– Rahaman Chowdhury*
A lot of discussion-criticism is there on the Mass Media of Bangladesh regarding the various sorts of black acts, especially the introduction of the Section 57 and its application. But the government does not show any reaction about it. One can notice amazingly that in his book ‘Karagarer Rojnamcha’ (Jail Diary) the writer Sheikh Mujibur Rahman writes that he was very much mortified on the enforcement of black acts on the then Newspapers and seriously criticized the action by the government.
Sheikh Mujib wrote in 1966, ‘Ittefaq paper has not come out, against it I was served ‘Dainik Pakistan’. When asked about the reason, they said that the paper was closed, perhaps the government suspended it.’ ‘By virtue of Pakistan Defense Law ‘The New Nation Press’ has been foreclosed by the government. From this press ‘Ittefaq’ English Weekly ‘Dhaka Times’ and Bengali Cinema Weekly ‘Purbani’ got published. The police has locked the press. In the previous day the proprietor of Ittefaq and New Nation Press was arrested under the Defense Law and has been kept captivated in the cell No. 10 of the Dhaka Central Jail.’
About the foreclosure of the printing press of Manik Mia in his ‘Karagarer Rojnamcha’ Sheikh Mujibur Rahaman wrote, ‘If they try to rule the country with such jungle law, what consequences would stand is difficult to forecast. What loathsome type of act the forfeiture of private property of a person without showing any reason, throwing a best editor and the owner of a newspaper into the four walls of jail may be – even they did not get afraid to think over the matter.’ ‘Manik Mia does not practice politics, but he has his own opinion. How I can express what unjust and unethical act it is to arrest him under Defense Law.’
Unfortunately in the independent Bangladesh there is in existence different kinds of rules-regulations and black act on the mass media and they are being made hard day by day by different governments. In India or in Bangladesh area the first black act was imposed on the mass media by the East India Company rulers. Just by a lapse of 30 years of rule by the East India Company in Bengal the event of strangulation of voice took place. The English rulers applied the new law for impeding the voice of the liberalist Englishman themselves. Because the liberalist English people expressed the opinion in the English newspapers edited by them against the oppression of the company rulers. In Bangladesh in those days there were at last 15 Newspapers edited by the Englishman. Many of the editors of these newspapers were pro-Whigs in heart and soul. When the Judicial System and the new act of East India Company snatched away the right of ‘telling the truth’ of the people, then in 1782 James Augustus Hicky, Editor, Bengal Gazette announced his opinion in favor of the freedom of thought. Treating it as an offence the Company Government instituted a case against Hicky for expressing his independent opinion in the Press. Hicky was sentenced to imprisonment by the court.
In 1793 for the same reason Sir John Shore ousted another English Editor from India. The natives had no newspaper till that time. In 1798 the arrival of Lord Wellesley took place as Governor General. In the same year a remark was made in the newspaper Asiatic Mirror that the number of Europeans in this country is so small that the simple stone throwing by the Indians can kill them entirely. This remark in the newspaper was treated by Governor General Wellesley as the instigation to the Indians for an armed revolt against the Europeans. He proclaimed the Press Regulation Act in 1799. What was the purpose of the Press Regulation Act made by Lord Wellesley? Clearly its object was to strangulate the voice of the Editors of pro liberalist English Newspapers.
In the later period again in 1818 another regulation was made to suffocate the voice of the newsman. By virtue of this law any person, be he an European or Indian, could have been imprisoned without any scope of show-cause or self defense. In the same way another Press Ordinance was made in 1823. In this Act/Law order was passed so as to directing that no news or talk could have been published in the periodical/ newspapers regarding the Government policy without the prior permission of the Government. It is very clearly noticed that the purpose of the Act was to rob of the freedom of the Press. The democratic criticism personally or in the newspapers that was considered just in Europe or in England, in Indian geography it was treated as unjust and illegal. Under the leadership of Rammohan a memorandum was submitted to the Supreme Court against this Act or against the plundering of fundamental human rights. Except Rammohan the other five persons who signed this memorandum included Darakanath Thakur, Chandrakumar Thakur, Prasanna Kumar Thakur, Harchandra Ghosh and Gouri Charan Bandapadya. The basic theme that was said in the memorandum highlighted that in case of ruling the state the mass people has the right of extending their opinion or criticism. In 1823 when the freedom of speech was robbed of through the Ordinance, Rammohan suspended the publication of his periodical Mirat-ul-Akhbar in protest of the same.
Immediately afer the inception of the Second World War the Indian Safety/Protection Law was passed on 20 September, 1939. Following the adoption of the Act stern control over the mass media in India Indian Journalist Association expressed deep concern against this control. Journalist Association complained that not on the news only the press officials of the government through interference on the view points of the news were warning the newspapers by circulars. During this time 5 newspapers in Bombay (now Mumbai) were banned. Protesting against the press censorship of the government Indian Journalist Association opposed the Indian Protection/Safety Ordinance.
In 1940 on April 19 Mahatma Gandhi declared Satyagraha Movement. As per order of the Home Ministry, the booklet of Congress in which the news of Satyagraha Movement was published was foreclosed. The entire bulletin of Ramgarh Conference of Congress was forfeited. On 17 October, 1940 when Gandhi initiated the Satyagraha Movement, the Regional Press Advisor of the Government informed the Editor, National Herald by a letter that any news concerning the observation of Satyagraha by Binoba Bhabe, the recognized representation of Gandhi could not be printed. As a protest specially for the order against the National Herald the newspaper took several decisions which included important ones – in the editorial column government order would be printed every day and no government news concerning the war affairs received from Censor Board authority would be printed. In this way National Herald protested against the suffocation of voice by the Government.
Due to the publication of the words of Binoba Bhabe the Government arrested the Editor of the Sainik and sealed the press. This step against the editor was taken basically on account of the objectionable headline of the published news on the opinion of Binoba Bhabe. On 14 April, 1941 the Rajyapal of United Province called a meeting at Dehradun. Although the key subject of the meeting was the talk on the Sainik Newspaper, there were few items in the agenda also. Rajyapal remarked there, “Even if the National Herald and the Hindustan Times are amply bad, but the Hindustan Times, other than war news has made huge criticism against the government in the other news also. The Press Advisor of the UP said, the role of most of the Hindi Newspapers was to support the Congress and naturally to extend help to the anti-British activities. The periodicals were warned repeatedly so that they did not print the opinions against the Government.
The Indian Government from 1941 introduced more stern rules to control the Press. During the ‘Quit India’ movement hard control was imposed on the issue of newspapers. In 1942 from the Government side it was said that, the editors of the newspapers are warned to refrain from printing even any small piece of news about the movement. Even they should not publish any news about war affairs also. If any news any time would be published on war or movement serious actions would be taken against the newspaper. In the wake of ‘Quit India’ movement the British Government strangulated voice of the newspapers hundred percent. The newspapers were accused every now and then for any reason. National Herald got closed for some time; many newspapers were asked to present their editorials before the Censor Board of the Government. In protest of this action many newspapers kept their editorial column blank.
Even without the permission of the Censor Board no adverse remark could be made. From these episodes how much freedom the newspapers had enjoyed to express their opinion can be discerned. Rising against this persecution Nehru said that the long image of censor system of the Government had clouded the pages of newspapers. Simultaneously it handcuffed and chained it. It is unfortunate that there are black laws in the independent India; all rulers in Pakistan and Bangladesh are following this path very well.E
* Rahman Chowdhury, Researcher and Writer
** Translated into English by ‘The Economy’ Analyst.