After countrywide 459 blasts in 63 districts within 30 minutes on August 17, 2005; the national debates was held to search the cause of this catastrophic violence. During these blasts people could not get real news from Bangladesh, they were dependent only on the news from international agencies and or e-mail from friends. But now the situation has been changed abruptly by the practices of the new media and citizen journalism in Bangladesh.
Nowadays, the citizens particularly young generation widely uses mobile phone for communication. However in cities the blogging, social networking sites and online video distribution platforms are popular especially among the journalists, media professionals and development practitioners.
But the grassroots reality has not yet changed as its needed parallel to the new media development in the cities. The majority of the rural poor don’t have access to the new media opportunities even to the basic information.
It is true that the blast of 2005 mostly involved the grassroots youth who were innocent believers and didn’t don’t have clear concept about the modern world, culture, faith and life style.
It happened, because Bangladesh could not give proper education to those ese youth generation as universal minded that could encounter fanaticism, hatred and ignorance.
Not only such, because of lack of sharing and dialogue, prejudices and dogmatism are getting built up in the country. As a result indolence, violence, respect to other opinion and mutual understanding as well free environment for free speech cannot be created which is the precondition for freedom of expression.
New hope: Vision 2021 & Digital Bangladesh
Bangladesh is now moving forward to build democratic and modern nation with the vision 2021. Its hopes to celebrate 50 years anniversary with dignity as a developed state.
The government itself is promoting and taking favorable steps to make ICT based knowledge society, called “Digital Bangladesh”. The prime minster herself uses live video conferencing to talk with remote people. However “Vision 2021” and “Digital Bangladesh” is the main agenda of this government
The new media opportunities and citizen journalism opened the golden gate to involve, inspire and encourage the unprivileged grassroots youth to participate in development process. The young generation has been inspired widely. Misguided grassroots youth could be saved from militancy, corruption, dogmatism as well as from terrorism by getting news and expressing their life views and experiences in global stages online by practicing citizen journalism.
Such way the fruitful dialogue could create the environment for unity, peace and prosperity that will advance the democracy, human rights and development.
Freedom of Expressions
The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press; however the government approved the Right to Information (RTI) Ordinance on March 29, 2009 allowing journalists and the public greater access to information.
In the present democratic environment the situation has been improved compared to previous years
During emergency period (2006-2008) the freedom of expression was in high tension. Newspaper ownership and content were sometimes subject to direct restriction by the military’s Inter-Service Public Relations office and DGFI. Journalists reported being cautioned by DGFI against criticizing the government or the military.
A state of emergency was declared on 11 January and the country’s TV and radio were ordered to stop broadcasting the news programmes for two days.
CSB News and Ekushey TV were ordered by the Press Information Department not to broadcast “provocative” reports and commentaries. A management figure at ATN Bangla told Reporters Without Borders, “The ban on talk shows is a disaster. While there is no parliament, political broadcasts are the best way for citizens to comment on the government’s decisions.”
Tasneem Khalil, Daily Star journalist and Blogger was detained on 11 May 2007 and allegedly tortured by Joint Forces because he had reported on human rights violations and had contacted international human rights organizations. He is now in exile in Sweden.
Arifur Rahman, cartoonish of Prothom Alo’s Alpin, the satirical weekly magazine of the newspaper Prothom Alo, due to alleged blasphemy against Islam.
Reporters without Borders claimed police monitored journalists’ e-mail. In addition, journalists and political figures detained by the Joint Forces reported they were forced to hand over their e-mail logons and passwords.
Most Recent Censorship
The YouTube was blocked in Bangladesh (March 6, 2009). Abbas Faruq, a spokesman for the government’s Internet regulatory body said, “YouTube has been temporarily blocked in the national interest.” In the Youtube, the audio clip showed Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina defending her decision to negotiate with the guards while army officials shouted and jeered, drowning her out and preventing her from speaking.
Nationwide Internet Connectivity
The country is now linked with global communication system through fiber-optic Internet.
Rapidly the Internet speed and technical limitation are improving and providing by Grameen Phone, Tale Talk, City Cell, Banglalink telecommunication companies.
