FREEDOM of the press is universally recognised today as having value for the sake of civilised functioning of a society, for the protection and promotion of democracy , individual's civil and political rights and, very significantly, for social progress and economic development. The World Press Freedom Day was observed in Bangladesh last Wednesday and the theme of this year's observance of the day was co-relation between the free press and reduction of poverty. In other words, the theme drew attention to the powerful role that a free press can play in any context to help good governance which in turn can translate into more effective actions taken for poverty reduction.
For example, in the Bangladesh setting, the press has been playing a vanguard role in keeping governmental actions and also that of the private sector under a very close watch. The Berlin-based think tank, Transparency International (TI), has been very successfully articulate in exposing the incidents of corruption in Bangladesh which are adversely affecting its economic growth and hence poverty reduction prospects. But the findings of the TI are very much based on the tenacious and uncompromising investigations and reportings of mainly Bangladeshi newsmen. The real significance of these efforts is the awareness the same have created about the seriousness of the corruption issue in Bangladesh which have led to donors and the civil society in the country increasing their pressure on the government of the day to take effective steps against corruption.
There is no need to explain how eradication of corruption would mean higher economic growth and more opportunities created for the poor and the consequent alleviation of their poverty conditions. There can be no denying that awareness building and putting pressure on the administration to go for truly credible anti-corruption measures are still to produce the intended impact. But the hopeful thing is that the process has started and the demand for eliminating corruption and establishing good governance will be only stronger and stronger with the press playing its expected role in these respects. But sustaining the pressures for better governance in all respects is too vitally linked to maintaining and improving on the freedom of press in Bangladesh. However, the government's moves in relation to press freedom have not been quite assuring yet.
It appears that the critical role of the press has not earned the appreciation of the government as the same in many cases led to focuses on the government's failures and lapses in the areas of policies or economic management of the country or for violation of human rights. Stung by strong criticisms in the press on these issues, some powerful quarters warned several times last year that they would like to see some curbs in the functioning of the press in the interest of balanced or objective news and views in the mass media. The threats were not carried out since then as the government fortunately and ultimately could realise how unpopular such steps would be. But the disregard for journalists and the press was transparent from the bashing of sports journalists in the Chittagong stadium recently by the police. The government must realise that it can improve its image not by putting the press on a harness but by enabling it to function freely not in name but in reality.