Mr. Mahfuz Anam's Confession Exposed his Newspaper's Role as a Conduit for the Military-Backed Government in Bangladesh

Published on Monday, February 15, 2016

Shabbir Ahmed

In 2007, the people of Bangladesh had to cross from the civilian rule to the army-backed rule at a threshold. This crossing took place because of the mistrust among the feuding political parties on conducting parliamentary election in Bangladesh. The mistrust among the parties still exists. As we see, it is not going to go away in the near future. There are obvious reasons for the mistrust associated with the differing views of the two major parties on almost all political aspects in Bangladesh. It is relevant to mention that the division and distinctive nature of disagreements were orchestrated by Gen. Ziaur Rahman through his policies of the harmonization of pro-Pakistani and anti-Bangladesh elements into his party (Professor Muntasir Mamun extensively wrote about this in many of his articles). These elements of his party cannot tolerate the founding father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, his descendants, his successors, and his followers. The grenade attack on the current Prime Minister Mrs. Sheikh Hasina in 2004 was done by these intolerant factions of his party as revealed through the investigation carried out by the agencies concerned. In addition to the integration and harmonization of anti-Bangladesh elements, Gen. Zia showed the path for the Bangladesh military to takeover power like a savior in the midst of political chaos and uncertainties. He also showed how to allow the press to continue publishing but use them for humiliating politicians in general and his potential opponents in particular. In 2007, the army tried to follow the same path. There were hearsays and rumors about some well-established newspapers that were serving the purposes of the military backed government during the time spanning from 2007 to 2008. One of the newspapers under the rumors and hearsays was 'The Daily Star". The perception on "The Daily Star" serving as one of the conduits for getting the ill-motivated news of the military-backed government out to the public was based on the published news reports at that time. The recent confession of Mr. Mahfuz Anam, the editor of 'The Daily Star" confirmed that the impression people had about his newspaper was really flawless.

In an ATN discussion program, Mr. Mahfuz Anam clearly admitted that he allowed publishing unfounded allegations against Mrs. Sheikh Hasina provided by the Bangladesh Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI). He also confessed that the decision to publish the unfounded reports was a grave mistake as an editor. While publishing allegations against a former Prime Minister (also the President of the political party Awami League which led our liberation war and one of the two surviving daughters of our founding father), there cannot and should not be any mistake done by any editor. The professionals during their work always admit by saying "we make mistakes". Therefore, to minimize the mistakes, there are always checking at multiple levels to ensure the accuracy of the analysis through a process widely known as quality assurance and quality control. This process is adopted for a design done by an engineer or a diagnosis done by a doctor or a news report scrutinized by an editor. The level of checking increases with the increase in the significance involved in the task. The allegations against a former Prime Minister bear an immense significance. Her reputation and the reputation of the party she was leading were at stake. There were supposed to be multiple levels of checking before publishing the reports supplied by an ill-motivated organization to damage the political system in Bangladesh. So, Mr. Mahfuz Anam cannot evade the responsibilities of making such a mistake. A mistake can be considered as a misguided action that is made with ill-judgment. The perception exists on Mr. Mahfuz Anam that he is a very intelligent and talented editor. As observed, he is very outspoken, forthright, and vociferous on many issues centering the political system in Bangladesh. So, a mistake made by a misguided action does not go well with him because of all the aforementioned qualities he possesses. If the actions cannot be defined as mistakes, then one should be liable and face consequences for the deliberate actions to undermine the reputation of one of the former Prime Ministers "Mrs. Sheikh Hasina".

At the program, Mr. Mahfuz Anam mentioned about the freedom of speech in the United States. He mentioned about the role of journalists on revealing the facts about U.S. solder's activities in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, President Clinton's scandal, and Water Gate Scandal. He mentioned and emphasized as well about the freedom of the journalists that exists in the USA. There is no question about his claim on the press freedom in the U. S. A. However, he probably forgot to mention how the journalists and editors in the western world propagate the investigative reports and news with utmost responsibilities and truthfulness. Any deviation can bring a catastrophic condition not only for the journalists/editors but also for the newspaper as a whole. In 2004, CBS evening news anchor Mr. Dan Rather reported a news story on former President George Bush (that he was given special treatment in the Texas Air National Guard because of his family connections) without proper verification and validation. Mr. Dan Rather still sticks to the story that cost him to leave the CBS news and left a spot on his career. Just because of the criticisms that he did not go through the process of verification and validation, he had to quit his job after forty three years with CBS. In another incidence, six journalists of the now defunct "News of the World" (published in the United Kingdom) were arrested in 2011 for collecting news through some illegal means. "News of the World" had to go through a process of closure in 2011 even when it was one of the highest circulating newspapers in English in UK. So, the freedom of the journalists in the western world is not absolute. The freedom is bounded by the responsibility, liability, and accountability. Any irresponsible act by a journalist or by an editor will never go unnoticed, unchallenged, or without any liability in the well-established democratic countries. It is hard to believe that a renowned editor Mr. Mahfuz Anam is not aware of the responsibility and accountability of the journalists and editors in the western world.

The publication of ill-motivated reports in "The Daily Star" against Mrs. Sheikh Hasina had far reaching ramifications. These types of false reporting created an environment for the army to act toward their objective of eliminating Mrs. Sheikh Hasina from politics. Accordingly, she was arrested by the army with about one thousand five hundred military men placed throughout the area where she lived. Her husband Dr. M. A. Wajed Miah became seriously ill as a consequence of that huge army action. Her children suffered in all respects because of what their mom went through as a result of the conspiracy orchestrated by the military backed government along with their supporters. Above all, her party lost the leadership that was needed so badly at that crucial time. Mr. Mahfuz Anam admitted his poor judgment. However, he claimed that the journalists are kind of social physicians who are adept in identifying the ills of the society. Like doctors, they sometime can make mistake. My practicing physician friends in the USA told me that they have to maintain malpractice insurance with a high monthly premium. If they make a mistake in their practice, they have to compensate the patient and his family for all kinds of material and emotional losses. If one dies because of any mistake in the practice, the physician will have to pay his family through his insurance the predicted income that the patient would have earned during his/her lifetime. In addition, they have to compensate for the emotional and other losses that the dependents will go through. If the investigation reveals that the patient died of negligence by violating the ethics of the medical practice, then it is likely that the doctor will end up in jail. Mr. Mahfuz Anam gave many examples of press freedom of the social doctors (journalists) in the USA in the discussion program. I hope he will discuss sometime in the future about the responsibilities and accountabilities of the social doctors that exist in the USA.

There was a time when martial democracy flourished in Bangladesh through the propaganda machineries of the military governments. The people of Bangladesh are not gullible anymore. In particular, the young generation is well informed and has the abilities to speak and question in an eloquent and coherent fashion. These characteristics were shown by Dr. Mashiur Rahman, Mr. Maruf Rasul (Gana Jagoron Mancha) and Mr. Gazi Nasiruddin Ahmed ( in the discussion program. They asked question to Mr. Mahfuz Anam concerning his role as the editor of "The Daily Star" during the days of the military backed government. Mr. Mahfuz Anam boasted his support for democracy and capitalism. We have come to know again about his support and preaching for democracy in Bangladesh. However, I find it highly contradictory when he admits publishing reports provided by DGFI, who were hell bent on bringing full scale military rule by suppressing the political system in Bangladesh. Did he serve the purpose of enhancing democracy by allowing his newspaper as a conduit for the military-backed government's propaganda? The answer to this question is certainly a big "NO". Will he be liable and accountable for serving the purposes of the military-backed government? The answer to this question will become known in the course of time.

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