neglects the are intended to feed into decision-making at both levels to
public policy issues that matter to most people. Local enable delivery of more focused and effective media support.
media stories that do highlight such issues are often
Three central questions guided case study research:
ignored by national media and politicians alike.
What is the state of media freedom and public dialogue in
Some observers suggest that the media is, increasingly, the country?
filling the political vacuum left by the lack of any real policy
debate. Who is supporting the media (i.e. donors and international
civil society organisations) and how?
Most large donors in Bangladesh see the media as one
way to address the nations governance issues, and they What has been the impact of this support?
give support to the sector in the belief that a strong There were two phases of research: desk research and
and independent media will improve transparency and a series of in-depth interviews in Bangladesh and with
accountability. But there may be a disconnect between international stakeholders. Desk research collated and
donor objectives in relation to freedom of the media as synthesised existing literature to: outline the political and social
part of good governance, political leaders who may be context; document key media support interventions; and
sensitive to any criticism of their policy decisions, and review existing audience and media research in each country.
thriving commercial media outlets that already provide
Studies draw on substantial desk research and in-depth
some political commentary even if this focuses largely
interviews conducted over a period of up to nine months.
on personalities, rather than policies.
Semi-structured interviews with key media and development
The growing national media market in Bangladesh does not stakeholders gathered information on a variety of approaches
necessarily need or want direct donor support. However, to, and expectations of, media support. Interviews were
support at the local level where media outlets lack both conducted face-to-face and in-country where possible.
finance and influence may be more necessary.
The Bangladesh case study interviewed 28 representatives
The main donor-funded media initiatives that support of 19 organisations, including donors, international civil Below
public dialogue in Bangladesh are: society organisations, local civil society organisations and An audience
media houses, as well as Government officials. The study member has
The training of journalists working in the national and has also drawn on research from the UK Department for his say at
local level media Bangladesh
International Development (DFID), Kings College, USAID
The creation of TV and/or radio programmes with and BBC Media Action. Sanglap
specific public dialogue / good governance objectives (Dialogue), a
This study does not claim to be a comprehensive media TV question
The establishment of on- and off-line fora to support mapping, but is a snapshot focused on the main national and answer
public dialogue from the village to the capital media outlets in Bangladesh. debate show.
Support for associated human rights / anti-corruption
organisations whose reports and statements are often
picked up by the media
There are signs that the tradition of policy decisions being
made by the administration without reference to the
people, and then passed downwards for implementation, is
starting to change. But some interviewed for this study are

concerned that few decision-makers are really interested

in policy dialogue with the public.
Donor support for such public dialogue via the media
may have long-term goals but is hampered by short-
term projects lasting only a few years. Changing the
socio-political culture of a nation is difficult, and cannot
be achieved by donors with short time-frames and short
institutional memories.

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Bangladesh is one of the
most densely populated
countries in the world.

The country context

Since Liberation from Pakistan in 1971, Bangladesh has per year since 1996 despite political instability, poor
been ruled by either the Awami League or the Bangladesh infrastructure, corruption, insufficient power supplies,
Nationalist Party (BNP), with interventions by the army and slow implementation of economic reforms.2 And
in 1975, 1982-1990 and 2007. The ideological differences Bangladesh has made strides on poverty (down from 40
between the two political parties are insignificant, but the per cent of the population in 2005 to 31.5 per cent in 20103)
animosity between their leaders is something of a tradition and on illiteracy particularly among girls and women.4
that colours the media landscape.
Bangladesh is ethnically and linguistically homogenous, with
According to the CiA Factbook, the ethnic Bengalis making up 98 per cent of the population.5
economy has grown by 5 to 6 per cent About 90 per cent of the population is Sunni Muslim,
and there are small Shia, Hindu, Christian, Buddhist
Bangladesh demographics and Ahmadiya Muslim minorities. Until 1988,
when islam became the state religion, the four
Population 161,083,804 (July 2012 est.) pillars of the countrys (1972) Constitution were
nationalism, democracy, secularism and socialism.
Bengali 98%, other 2% Traditionally most Bangladeshis have defined
Ethnic groups
(includes tribal groups, non-Bengali themselves as Bengalis first and Muslims second.
Muslims) (1998) This is still the case, but islamic fundamentalism has
become a more significant force over the past 20 years.
Religions Muslim 89.5%, Hindu 9.6%, other 0.9% (2004)
The country is crowded, with a geography that has
a massive impact on its population. With a total land
Languages Bangla (official, also known as Bengali), English area of only around 144,000 square kilometres6 and a
population of more than 160 million, Bangladesh is one
Total population: 47.9% of the most densely populated countries in the world.7
Literacy Male: 54% Three quarters of the country lies less than 10 metres
above sea level, and 80 per cent lies within the flood
Female: 41.4% (2001 census) plains of the vast Jamuna-Brahmaputra and Padma-Ganges
Urbanisation rivers, exposing the population particularly the poorest
Urban population: 28% of total population (2010)
who live on marginal lands to flood risk. Yet it is this
Rate of urbanisation: 3.1% annual rate of change very geography that also makes Bangladesh one of the
(2010-15 est.) most fertile countries in the world, and 45 per cent of
Source: CiA World Factbook 1 Bangladeshis are employed in the agriculture sector, with
rice as the single most important product.8


The media context

The media in Bangladesh is diverse, competitive, into shopping malls and media, publishes the vernacular
commercial and profitable. This is a boom time, with dailies Kaler Kantho and Bangladesh Protidin, the English
most media outlets making money and wielding some daily The Daily Sun, and the online (not
political influence in an expanding market. With the advent to be confused with
of popular, independent, commercial satellite TV in the
past ten years, as well as better communication, higher
Shahidul Alam, founder of the Occasional daring,
internationally respected Drik social
literacy rates and mass audiences (the daily Prothom Alo
advocacy media group, argues that, frequent self-censorship
had more than five million readers in March-April 20119),
the potential for the media to wield political influence over
The mainstream media outlets wont and a reliance on safe,
cover Telecoms companies in negative
its audiences has grown.
ways as that is their main source of mass appeal formats,
How does the media use this new-found commercial revenue.13
strength and political influence to engage with those rather than in-depth
Similarly diverging perspectives apply
audiences on key issues? How does it navigate continuing
to the broadcast sector. While there coverage and debate.
continues to be near universal access
The picture that emerges from this study is of a mixture to radio across the country, listenership is declining as
of occasional risk-taking, frequent self-censorship and a access to television increases. Indeed, TV has become
reliance on safe, mass appeal formats, rather than in-depth the dominant form of mass communication over the past
coverage and debate. decade. In 2011, according to the A.C. Nielsen National
Media and Demographic Survey, 74 per cent of the
Interviews and research for this paper also revealed
population had access to TV.14 The same survey suggests
disparities between media freedom at national and local
that radio listening had declined to only 16 per cent of the Below
level, with most respondents seeing the national media as
population by 2011. While the state-owned broadcasters A man reads a newspaper
powerful enough to be outspoken on some issues. At local
retain the largest audience share through their monopoly in front of a mosque in
level, however, the media can face threats, intimidation
on terrestrial TV (BTV) and on national FM and AM radio Chittagong.
and worse.

Who owns and runs the media?

Bangladesh has a tradition of diverse and independent
newspapers run by owner-editors who have influenced
politics since the countrys liberation from Pakistan in
1971. Over the past decade, however, large privately
owned Bangladeshi corporations have moved into the
media market, and most of the national media is now
owned by one of the seven biggest corporate groups in
the country.10 Several of these are large buyers of media
advertising, eager to reach an attractive advertising market:
the countrys burgeoning middle class.11
Some argue that stiff competition keeps their political
preferences in check, and that the need to build and maintain
market share provides a strong incentive to report events
honestly and professionally. Manzoor Hasan, Advisor to
the Institute of Governance Studies at BRAC University,
says: The media in general plays a very important role
as a watchdog in Bangladesh, raising issues and protecting
individuals and causes. Its prominent in promoting good
governance and, despite [political] partiality, theres a
consensus among the media on key issues.12
Critics argue that the media has become increasingly
corporatised, and owned by companies with roots in
more traditional businesses (real estate, pharmaceuticals,
shopping malls, garments, banking, and so on).The
Transcom group, for example, with interests in electronics,
Chris Stowers/Panos

mobile phones, pharmaceuticals, food and beverages,

publishes the highest circulated Bangla daily Prothom Alo
and the leading English daily The Daily Star, and owns
the FM radio channel ABC Radio. Leading real estate
company, the Bashundhara Group, which has diversified

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broadcasting (Bangladesh Betar), audiences are dwindling

as private commercial, terrestrial and satellite channels
Guaranteed media freedom?
spring up, satellite dishes (long available in the cities) Yes and no
become more available in rural areas, and as private FM
radio stations set up linked networks, such as Radio Foorti One way to interpret the apparently contradictory
and Radio Today that have, since 2006, set up relay stations nature of governmental approaches to media freedom
in Bangladesh may be to say that politics often trumps
and studios in the main provincial cities.15
freedom of the press.
As they manoeuvre to capture the lucrative advertising
Freedom House, in its 2011 report on Bangladesh, ranks
market, worth a reported Taka 1,000 crore ($122
the country as, partly free.21 Reporters without Borders,
million) represented by this level of access to TV,16 media
meanwhile, ranks the country as 126th out of 178 countries
corporations want to be seen as purveyors of reliable and
in terms of media freedom (2010), stating that, Although
objective information by an increasingly media-savvy public.
the Constitution guarantees media freedom, a series of
Some of those interviewed for this study suggest that draconian laws enable the government to control the
objectivity sells better than bias so news stories need media.22
to be covered professionally regardless of
Media corporations their impact on the image of a particular
While there has been a trend towards media freedom
since Liberation in 1972, media restrictions have increased
want to be seen as business interest or political party. In
the words of Transparency International
under military rule, with most independent newspaper
editors spending time in jail under one government or
purveyors of reliable and Bangladeshs Director of Outreach and
another between 1972 and 2008. The days of throwing
Communications, Rezwan-ul-Alam,
objective information by Even pro-Awami League journalists
editors in jail may be over, but media outlets can still be
shut down by incumbent governments that exploit a highly
have to cater to what people want to
an increasingly media- hear, most recently about an allegedly
politicised judicial process.
savvy public. corrupt Minister taking a large bribe to Despite constitutional guarantees of press freedom, media
award a massive bridge-building contract houses still face restrictions while individual journalists
to a particular company.17 can suffer personal and repeated harassment from the
authorities, police, and the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB),
Others, however, argue that television is subject to the
the countrys secretive para-military police force.23
same commercial and political pressures as print. In terms
of international broadcasters, popular Indian TV channels National media outlets are often targeted by incoming
(mostly entertainment) have, some say, established a governments that perceive political bias in their reporting,
cultural hegemony.18 Broadcasters such as the BBC, exploiting what many see as an increasingly politicised
Al-Jazeera, and CNN have a following among an urban judiciary to close down or restrict the power of media
English-speaking middle class. The same goes for radio, houses seen as pro-opposition.24 Journalists who make
with the continuing popularity of the BBC World Services themselves unpopular with the authorities can have their
Bangla programmes. The BBC is, in general, a trusted press accreditation withdrawn and, according to some of
source for news on Bangladesh. our interviewees, television and radio licences tend to be
issued to those sympathetic to the government of the day.
The programme Bangladesh Sanglap (Dialogue) developed
by the BBC World Service Trust (now BBC Media Action) In June 2010 the pro-opposition newspaper Amar Desh was
has had an impact: people believe that they have been closed by the current Awami League Government, and
given a platform to challenge governments in ways its Editor Mahmudur Rahman arrested. Rahman, a former
never before experienced19, and this has influenced the Governmental energy adviser and majority owner of the
Government to react to peoples wishes expressed on paper, was released nine months later. Two TV stations,
the programme. It has also created, as described by David Channel 1 and Jamuna TV, have also been taken off air by
Page in a 2007 report on talk shows and accountability the Government citing licencing issues since it came
in Bangladesh, an emulation effect: stimulating other to power in 2008.
Bangladeshi TV channels to copy the talk show format.20
Despite the challenges, the national media reports
There are, however, risks linked to the presence of regularly on what Freedom House, in its 2011 report on
foreign media (and media support) organisations: with Bangladesh, calls, Endemic corruption and criminality,
their sometimes larger budgets and salaries, they may weak rule of law, limited bureaucratic transparency,
compete with indigenous media organisations for staff, and political polarization [which] have long undermined
market share and, in some cases, funding. government accountability.25 Many editors, journalists and
TV producers and presenters say things that may upset
The authors impression is that the recent exponential
vested interests, even if it results in a jail term.
growth of TV and radio broadcasting in Bangladesh has
reduced the space available for, and indeed the desire In general, national media backed by powerful, politically-
for, foreign-based channels with the exception of Indian connected business conglomerates, and journalists based
channels based on pure entertainment. in Dhaka are less at risk than local media and journalists


Zed Nelson/Panos
who may receive threats (or worse) from local political, inclinations in the opposite direction among some elements Above
criminal and business enterprises and/or extremist of the ruling party. Daily newspaper posted
religious organisations.26 to a wall for members of
While the passage of the RTI Act is positive there is a the public to read.
Bangladesh has plenty of lively media outlets in its smaller strong counter-current of repressive behaviour, both within
towns and at district level but, as Robert Morini, Head of and outside the law, by national and local administrative,
Press and Communications at the British High Commission commercial and criminal bodies. In the words of Shahidul
explains Regional media in general feel neglected they Alam, founder and Managing Director of Drik, the multimedia
are strongly controlled by local administrations, face organisation, The law provides for a lot of freedom, but
physical threats and closure, and although they run many there has also been repeated and intense pressure to ensure
stories on corruption, for example, these are rarely picked that some TV programmes or even channels dont air.29
up or given priority by the national media.27
The Bangladesh Press Council, a statutory body fully
In the face of such challenges, as Syed Fahim Munaim, controlled by the Government, issued a Code of Conduct
CEO of Maasranga TV explains: Freedom of expression in 1993 (amended in 2002) for newspapers, news agencies
exists, but self-censorship works, especially among those and journalists but the Code has no authority over broadcast
who are pro-government. media. It highlights the basic responsibilities of the media
and journalists, but also states, that they must not, publish
The media policy landscape any news or publication detrimental to national integrity,
independence, sovereignty, the oneness of the State and
The Constitution of Bangladesh guarantees press freedom, the Constitution of Bangladesh.30
but these rights are subject to reasonable restriction.28
Libel, sedition and reporting on national security issues According to a 2009 report by the International Press
are subject to criminal prosecution, and reporters like Institute, the effectiveness of the Bangladesh Press Council
other Bangladeshi citizens can be held for up to 90 days is limited by three main elements. First, that all its members
without trial under the 1974 Special Powers Act. In 2010 are elected directly by the Government; second that it
the Government took a step forward by scrapping the covers only print media; and third that it lacks funds that
provision for courts to issue arrest warrants on journalists, should be provided by the State.31
editors, writers and publishers in defamation cases.
The February 2010 report to the World Association of
Legislative changes, such as the Right to Information Press Councils (WAPC) on the Bangladesh Press Council
Act (RTI) in 2009, seem to demonstrate Government went further, stating that the Bangladesh press Council
commitment to media freedom as guaranteed by is not independent and not free from government
the Constitution but ideas circulated in 2011 for a interference, and went on to say that, editors, journalists
restrictive new National Broadcasting Policy suggest strong and stakeholders are in process to constitute (an)

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independent press council in Bangladesh.32