But the majority grassroots poor yet cannot afford the high price of Internet, digital devices. Within these limitations also day by day new media and ICT becoming popular and playing roles as the democratising force and action media.
It is creating virtual space for community gathering and grassroots development for repression, propaganda and enforces authoritarian control, particularly for the marginalised community.
The situation will be more positive if the new media and citizen journalism could expand the periphery from cities to villages.
Digital Divide, Ownership and Moving Forward
Majority access to basic information and people’s participation are the precondition for democracy, human rights and development.
With the vision to change, the history of new media in Bangladesh was started. In April 1994 off-line e-mail system of Bangladesh was operated from Netherlands as “DripTAP” brand and the first ISP was set up in June 1996. The Internet technology could not expand as VSAT licensed was blocked by BTTB until 2000.
Still there is no minimum access
and ability of majority grassroots people to information and join in the system. The city and village, rich and poor the big gap on access, opportunities and participation.
To solve digital divide with last mile solutions the initiatives already started by Bangladesh Tale Center Network (BTCN), Grameen Tale Center, BRAC Net. Grameen Phone already established countrywide 5000 Tale Centers, BTCN going forward to setup 40000 Telecenters by 2011.
Above all present democratic government is patronising and encouraging using ICTs. The Government has given permission to VOIP, Wimax wireless; Community Radio however approved the ‘Law of Information Rights’. As a result favorable atmosphere is been created for citizen journalism.
Now 2G Internet via mobile available in Bangladesh. The 4G internet is coming soon as “BanglaLion” brand
Online News and Contemporary Practices
Most of all the national news papers in Bangladesh are available in online.
The bdnews24.com, Prothom-Alo, DrikNews, Focus Bangla, Somewherein blog, Unheard voice, publishes the breaking news. UnnayanTV and UnnayanNews publish issues based video logging. However TV channels broadcast live spot news via Internet and point to point satellite connectivity.
Although there is less than 4% of people using the Internet; but citizen journalists enthused to publish text, photo, and video logging. Within the copyrights violation is also nowadays huge number local content publishing online by young citizen journalists and online activists. In the way new media and citizen journalism are creating space as action media to create national confidence.
They are inspired as in new media and citizen journalism does not have authoritarian censorship difficulties.
National Challenges and Recommendations
Along with low computer penetration, lack of local content, slow and expensive Internet access, lack of Bangla interface, prohibition to online payment system, cyber security, and lack of Internet Policy and traditional bureaucratic practices are big challenges of the nation.
The freedom of expression cannot be improved with interactive muffs because of outdated policies and practices in public level corporations.
Public officials are too lazy even to check their email regularly. On most occasions emails are bounced back to the sender. The sender of the message must inform the recipient by telephone to check the email if it is important. The websites also not updated and properly functional to start e-Governance.
Non-government organizations and private institutions are more advanced in the use of information technologies than are public institutions. Bangladesh most of prominent NGOs and activist organization have URL(s). As there is main crisis local content and access. The NGOs can play role for fruitful improvement by producing local content on their working area and issues. This way grassroots journalism and effective citizen journalism practices could be started beyond the personal and entertainment approaches of internet. In the way if New Media applications could be powerful tools for e-Commerce, e-Learning, e-Governance.
It is true the country now has been divided based on information and views. By sharing the proper information, Bangladesh can overcome the misunderstandings, and can find the common vision for national prosperity. Misguided grassroots youth could be saved from militancy, corruption, dogmatism as well as from terrorism by effective use of Internet and new media.
However with the vision to make a responsible new media leadership, along with Dhaka University, a number of private universities have started to teach new media, electronic and cyber journalism. Bangladesh is now moving forward to establish a new free democratic society where new media and citizen journalism are playing important roles.
Shahjahan Siraj is a multimedia designer, online journalist, ICT4D practitioner in Bangladesh. He is the founder of Machizo Multimedia, UnnayanNews and UnnayanTV. Along with multimedia design and publishing on human rights and redevelopment issues, he is teaching multimedia communication in University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh.