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October 24, 2021, 9:32 am

Practice of ‘Faulty Democracy’ and Freedom of the Press

  • Update Time : Wednesday, November 13, 2019
  • 216 Time View

– Sohrab Hasan*

The Gigantic Building of Public Health Engineering Department opposite Kakrail Mosque along the road east of Ramna Park overlooks a big board bearing a slogan, ‘Sheikh Hasina’s Mantra Unnayaner Gonotontra’ (Sheikh Hasina’s sacred text is the Democracy of Development). This kind of slogans find place in many spots of the country.

What the composers of slogans want to mean by democracy of development is not clear. May be that they want to say democracy is for development. But it is not known that there is any democracy degeneration in the world. An alternative meaning of the proposition may be that development is democracy. Then the question arises what would we mean by the term development?

Man does not live only for food, sleep and giving birth to children. Man thinks, perceives and expresses his conception, presents reasoning in favour of his opinion and discards arguments advanced by others. So the overall development can’t be materialized without the freedom of expression of opinion or speech.

The socialist countries once endangered their existence introducing authoritarian rule of directing everybody into a single opinion and path. There is nothing to be happy. Many countries desirous of being noble democratic and democracy now go on following this path.

At the event of Bangladesh fulfilling the preliminary condition for being upgraded in category of developing countries from LDC recently, the words “Democracy of Development” engraved in the board has been specially recollected in the memory. It is undoubtedly a pleasant news for all of us. So long we had been poor. Now we won’t remain poor. The United Nations says that although Bangladesh has been rowed in the developing countries they would observe the trends of economy for the next six years that means upto 2024.

In the past, a few LDC countries got stranded in the developing road. So that we are also not to be fallen in such a situation, we need to face the challenges competently. Particularly as a LDC country now the loan that Bangladesh enjoys at a low interest, grant and trade facilities would decline to a great extent and the disadvantage of shrinkage has to be neutralized with the help of enlarged investment. And for investment efficient manpower, strong infrastructure and good governance everywhere are needed. And with a view to establishing  good governance in the country the rein of corruption is required to be drawn back and transparency and accountability at every stage of governance of the country is to be ensured. That means not the democracy engraved in the shield but the development of democracy in practice is necessary.

When those words are sounded many of the friends of the present government may knit the eyebrows of them. On this point we present the Nobel Laureate Bengali Economist Amartya Sen as a witness. Surely our policy makers won’t identify him as a person antagonistic to the people of Bangladesh. He has profusely praised Bangladesh for her manpower development, female education and woman empowerment.

Now let us see what Amartya Sen means by the term development. He says, ‘Development does not mean accumulation  of some materials. In producing GDP industrial development or technological development or modernization of the society – all these are certainly valuable, sometimes very much important also, but their value depends on how much they have been able to do on the life and freedom of the people. Those who are adults, who have the right to election, a question stands to them ultimately that whether or not they have the freedom of doing or getting which is valuable to them? In this sense development means the expansion of abilities of man.’

But Bangladesh apart, even the rulers of many developed democratic countries disregard the issue of abilities of the people. They cripple the individual freedom at every step. Amartya Sen has not stopped here only. He termed the freedom of speech as an important part of man’s ability. While speaking about the freedom of speech this renowned economist very necessarily mentioned about the freedom of the press. We can remember his famous doctrine ‘in a country where there is freedom of news media there can be no famine in that country’. Because the news media circulates the information where there is food deficit, where food is to be supplied quickly. In this context he cited the occurrence of the death of people in China during the cultural revolution toward the end of the fifties. In his writings there are examples of more than one famines in the colonial India.

In his opinion, the reason for no occurrence of famine in the independent India is the presence of freedom of the Press. In this context the issue of famine of 1974 in Bangladesh may come up. During this time there was freedom of news media in Bangladesh. But the famine could not be averted due to the conspiracy of the United States. Bangladesh sold jute to Cuba – on this ‘offence’ the country made the rice carrying ships back to the USA.

Amartya Sen has said, ‘Information that get locked due to putting reins on the newspapers direct the very dictatorial government towards the wrong path. It is certainly true that restrictions on the newspapers not only keep the citizens in the dark it also deters reaching of highly necessary information to the government.’

Amartya Sen does not see news media as the medium for exchanging of information only. In underlining the unlimited contribution of news media he has mentioned about its inherent value, informative value, protective value and constructive value for human welfare, so to say, in the formation of a modern state. He opines, ‘Assessment of development can not be made ignoring the way man lives, the real freedom that they enjoy.’ It means that an independent mass media not  only speaks on behalf of the voiceless people, it also helps the government, so to say, the state policy markers providing them the facts.

In telling about the morality and accountability of news media he has written, ‘It is not the honesty of journalism only; rather is not a matter of neutrality although these may turn important. It needs enthusiasm and initiative, power of new thinking that may highlight insignificantly known issues.’ Amartya Sen has demanded so many things from the News Media. Kenneth Galbraith, the former U.S. Ambassador and an Economist has labeled the News Media as a ‘Rival Power’. This contest is not for doing harm to each other, rather it acts as complimentary factor supporting the contention of Galbraith. Amartya Sen has said, ‘What is necessary is not to extinct a power. The need is to use another power to face a  power.’ In that sense not only in News Media the non-government organizations and institutions lying outside and the civil society are also ‘rival powers’. The democratic rulers do not fear this contending power rather welcome it. But the authoritarian rulers think ‘those who are not with us are the enemies of the country.’ When would we be able to come out of this self opposing and suicidal political culture that accepts that he who is not with me is an enemy of the state; he who is with me, in the language of Kamrul Hasan, even if a person is ‘Bishawbehaya’ (world famous shameless), has to be welcome warmly, his illegal usurpation of power is to be celebrated with pomp and grandeur? Would we at all be able to do is the question that stands out prominently.E

*    Joint Editor, ‘Prothom Alo’ and Poet. **  Translated i

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