Right to information
Broadcast media fall under the Bangladesh
Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (BTRC), A longstanding demand for access to information
created by the Telecommunication Act of 2001. This and recognition of the Right to Information
Government-appointed and funded body under the (RTI) was met in March 2009 with the passage
Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications has no authority of the RTI Act through Parliament.36 With a
to handle complaints or regulate broadcast content which few exemptions (state secrets for example) the
is regulated on an ad-hoc basis in the absence Act makes disclosure of information to citizens
Freedom of of a National Broadcasting Commission. The
BTRC receives support from the World Bank
mandatory for public and private offices.
expression exists, but to strengthen its capacity to effectively A Constitutional Information Commission, headed
regulate a multi-operator environment and by a Chief Information Commissioner, plays a
self-censorship works, ensure a level playing field for all operators,33 quasi-judicial role in overseeing implementation
especially among as a follow-on from a UNDP-backed project
for virtually the same purpose. In September
of the Act and resolving appeals related to
those who are pro- 2011, a document of ideas on a new National
However, even though the RTI Act was passed
Broadcasting Policy was submitted to the
government. Parliamentary Standing Committee on more than two years ago, it has had little impact to
Information. The document suggested, among date on government practices. As Manzoor Hasan,
other things: barring programmes that were derogatory Advisor to the Institute of Governance Studies
about national figures, satirised national ideology or at BRAC University explains: There is huge
criticised friendly foreign countries; forbidding any resistance to the RTI Act in the public sector, and
promotional or advertising content about non-Muslim no demand has been created from the citizens
festivals; and making it mandatory for broadcasters to air side. In fact, Ministers wouldnt be able to respond
government-approved programmes. if there were many applications.37
The reaction from the media, the urban middle-classes and More surprisingly, journalists have been slow to
foreign diplomats, was so negative, according to Robert pick up on the potential of the Act. According to
Morini, that the Government appears to have shelved Matiur Rahman, Editor of Prothom Alo, journalists
this for now.34 are unwilling to spend time trying to access
information through the Act because, as one
Hedayetullah Al Mamoon, Secretary at the Ministry
editor put it, I know nothing will happen, so why
of Information, insisted that the whole furore was a
misunderstanding, and that the Government has no bother?.38
intention to counter freedom of the press.35

The media and corruption

The JATRI website the training initiative set up with a USAID grant states, Journalists and media owners remain vulnerable to
corruption and intimidation. Media is a precarious business venture, leading to underfinanced newsrooms.39
According to the academic, Irum Shehreen Ali, however, the problem is not lack of finance for newsrooms, but lack of recognition
that there are: Four different kinds of media outlets: a) those created purely to promote and protect business interests; b) those
created to advance political ideologies; c) those created as a means of currying political favour by means of financial gains and
influence; and d) those created for journalistic purposes and to provide information. According to media observers, and even those
within the media, those in the last category are very few.40 There is also, a huge underground media that is questionably run
and funded [ ] These legally licensed but usually unavailable or un-circulated publications act as channels for corruption, money
laundering and other illegal activities.41
The problem seems to lie with the media owners and politicians, rather than with journalists themselves. And the culture of brown
envelope journalism cash payments for laudatory articles stems from owners who dont pay their journalists properly. Journalists
who take money for such articles, usually about politicians or businesses (or both), are merely conforming to the expectations of their
Journalists who refuse to play this game and there are many are at risk from political and business interests.
When business obligations and financial gain conflict with the public interest, the latter will often lose out. This is said to be
particularly true of the electronic media, driven strongly by profit. To quote Irum Shehreen Ali. Observers claim that the
electronic media is far too motivated by profit and willing to ignore its social responsibilities []. As long as media owners are
inextricably linked to the corporate and political worlds, we cannot expect media products that are independent and free from
undue influence.42


The media and public dialogue
Despite the restrictions on media and a concentrated and such, which will help the people, without opening the Above
media ownership that tends to favour the voices of the issues up to discussion.44 A mobile phone is so
powerful, the urban and the elite, Bangladesh does have a much more than a
This point is taken up by Alexious Butler, Director of phone for many.
tradition of mass political involvement and debate. This was
the Office of Democracy and Governance at USAID in
stimulated by the 1971 language movement to put Bengali
Bangladesh: The challenge with public dialogue is that
on an equal footing with Urdu as a national language and by
theres no tradition of it here, even in Parliament.45
the subsequent War of Liberation that created Bangladesh.
Driks Shahidul Alam, however, says There is a healthy
However, some commentators argue that political debate
public dialogue, but everything is divided along partisan,
in the country has moved away from this tradition to
political lines, which means that national decisions are
become increasingly divisive and polarised over the past
difficult to make and the interests of the ordinary people
20 years, reflecting the personal antagonism of the leaders
are not taken into account.46
of the two main parties (Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia),
rather than any real ideological differences. Either way, its true that discussion is very polarised. With
a few exceptions, politicians, business people and other
The ideology has gone, says the academic Dr. G.M.
decision-makers (including media owners, senior editors
Shahidul Alam, Head of the Department of Media and
and TV producers), decide what the issues and answers
Communications at the Independent University of
are. They set these before the public rather than allowing
Bangladesh, so no healthy political culture of dialogue and
or encouraging real, free-ranging discussion on issues such
debate is possible, especially as the parties dont practice
as endemic corruption, or the culture of impunity, let
democracy within the parties themselves.43
alone important policy issues such as the environment,
Others, such as media lawyer Fayaz Ahmed, see it education and health. Newspapers, often controlled by
differently; BTV [the state channel] shows what Ministers owner-editors, have tended to represent a privileged social
are doing and saying, but it doesnt share the Government elite and have rarely sought or responded to the views of
agenda clearly. It just says that there is a new policy on such the general public.

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majority of them rural farmers to set their concerns,

G. M. B. Akash/Panos

thoughts and ideas before those in power, or to react to

policy statements and decisions before, during or after
their implementation.
There are fears that the corporatisation of the media makes
it, increasingly, a business or PR tool. The sheer number of
satellite stations means that TV competition is cut-throat,
leaving less room for real programming and encouraging
an emphasis on simple PR and entertainment.
At the same time, a range of restrictive tools in the hands
of powerful vested interests, from the Government
to criminal enterprises, means according to some
commentators an increasingly managed public dialogue.
A recent UNESCO report stated, The media scene in
Bangladesh, particularly the broadcast one, is characterized
more by the number of channels than by the diversity
of content. Cross media conglomeration has created an
environment where creativity and diversity give way to
standardization and a homogenised cultural environment.
No matter which Bangladeshi TV channel one watches,
it is invariably the same programming format made of a
mix of low-quality drama serials, inane talk shows, and
partisan, inaccurate news presentations.49
Despite a number of problems, such as the quality,
transparency and balance of different media initiatives,
there are examples of the media trying to enhance public
dialogue and to deliver a different point of view. Even some
of the national corporate media giants try to engage with the
rural majority in a two-way communication process, with
Transcoms Prothom Alo and ABC Radio being two examples.
All TV channels have introduced talk shows since the BBC
World Service Trust Sanglap talk show started in 2005,
some of which have played an important role on issues
such as corruption, and there are examples of them having
Above There is an avid desire for news and information among
a positive impact on policy.
A journalist shows film Bangladeshs rural population. Yet the media, with few
footage to the villagers of exceptions, fails to connect this majority to political issues. That said, todays talk shows face much criticism. Sanglap
Dinajpur. There is a tendency to cover politics as personal conflict was popular according to Robert Morini, Because it
between individuals rather than as the management of covered and included the whole country, whereas all
policies and issues that actually have an impact on the the new talk shows are very Dhaka-centric, with the
lives of their audiences. programmes often lacking both the resources and the
will to find regional or rural voices.50
The common people, says Fayaz Ahmed, who dont
have electricity or the means to communicate with people Talk shows are so ill-informed, with little research and
outside their village, are never involved in these discussions. no real moderation, that guests can say anything, says
So theres never a real consultation in the drafting of a Asif Saleh, Director of Communications at BRAC, The
policy or a law, or in the development process. Which public isnt well-served by them.51
means that no one feels like following the laws, or paying
TV talk shows are also criticised for playing at dialogue by
their taxes, because they are not involved or included.47
inviting only pro- or anti-government guests, or for a supine
Officially, Government policy is shared and discussed with hosting style that allows particular guests to dominate.
the general population through the media and through Despite these criticisms, the Executive Editor of the Daily
public meetings and workshops at the District level. Others Star, Syed Badrul Ahsan, believes: TV is doing a fine job;
argue that this is not a dialogue but a formality; bureaucrats even if sometimes the same people are on all channels,
and MPs believe that they know what the people need at least we are discussing.52
and want better than the people themselves.48
One example of a programme that goes against the
In other words, this study suggests that little is done by overwhelmingly Dhaka-centric approach is a long-running
the media to help or allow ordinary people the vast TV show hosted by Shykh Seraj that claims to take the


debate to the farmers, report their concerns, bring them implementation, may be changing. This change seems to
news and information, and campaign on issues in their be initiated by a few individuals with a strong desire to
favour. The original programme, Mathi O Manush (Soil and help the country develop a real dialogue between people
Men), was first aired in 1980, and was hosted by Shykh and government.
Seraj for 14 years at BTV, the state broadcaster. He is now
Two of the most recent, innovative and interesting ideas are
the Director and Head of News at Channel i, where he
online initiatives, such as the Nagorik Kontho portal, where
hosts a similar programme under a different name; Hridoye
citizens and members of the administration can interact,
Mathi O Manush (The Heart of Soil and Men).
and Amader Sthaniyo Sarkar (Our Local Government), a
At budget time, says Shykh Seraj, we arrange a dialogue new TV/radio programme and a linked website where
between thousands of farmers and the Minister, in the open people can discuss the issues raised in the programmes.58
air in a number of different, remote villages. Before the
Online campaigns may have some
budget we produce a document about what the farmers
have said they want and give it to the Minister. Sometimes
impact as Internet users tend to be Change seems to be
the better-off, urban middle-class
the Government picks up these points in the budget.
who may have a more direct line initiated by a few individuals
We have also raised the issue of agricultural credit, and
crop insurance for farmers. The Government has taken up
to political parties and individual
with a strong desire to help
the latter with BRAC, and the organisation is developing
Facebook claims just under one the country develop a real
a plan. We try to bring farmers into the mainstream view,
and the programme does empower farmers.53
million Bangladeshi users, although dialogue between people
how many of those users are
The popularity of talk shows suggests that many viewers actually in Bangladesh is unclear. It and government.
are hungry for even such limited debate, regardless of its was, however, the main source of
quality (and despite the Prime Ministers complaint that information for many people during the 2009 Bangladesh
they have become tok sour).54 Asif Saleh suggests that Rifles Mutiny. According to Rezwan-ul-Alam, this was
Parliament doesnt really function, so media is the only because the Government failed to come out with any
space where the Government and the opposition interact, kind of official statement because it had no spokesperson
and where the Government has to react to criticism.55 to talk about such an issue.59
One example concerns recent allegations of corruption According to USAIDs Alexious Butler, Theres a small
in the appointment of consultants to construct the World but growing online blogging presence, but there are real
Bank (WB) funded road/rail Padma bridge which will risks for them. The Governments reaction to bloggers
cost some $2.9 billion. The reports, about a Canadian is pretty knee-jerk, and media freedom on the Internet
consulting company, surfaced in the media in October is at risk.60
2011, leading the WB to suspend funding until the outcome Some individual bloggers such as Unheardvoice are
of its own investigation and that of the Canadian police. Below
concerned specifically with governance issues, but write The Unheard Voice
The Government stalled before initiating an investigation in English and are not well-known outside a small circle.61
and announcing that it could find alternative funding. What website is one of only a
Otherwise, very little information that is specific to few blogs concerned
is striking is that every newspaper and TV channel even governance issues is carried by any of the blogs grouped with governance issues
those that are pro-Government has carried and pursued on the main blog aggregator sites.62 in Bangladesh.
the story.
Transparencys Rezwan-ul-Alam believes that talk shows
or newspapers that take up an issue have an impact;
Transparency Internationals bi-annual National Household
Survey found that corruption among the judiciary was
citizens number one complaint, and the media picked
up on this when our report was published.56
While there is no solid evidence that the media has had
a direct impact on corruption issues in Bangladesh, the
issue does receive widespread coverage. It is also true
that the country has improved its score in Transparency
Internationals Corruption Perception Index (CPI) from
2.0 in 2006 to 2.4 in 2010.57

Public dialogue goes online

There are signs that the traditional political culture, with
policy decisions made by the administration without
reference to the people and then passed down for

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Support for the media in
Bangladesh includes
boosting journalism and
production skills.

Donor responses and media support

Many donors have invested heavily in media development The key foreign donors involved in substantial, direct
in Bangladesh over the past decade. Accurate figures are media support to Bangladesh are the British Council,
almost impossible to obtain as funding is often spread the UK Department for International Development
across multiple budget lines and a number of years, but a (DFID), the European Commission, the Goethe Institute,
rough guesstimate obtained through this research suggests Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC), UNESCO,
a total media spend of just under $20 million between UNICEF and USAID. The United Nations Development
2006 and 2011. Programme (UNDP) has also been active in promoting
There has been coordination of policies and practices pilot schemes via the Internet that have gone national
between some donors in the past, when Danida hosted a under the Governments Digital Bangladesh by 2021
quarterly Media Coordination Committee, commitment.64
but this Committee has not met since
Todays bilateral about 2005. The Committee, according
Other significant donors, such as Danida, have supported
media development in the past but now focus on the
funding arrangements to Danidas Senior Programme Officer,
Mahal Aminuzzaman, acted as a think-tank
work of human rights and other organisations that play an
important advocacy role. Mahal Aminuzzaman says, The
focus on media for media interventions and provided a promotion of press freedom and media is an essential
forum to exchange ideas and experience,
programmes that further information on policies, strategies
part to the advancement of democracy and human rights.
Thus the role of mass media and journalists in improving
donor objectives around and programmes. The Committee
also coordinated support through the
the governance, human rights situation and the overall
democratisation process is evident.65
good governance. establishment of donor consortia, such
as the News Network, the Bangladesh And the media does depend on donors for support in
Centre for Development, Journalism and Communication difficult times (arrest for instance), as well as for research
(BCDJC) and the Mass-line Media Centre.63 and expertise on particular human rights, corruption and
other governance-related stories.
Todays bilateral funding arrangements focus on media
programmes that further donor objectives around good The table starting on page 13 outlines the key donor
governance identified as one of the key challenges facing policy responses to governance-related media support,
the country. There is, however, little or no research as identified by the author. It is not clear to what extent,
and monitoring and evaluation on the impact of these if at all, these policies have been based on research or
programmes. assessments of what works in Bangladesh.


Organisation Background Support

British Council In 1998 the British Council gave initial funding to Pathshala now the Pathshala Management training
South Asian Media Academy created by the Bangladeshi photo agency Drik. The skills
Academy is now supported by Drik and The Goethe-Institut. The Council contributed
management training skills and helped explore the role of the media in good governance.
The Academy now identifies and trains promising media professionals on production
and ethical standards, building on Driks experience of training photographers to
engage, inform and empower the public. Fundamentally, says the website, Ours is a
civic mission: laying the groundwork for a more just and equitable society.

Danish Convened the quarterly Media Coordination Committee until 2005. Today, Danish No direct media
International support strengthens the ability of the Government and civil society to target and assistance, but support
Development deliver advocacy on human rights and good governance. While it no longer provides for government and
Agency direct media assistance, Danida does support media via its backing of linked civil society civil society organisations
(Danida) organisations. on advocacy

UK Department In 2009-10, DFIDs contribution of almost 7.5 million ($12 million) included support Support for
for International to the Bangladesh branch of Transparency International, which works with civil Transparency
Development society groups to increase the demand for political change, and to the BBC discussion International (and
(DFID) programme, Sanglap.66 formerly for the
programme Sanglap)
Dr Hossain, from the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, is
to raise the profile of
reported by the 2009 International Development Committee as saying: DFID
governance issues
support to civil society has, with considerable success, supported raising the profile
of governance issues within the public debate in Bangladesh. Issues of corruption and
public accountability across the public sectors are now widely and routinely scrutinised
in the media and public discourse.67

European The Commissions second priority in Bangladesh for 2007-13 is good governance and Training on economic,
Commission human rights, with a budget of Euro 130 million. In 2007, the EC funded the Economic trade and business
Journalists Network through the Centre for Communication and Development to pay reporting to forge
the Thomson Foundation to bring journalists to the UK for training to: good relations
enhance skills and quality of specialised economic, trade and business reporting between the
business and media
establish good relations between business institutions and individuals, and local media communities
owners and journalists.68

Goethe Institut The cultural institute of the Federal Republic of Germany promotes knowledge of the Funding for the
German language and fosters international cultural cooperation, but has also given Pathshala South Asian
support to the Pathshala South Asian Media Academy. Media Academy

Swiss SDC budgeted CHF 24.1 million ($25.3 million) for 2011 in Bangladesh, and focuses on Funding for a range
Development the two thematic areas: employment and income generation, and local governance. of media projects
Cooperation related to governance,
SDC supports the following media projects related to governance:
(SDC) including networks for
The Citizens Voice for Improved Local Public Services project which, with media professionals,
CHF1.52 million ($1.6 million) engages local/national newspapers, TV and radio partnerships with
stations and, importantly, national press institutes, journalist bodies and press clubs Transparency
to establish an overarching media network. It links to the Governments new International and
Information Commission the World Bank, and
Transparency International (Bangladesh), to improve awareness of corruption, support for Amader
contributing CHF5 million ($5.25 million) as part of a consortium of donors Sthaniyo Sarkar
The Policy Reform on Local Governance (PROLOG) project, jointly with the World
Bank, contributing CHF4.05 million ($4.25 million) to expand the scope of the national
dialogue on local governance, inform citizens and improve local governance capacities
The new Amader Sthaniyo Sarkar project, which showcases local government best
practices in Bangladesh on radio, TV and through an interactive website.

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Organisation Background Support

United Nations UNDP has been instrumental in setting up an online, interactive access to information Online interactive
Development project. access to information
With a grant of $416,000, its Access to Information project at the Prime Ministers
Office spearheaded the introduction of e-enabled services and the creation of
decentralised service delivery points across the country. This contributes to stronger
local governance through greater participatory planning and implementation, and the
improvement of the management and accountability of services.

United Nations UNESCO has focused on three broad areas: media capacity building, aiding the Media capacity
Educational, establishment of media-friendly laws, and facilitating equitable access to information building, establishment
Scientific and knowledge.69 The agency has organised seminars and meetings to discuss of media-friendly laws,
and Cultural broadcasting policy and, in July 2009, worked with the Centre for Development facilitating equitable
Organization Communication (CDC) to establish the Media Nagorik Forum (MNF). The forum holds access to information
(UNESCO) meetings where media consumers voice their feelings about media-related topics. It and knowledge
has produced books in Bangla and in English to improve journalists knowledge and
professional standards.
UNESCO has also supported the establishment of the first community radios in
Bangladesh, as well as training for their staff. It created a journalism award programme,
in partnership with the Bangladesh Centre for Development Journalism and
Communication (BCDJC), which recognises professional, high quality investigative

United Nations UNICEF focuses on the ethical reporting on children, the training of journalists and the Reporting childrens
Childrens Fund creation of links with media establishments to improve the way in which children and issues ethically
(UNICEF) childrens issues are reported.

US Agency for Through its four year, $18.2 million Promoting Governance, Accountability, Strengthening
International Transparency and Integrity (PROGATI) Programme (2007-11) USAID (Bangladesh) institutions to address
Development aimed to address the root causes of corruption and improve the lives of Bangladeshis corruption and
(USAID) by strengthening selected democratic institutions including the media to make them increase accountability
more responsive to citizens needs.
One component of PROGATI aimed to promote the principles of accountability,
transparency, and responsiveness by strengthening the media to serve as an effective
public watchdog.
The programme established a media centre for investigative reporting to increase the
medias capacity to report on transparency and corruption issues and advocate for legal
reform and freedom of information laws.

Reliance on donor support While commercial radio seems, in general, to be financially

successful, the new community radio stations are likely
The mainstream media outlets in Bangladesh are profitable to need donor or other support for some time to come.
businesses. National newspapers and TV channels receive There are few, if any, models of sustainable, independent
(and need) little or no support from foreign donors, apart community radio stations in Bangladesh.
from occasional training for a few individual journalists.
While some of those interviewed said that training,
Online newspapers are a different matter, as the business particularly for younger journalists, was essential,
model is less secure. Touffique Khalidi, Editor in Chief several other media leaders saw no need for donor
of, the most successful and widely read intervention in this area. They argued that the
online newspaper and, he claims, the number one website mainstream TV and press are profitable enough to pay
in Bangladesh, says that he is struggling to keep the site for such training themselves. Regional and local media,
alive. He is seeking support only for technical web-design however, face more financial constraints, and some
and management skills, but has received no donor support donors have directed their training support efforts to
of any kind.70 this level.


Others, such as Driks Shahidul Alam, argued that donors
could speak out much more strongly in favour of media Management and Resources Development Initiative (MRDI)
freedom when individual journalists or media outlets are
attacked, or under threat.71 MRDI develops a media training programme only after having undertaken
a content analysis of a media organisations output on a specific issue.
After the training, MRDI repeats the content analysis to establish
Types of donor support whether or not the training has had the desired impact. One example of
The broad range of donor support to media in terms of this is their UNICEF-backed, three-month study on the ethical reporting
public dialogue is focused mostly on journalists and media of childrens issues in the Bangladeshi media. The study used a five-step
productions, on giving the public a bigger voice to engage methodology:
government, and more indirectly on organisations that 1. Literature survey: Surveyed literature on journalism ethics and its
support the media in one way or another. concerns for children/child-rights.
On the other hand, there is little evidence from this case 2. Content analysis: Monitored and analysed the contents of selected
study of research that addresses directly the horizontal newspapers and television channels over the three months prior to the
links and communication processes between government, commencement of the study.
media, [and] civil society and the public or attempts to
improve them. Nor are there any apparent initiatives that 3. Questionnaire survey: Conducted questionnaire surveys among
attempt to reach media owners or senior managers or to reporters and gatekeepers of selected news media.
work with them on, for example, issues of responsibility 4. Focus group discussions (FGDs): Conducted three FGDs with news
and media ethics. media gatekeepers and with representative groups of children.
The main donors provide, in general, four types of support: 5. The draft report was shared with 40 stakeholders representing
Training schemes for different types of journalists and leading newspapers and TV channels, NGOs and UN bodies working
media managers in Dhaka and the regions, from news with children, and relevant Government ministries/departments. The
reporters to diplomatic, business and investigative report was only finalised after incorporating their suggestions and
journalists advice.
The development of innovative online and offline
approaches to getting the general public involved in deterred other donors now that the initial building phase
policy dialogues, encouraging the Government to is complete.
establish a broadcasting policy, and giving citizens
the tools to speak directly to the administration at Drik, which is a company rather than an NGO, on the other
all levels hand, has set up its own journalism training programme
specifically for rural journalists using iPod touch and other
Specific broadcast media products, such as Sanglap new media tools. Working in partnership with other
and Amader Sthaniyo Sarkar; programmes that are organisations, Driks Managing Director, Shahidul Alam,
designed to widen the publics ability to debate says that they want to avoid expensive corporate solutions
and involve itself in policy and decision-making, to journalism training.74
and guidebooks and studies such as UNESCOs
translation of an election reporting handbook Others, such as Hasibur Rahman Mukur, Executive Director
of the Management and Resources Development Initiative
Parallel support for the work of human rights and (MRDI), argue that much of the media in Bangladesh is
anti-corruption organisations that are at the forefront rich and successful enough to pay for its own training.75
of establishing legal mechanisms, such as the RTI Act, But the PROGATI programme has supported the training
and that represent a last line of defence against both of producers, technicians and managers from poorly-
politically motivated assaults, arrests, imprisonment resourced community radios prior to the opening of 14
and disappearance of individual journalists, and/or the community radio stations the first in Bangladesh in
arbitrary closure of media outlets. 2011-12. Two are broadcasting already: Radio Lokobetar
in Barisal division and Radio Padma in Rajshahi, with the
Training others expected shortly.
One of the interventions made by USAIDs PROGATI
programme was the establishment of the Journalism In 2010 Transparency International (Bangladesh) (TIB)
and the University of Dhakas Department of Mass
Training and Research Initiative (JATRI).72 Designed to focus
Communication and Journalism, jointly organised a five
on the training of investigative and other journalists, the
year anti-corruption training programme at the Bangladesh
initiative has now been taken over by BRAC Universitys
Academy for Rural Development (BARD) in Comilla for
Institute of Governance Studies (IGS). This was, reportedly,
journalists working outside Dhaka, with $20 million
always the long-term plan and, according to USAIDs
provided by DFID, Sida, Danida and SDC.
Alexious Butler, the IGS has applied for a grant from
USAID to work on RTI issues.73 However, difficulties in So far, according to Rezwan-ul-Alam of TIB, 120 journalists
the early management (pre-IGS) of the initiative may have working in both print and electronic media have participated

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in training that aims to develop their professional skills and Online and offline fora
inspire them to write investigative reports on corruption
and governance issues.76 In September 2011, the Swiss Agency for Development and
Cooperation (SDC), launched an interactive web portal
Linked to this, and to encourage investigative reporting for the television talk show Amader Sthaniyo Sarkar (Our
on corruption, TIB launched an investigative journalism Local Government). The website is an interactive platform
award in 1999. Two awards are given each year for the where elected local Government representatives, officials,
best investigative reports published in print and electronic academics, practitioners, NGOs and the wider population
media, with a special category of award for journalists of Bangladesh can share ideas, opinions and views regarding
from local newspapers.77 the talk show itself and local government issues in general.79
The Pathshala South Asian Media Academy was founded Another example was the construction in 2007 of two
in March 2010 as an extension of the Drik photo agencys community-based e-centres at the union parishad (UP)
Pathshala South Asian Institute of Photography. The level (the lowest administrative level in the country), to
Below Media Academy is supported at present by Drik and test the introduction of IT.80 This was financed by UNDP.
Question and answer the Goethe-Institut (Bangladesh). The Academy offers
style debates have four free-standing modules; photography, videography, Three years later, e-centres, re-named Union Information
become a popular multimedia, and broadcast, with media ethics and and Service Centres (UISCs), had been inaugurated in
format in the country. journalistic rigour as core competencies.78 each one of the countrys 4,498 UPs. In October 2011


they were reported to be functioning in about 60 per
cent of the UPs, according to Fayez Ahmed.81 UISCs Nagorik Kontho (Citizens Voice)
have also been built at the higher, Upazilla and District
level, and were inaugurated by the Prime Minister in
November 2011.
In principle, the UISCs provide both online and offline
information services such as government forms,
information about agriculture, health, education, law,
human rights, employment and marketing, as well as
allowing direct communication between Ministers and
local administrations. As the Prime Minister said at the
2011 inauguration, We set [the] objective of building
a Digital Bangladesh by the year 2021 in our election
manifesto. We have advanced one step towards that goal
through opening district e-service centres and UISCs.82
Each UISC is run by a local committee headed by the
UP chairman, with members including teachers, doctors,
farmers, students, women, government and non-
government field workers and UP members. The UISC
model, however, builds on the concept of Public Private
Partnerships (PPP), rather than donation-dependant
models. By November 2010, 9,000 young entrepreneurs Although government agencies in Bangladesh Above
had been trained to work in the UISCs.83 have developed Citizens Charters to provide The Nagorik Kontho
service information and deliverables to citizens, website is a pilot
The project is still at a very initial phase and faces such project to encourage
few people are aware of or understand them.
challenges as low bandwidth, intermittent electric supplies, citizens to be more
Nagorik Kontho aims to bridge that gap so that
and a lack of real bureaucratic commitment. But, as Fayaz aware of their rights.
problems can be resolved in a more open and
Ahmed points out, The project is driven by individuals
transparent way, and so that citizens become more
within UNDP and the Prime Ministers office who
aware of their rights.
are committed to the idea that people have a right to
participate in decision-making.84 This pilot project allows citizens to upload text
(SMS or email), video or voice messages/news and
Another similar project, started in three Divisions in 2010,
complaints about local public services such as
is the open web portal Nagorik Kontho (Citizens Voice).85
health-care, education, power, or roads, or issues such
as the environment, human rights, and agriculture.
TV/radio programmes The idea is that by sharing their observations,
In general, donors seem to feel that TV could be a more experiences and views in public they are more likely
effective medium for public dialogue, but that it is difficult to get a reaction from the local administration or,
to intervene in such a competitive and commercially if nothing happens, from higher administrative
successful field. Donors have, however, provided some levels.
support for specific programmes.
Its target audiences are:
For example, the BBC World Service Trusts flagship talk
show programme, Sanglap, which ran from 2005 to 2010, Public service providers (municipalities, Upazillas,
was hugely popular. In 2008 the Trust commissioned a Directorates, local government offices, hospitals,
report on the role and effectiveness of Sanglap and etc.)
other political talk shows in promoting accountability in Journalists and media (local and national level)
Clients of the specific services (citizens and
Briefly, the report found that Sanglap Is making a communities, civil society organisations,
distinctive and valuable contribution to the political process youth groups, cultural organisations, academics,
in Bangladesh, and that, It is believed to have broken the etc.)
stereotype of political talk shows and set new standards
by which they can be judged.87 While responses to date are reported to be slow,
the complaints are monitored so that if a particular
Since Sanglap started broadcasting, all other TV channels situation improves or stays the same, then that
have begun broadcasting at least one talk show a week. information can also be uploaded. If the pilot
But, according to Manzoor Hasan, The impact of demonstrates that such a web portal can have an
public dialogue through talk shows on policy-makers is impact then the idea will be taken nationwide.
insignificant. Less than ten per cent of recommendations

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Above are taken note of by the Government. Discussions do give such organisations a stronger voice with which to
So who wants to ask a take place but the Government thinks that talk shows speak to the media on issues, ranging from corruption
question? No sign of the are only negative.88 and transparency to backing the RTI.
audience holding back
on Bangladesh Sanglap. A slightly different approach is taken by a new TV In its turn, the media does cover what some of what
programme supported by SDC: Amader Sthaniyo Sarkar. these organisations are saying. Transparency International
The programme highlights examples of good governance, Bangladesh (TIB), for instance, is one of the most heavily
and is broadcast by Boishaki TV once a week, then foreign-funded organisations in the country, according to
re-versioned for radio and re-broadcast by ABC Radio Rezwan-ul-Alam, and probably has more presence in the
two days later.89 At present it is still too early to say what, if media than any other NGO.90
any, impact the show will have, but three programmes (as
TIB is only the leading anti-corruption organisation of
of November 2011) had covered important governance
several in the country, but it does receive massive support
from DFID, Sida, SDC and, in particular, Danida, for a five
The role of local government in disaster management year programme that includes the training of journalists
The political economy of local government in anti-corruption issues, a survey on the RTI, and the
creation of a media fellowship.
Upazilla long term planning.
It has not been possible, within the remit of this research,
Parallel support to establish whether donors see human rights and anti-
corruption support as a direct corollary of support to good
Human rights and anti-corruption organisations have
governance and public dialogue, or whether they see it as
been at the forefront of establishing legal mechanisms
something separate.
such as the RTI Act in Bangladesh. They
One method they also often represent a strong line of
Amader Sthaniyo Sarkar
defence against politically motivated
seem to have hit on is to assaults, arrests, imprisonment and the
disappearance of individual journalists, In 2011, a TV talk show with overt good
support and strengthen as well as the arbitrary closure of media governance objectives began airing on Boishakhi TV.
Supported by the Swiss Agency for Development
anti-corruption and rights outlets.
and Cooperation (SDC), Amader Sthaniyo Sarkar
organisations. As donors struggle to find ways to break
the traditional, hierarchical approach to
(Our Local Government)showcases and
highlights local government best practices in
governance, and to help establish real, two-way dialogue Bangladesh and is expected to generate new ideas,
between citizens and the administration, one method raise public awareness and provide policy inputs to
they seem to have hit on is to support and strengthen local governance issues.
anti-corruption and rights organisations. The aim is to


Research on donor support to the media

Annual A.C.Nielsen Media and Democracy in Bangladesh and so on through specialised trainings. And by focusing on
surveys capture changing trends in media habits and local, regional journalists and media outlets, including local
consumption patterns nationwide. newspapers and community radios, some donors, such as
USAID hope to both strengthen them in conflicts with local
There is also a mass of academic and commercial research
and state actors, and to boost local voices in any national
on media and communication in Bangladesh. These tend to
policy dialogue.93
concentrate on issues of media freedom, or lack of it, and on
TV and on mobile networks and provision the two fastest The third way is to back e-projects and specific radio or
growing forms of media, where information is often out of TV programmes designed to enable a more
date almost as soon as it is published. There is, however, inclusive public dialogue. Apart from Sanglap,
very little public information on the impact of different media which stopped broadcasting in 2010, these The increasing
support initiatives with a governance perspective. are too young to have had any significant corporatisation of the
impact as yet.
The BBC World Service Trusts 2008 report by David Page,
Political Talk Shows & Accountability in Bangladesh, specifically
media gives a new
Limitations on media support
addresses the relationship between the BBCs flagship talk twist to questions
show programme Sanglap and competing talk shows on There are a number of challenges to
other channels, and looks at related improvements in the successful interventions in the media in terms about objectivity and
of good governance in Bangladesh:
public discourse on policy and developmental issues.91
Others, with direct or indirect donor support, have looked Corruption: a major concern in terms of
at various issues, including: the link between media and any kind of direct, large-scale media support project,
the emergence of democracy; NGO-media interaction; particularly if it involves significant capital expenditure
governance and the media; Grameens village phone Broadening policy dialogue by any means depends
programme; anti-corruption interventions, and so on. on some level of honest, on-going commitment from
officials at all levels, which is not always there
Key findings The daily harassment and danger experienced by local
Donors are preoccupied with governance (identified as and regional media outlets and journalists in reporting
one of the main areas in which Bangladesh fails its people) controversial subjects is greater than that faced by
and, therefore, with media as a major support to good editors of national media owned by powerful and wealthy
governance and transparency. However, the quality of corporations (though even they are not immune)
the media depends on the quality of ownership, and the The owners and editors of much of the media drive
increasing corporatisation of the media gives a new twist the idea of politics-as-personality, rather than the
to questions about objectivity and balance. concept of issue-based politics
Editors (press or broadcast) are not always free to
Different opinions about the role of the media print or say what they know should be said, deriving
Given the binary nature of Bangladeshi politics, the media their editorial policies from the commercial interests
tends to cleave down the fault line between the Awami and corporate demands of their owners
League and BNP political parties. As Danidas Senior
Programme Officer, Mahal Aminuzzaman says, There are Editors rarely buy-in to training programmes, even
if they are free of charge. Rather than spare senior
vested interests in the media too, and sometimes the media
journalists, for whom a particular training may be
isnt clear about what its role should be.92
designed, they send cub reporters, or administrative
This party-political division of the media also means that staff with no journalism experience at all
the media often fails to give space to marginalised voices,
There is no formal collaboration among multilateral
especially those of the poor majority who live outside the
agencies (the World Health Organization and other
main urban centres. And while media freedom may be a
UN agencies, the World Bank, etc.) and bi-lateral
goal for donors it is not, in general, seen in a positive light
donors, and the old Danida-led Media Coordination
by Government leaders who tend to take any criticism of
Committee, which included media development
policy decisions as personal insults.
partners (except the BBC World Service Trust), hasnt
This, in turn, means that individual journalists and the media met since Danida reduced its involvement in direct
as a whole can be subject to the whims of powerful members media support projects.
of the administration, army, police and Government. While Shahidul Alam of Drik insists that while donor support to
freedom of the press is guaranteed constitutionally, the media is necessary, donors need to be more open and
reality is one of constant censorship, threats, intimidation transparent about their decision-making processes. They
and even the deaths of journalists. should, he says, create and foster real partnerships rather
Another strategy is to strengthen different aspects of national than simply paying lip-service to the term while actually
and regional journalism and reporting anti-corruption making every decision themselves and using their partners
reporting, human rights reporting, investigative reporting as little more than contracted service deliverers.94

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Where do we go from here?

As in the UK, some Bangladeshi corporations that own be equally important to strengthen their links with, and
multiple media outlets are so powerful and ruthless that understanding of, the media.
it has become politically risky (or even physically risky, in
Collaboration between donors on approaches to media
the case of Bangladesh) to oppose them or their actions.
support and public dialogue is essential for any long term,
What is more, the political and economic interests of their
realistic vision to take root and grow.
other concerns leak inevitably into the approach taken
by their media outlets. The twin issues of cross media
ownership and of concentrated corporate ownership of Recognising the role of new
the media need to be addressed communications technology
Establishing the principle so that a few companies do not
Relatively few donors seem to take note of the increasing
become totally dominant.
among the political class importance of digital media and communication technology
The same can be said of the SMS, blogs, portals, etc. Given the near 100 per cent
(including editors and others) Government and administration. penetration rate of mobile phones in a population of
Those who systematically oppose
that ordinary people have a the government of the day, let
155 million people, and the speed with which the field
is developing, it would be wise to plan interventions and
right and need to be alone the army and police, will support in this area of communications alongside more
almost certainly face legal and traditional approaches. At the same time, there is already
consulted on policy decisions extra-legal difficulties. This needs a need for assistance in the technical development of highly
to be addressed, as it represents
would be a big step in the a significant barrier to real public
interactive websites and portals. Even the most popular
website in Bangladesh is desperate
right direction. dialogue. for help in this area (we can do everything else, says
The media, civil society and the Touffique Khalidi95).
Government all have important roles to play in maintaining
a healthy and stable society, but there is little willingness The importance of monitoring and
to understand that they are mutually, rather than solely,
responsible. Each tends to interpret their own role as the
only important one and views the others as enemies. Finally, it is necessary to allow, and even encourage, a
much higher percentage of expenditure on monitoring
Establishing the principle among the political class (including and evaluation, to allow media and public dialogue projects
editors and others) that ordinary people have a right and and programmes to establish real baseline data, and to
need to be consulted on policy decisions would be a big measure change against highly detailed and accurate media
step in the right direction. consumption and other data.
While external donors need to be realistic about their
potential impact on these domestic challenges, the
research carried out for this study suggests that they
should consider the following approaches.

Taking a long term view

JATRI, the investigative reporting training centre set up
by USAID, is a good example of an agency that takes a
long term view, but fails to back it up with either long
term money or a real sustainability plan five years is
insufficient to address any of the systemic problems
of journalism in the country. Establishing a sustainable
journalism training centre, rather than one that depends
on enormous amounts of foreign funding, would be a
very positive move.

Shifting the focus of support


More support could be given to more independent

production studios, local media and organisations, such as
Right Drik and the Pathshala South Asian Media Academy. What
The use of SMS and the form that support takes should depend more on the needs
exchange of pictures is of these organisations than the ambitions of the donors.
another boom area for Similarly, while it is important to strengthen independent
mobile telephony. anti-corruption and human rights organisations, it may



CIA World Factbook: 22
Reporters without Borders.
publications/the-world-factbook/geos/bg.html. news/EU/2006/October/ej_net_nil_06.html.
Accessed on 12 July, 2012 Accessed on 30 January 2012
Ibid. 23
World Bank. Poverty in Numbers: 24
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. 8 April 2011. 2010 Human Rights Report: Bangladesh.
N/0,,contentMDK:22977793~pagePK:141137~piPK: 25
Freedom House, op. cit.
Accessed on 4 April 2012
Anand Kumar. South Asia Analysis Group. 28 November
2005. Islamists Threaten to Cripple Bangladesh State
UNESCO Institute of Statistics. National Adult (15+) with Suicide Terrorism. http://www.southasiaanalysis.
Literacy Rates. org/%5Cpapers17%5Cpaper1629.html, The JMB on
TableViewer/tableView.aspx?ReportId=210 . November 21 [2005] announced its intentions to blow
Accessed on 4 April 2012 up the Tangail Press Club .and threatened to kill
CIA Factbook, op. cit. journalists in Tangail. Accessed on 28 November
Ibid. 2011
UNData, United Nations Statistics Division. 2012:
Interview, 10 October 2011 28
Constitution of the Peoples Republic of
Bangladesh. Accessed on 4 April 2012 Bangladesh. 2004. Part III Fundamental Freedoms,
CIA Factbook, op. cit. para. 36
A.C. Nielsen, National Media & Demographic Survey,
Interview, op. cit.
2011 30
Bangladesh Press Council. Code of Conduct 1993
Ibid. (amended 2002). Para 2
Bettina Wassener, In An Unlikely Corner of Asia, Strong
International Press Institute. June 2009. The Media
Promise of Growth. New York Times. 23 April 2012 Environment in Bangladesh
Interview, October 2011 32
Bangladesh Press Council, Bangladesh Press Councils
Skype interview, 8 February 2012 2009 Activities Report. Presentation to the World
Association of Press Councils, 5 February 2010
A.C. Nielsen, op. cit. 33
BTRC website:
Infoasaid, Bangladesh Media & Telecoms Landscape php?option=com_content&view=article&id=120&It
Guide. 2012 emid=824. Accessed on 23 February 2012
Interview. Rezwan-ul-Alam, Director Outreach & 34
Interview, op. cit.
Communication, Transparency International
Bangladesh. Dhaka. 10 October 2011
Interview, 16 October 2011
The Right to Information (RTI) Act in Bangladesh was
passed on March 29, 2009
Zeenat Huda Wahid (undated). Emergence of Satellite
Television and Enigmatic Geo-Political Strategy of
Interview, op. cit.
Bangladesh Government 38
Interview, 16 October 2011
David Prosser, We didnt know people like me could 39
Journalism Training and Research Initiative:
ask questions like this: a dialogue in Bangladesh,
Governance Reform Under Real World Conditions, Accessed on 23 February 2012
Sina Ogdubemi and Thomas Jacobson (Eds.), World 40
Irum Shehreen Ali, Governance and the Media, CGS
Bank, 2008 Working Paper CGS WP3. Centre for Governance
David Page, BBC Media Action, Good Practice Note: Studies, BRAC University, December 2006
Participation, Accountability and Transparency: 41
Making media work for governance in Bangladesh, 42
Freedom House, report on freedom of the press in
Interview, 14 October 2011
Interview, 15 October 2011
freedom-world/2011/bangladesh. Accessed on 12 45
Interview, 17 October 2011
July 2012. In the system used by Freedom House to 46
Skype interview, op. cit.
chart political rights (PR) and civil liberties (CL), a
rating of 1 represents the most free and 7 the least
Interview, op. cit.
free. In 2011, Bangladesh received a 3 for PR and a 4 48
Interview with respondent who preferred to remain
for CL. anonymous, October 2011

Sign up for our newsletter: 21


UNESCO. July 2009? (undated). Nagorik Media Forum 80
The 4,498 UPs are the lowest administrative unit in
launched in Bangladesh. Bangladesh, and each one groups about 20 of the
communication/freedom-of-expression/unesco- countrys 86,000 villages. Above the UP are 509
supports-creation-of-the-first-ever-citizens-media- Upazillas, then 64 Districts, and then 7 Divisions.
forum-in-bangladesh. Accessed on 5 December 2011 81
Interview, op. cit.
Interview, op. cit. 82
Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha. 15 November 2011.
Interview, 17 October 2011 E-Service Centres Open in 64 Districts, 15 November
Interview, October 2011 2011:
php?ID=541. Accessed on 28 November 2011
Interview, 17 October 2011
Editorial. Khaleda Zias Laudable Decision, Holiday
php?ID=438. Accessed on 6 April 2012
newspaper, 15 June 2012
Interview, op. cit.
Interview, op. cit.
Interview, op. cit.
David Page, Political Talk Shows & Accountability in
Transparency Internationals Corruption Perception
Bangladesh. BBC World Service Trust, December
Index (CPI) score relates to perceptions of the
degree of corruption as seen by business people and
country analysts, and ranges between 10 (highly
clean) and 0 (highly corrupt). 88
Interview, op. cit.
Source: 89
Interview, op. cit. 90
Interview, op. cit.
Interview, op. cit. 91
Page, 2007, op. cit.
See: 92
Interview, op. cit.
See: 93
Interview with Patricia A. Hill, Press and Information
Interview, 14 October 2011 Office at the American Center, US Embassy, 17
October 2011
Skype interview, op. cit.
Interview, op. cit.
Interview, op. cit.
The UK Parliaments International Development
Committee scrutinised DFIDs programme in
Bangladesh in 2009. The full report is located here:
cmselect/cmintdev/95/9505.htm. Accessed on 27
November 2011
Economic Journalists Network:
and%20Thomson%20Foundation. Accessed on 27
November 2011
UNESCO 2009, Dhaka Biennium Report 2008-2009
Interview, 10 October 2011
Skype interview, op. cit.
Interview, op. cit.
Skype interview, op. cit.
Interview, 17 October 2011
Interview, op. cit.
See: http://


Sign up for our newsletter: 23

This case study was prepared by Francis Rolt, an expert on radio and University of Bangladesh; Shahidul Alam, founder of Drik social advocacy
conflict transformation and founder of Radio for Peacebuilding (RPB). media group; Mahal Aminuzzaman, Danida Senior Programme Officer;
The author would like to thank all the people who gave their time, Alexious Butler, Director, Office of Democracy and Governance,
and answered questions, and to acknowledge the invaluable assistance USAiD, US Embassy, Dhaka; Manzoor Hasan, Advisor to the
received from BBC Media Action in Bangladesh, in particular: institute of Governance Studies at BRAC University; Patricia A. Hill,
Sheemtana Shameem, who arranged interviews, translated, and Press and information Officer, The American Center, US Embassy;
helped interpret information; Charlotte imbert, Country Director; Touffique imrose Khalidi, Chief Editor and Managing Director,
Sanjib Saha, Research Manager; and Mazharul islam, Head of Project; Hedayetullah Al Mamoon, Secretary, Ministry of
Governance. He would also like to thank Sadia Rahman at Drik who information, Dhaka; Robert Morini, Head of Press and Communications
arranged a phone interview with Shahidul Alam; and Jan and Andrew at the British High Commission, Dhaka; Hasibur Rahman Mukur,
Jenkins who were, as always, immensely hospitable and friendly. Executive Director of Management and Resources Development
initiative (MRDi); Syed Fahim Munaim, CEO Maasranga TV; Matiur
At Media Action in London, the author would like to thank:
Rahman, Editor, Prothom Alo; Asif Saleh, Director of Communications
James Deane, Director of Policy and Learning, who ultimately
(Chairs office), Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee
commissioned the research; Tirthankar Bandyopadhyay, Policy
(BRAC); Shykh Seraj, Director & Head of News, Channel i.
Officer, who produced a useful Bangladesh literature review;
Rachael Borlase, Governance Advisor who has been invariably BBC Media Action is the BBCs development charity. The content
patient with my delays and difficulties; Kate Mitchell, Team of this briefing is the responsibility of BBC Media Action. Any views
Assistant, for editing support; and finally, but by no means least, expressed in this paper should not be taken to represent those of
Kate Noble, Senior Advisor Governance, who helped enormously the BBC itself, or of any donors supporting the work of the charity.
with the initial stages of the research.
This case study was prepared thanks to funding from the Swedish
Finally, the author is grateful to the following individuals who agreed international Development Agency which supports the policy and
to be interviewed: research work of BBC Media Action.
Fayaz Ahmed, Media Lawyer; Syed Badrul Ahsan, Executive Editor of Author: Francis Rolt
the Daily Star; Rezwan-ul-Alam, Director Outreach & Communication, Commissioning Editor: James Deane
Transparency international, Bangladesh; Dr. G.M. Shahidul Alam, Head Editor: Angela Hawke
of the Department of Media and Communications at the independent Designer: Lance Bellers

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