Access to Information workshop in Bangladesh

A two day workshop on access to information as a journalistic tool was organized by Article 19 Bangladesh and South Asia and JMIC in Dhaka last week. 

The 22 participants came from all over the country, and work on different media platforms.

Main trainer Julfikar Ali Manik (Photo: Rofiqur Rahman Reku/Article 19)

The Norwegian ambassador Sidsel Bleken opened the workshop. Present were also two former Chief Information Commissioners, diplomats, editors, teachers and journalists. The main trainer was the investigative journalist Julfikar Ali Manik, who is a stringer for The New York Times. 


‘Digital Security Act is a bar for Investigative Journalism’

Speakers at ARTICLE 19 Workshop

Free Journalism is the main impediment of democratic structure. Recently passed Digital Security Act (DSA) has become the main obstacle which is harmful for investigative journalism. This law is also a big difficulty to avail the benefit of the Right to Information Act, speakers mentioned at two day long Workshop arranged by ARTICLE 19 and OSLOMET University of Norway on “Access to information as a journalistic tool for students and journalists” held at Dhaka on Tuesday (16, April, 2019).

The speakers revelled that Former Official Secrecy Act has been incorporated again in the recent DSA. Foreign Diplomats, former two Chief Information Commissioners, editors, journalists and students of various universities participated in the Workshop.

Norwegian ambassador to Bangladesh, Sidsel Bleken was present as the Chief Guest of the event. Two former Chief Information Commissioners Mohammad Zamir and Dr. Golam Rahman; and noted journalist Abed Khan were present as special guests. Faruq Faisel, Regional Director, ARTICLE 19 Bangladesh & South Asia presided over it.

Sidsel Bleken Norway’s Ambassador in Bangladesh to the right, with Faruq Faisel, Regional Director of Article 19 Bangladesh and South Asia. (Photo: Rofiqur Rahman Reku/Article 19)

In her speech; the Norwegian Envoy said, “The assurance of the right to get information is essential for democracy. However, in the age of free flow of information, there is a need for regulatory laws to prevent fake news, cybercrime etc. These laws should not be used to prevent freedom of expression in any way”.

She said,” I personally believe that the Digital Security Act of Bangladesh is working as a barrier to freedom of expression. Investigative journalism will be hampered due to this law which will eventually cause harm to the democracy as well”.

She also said, “Journalists must have to be trustworthy and their reporting information should come from a reliable source. And that’s why they specifically need access to information. ”

Former Chief Information Commissioner Mohammad Zamir said, “The Right to Information Act has an obligation to provide information within 24 hours, if emergency; whereas no one is taking this advantage of the act. In the case of investigative journalism, the use of the Right to Information Act is very important. Because investigative journalism does not have an aspect of the incident, rather it is necessary for a journalist to see the whole scenario”.

Another Former Chief Information Commissioner Professor Dr. Golam Rahman said, “Currently the social media is taking over the place of mainstream journalism. To overcome this challenge, the media houses have to move forward with innovation while presenting news to the audience”.

He said, “The technology is changing society very quickly. Nowadays, common people are coming forward to spread the content taking advantage of social media. So, it carries a special message for the mainstream media”.

He also said, “In Bangladesh, there are 30 television channels but no policy has yet been passed for them. These days journalism has become mostly online. There is no new effective law for the online media as well. In the absence of relevant law in these areas; journalism is not getting enough accountability that it deserves”.

Abed Khan in his speech said, “The term ‘Editor’ is replaced by CEO in journalism nowadays. Even the journalists become ‘Employee’ which indicates us horrific practice in journalism. Journalism is being imprisoned for money and muscle power. Journalist organizations have lost their effectiveness. Journalism and law have become contradictory to each other”.

He said, “The main opponent of journalism is Breaking News tendency of media houses. They do not cross check information while presenting news. As a result, conflicts are spreading in the society. This is not journalism but sickness”.

Sohrab Hasan, Joint Editor of Daily Prothom Alo said, “The Digital Security Act plays a significant negative role in reducing the rights of the information. Even though, the recent investigative stories such as Hallmark scandal, Joj Mia incident, Jahalam case show us new hope in journalism”.

In his remarks, Faruq Faisal said, “There are many investigative journalism organizations in foreign countries. But, in the case of Bangladesh, there is only little practice of this type of news culture”.

He said, “There is no substitute for investigative journalism to ensure human rights including freedom of expression in the society. ARTICLE 19 is working to train journalists to bring back the lost track in journalism sector of the country.

Among many; Salim Samad, Correspondent of Reporters Without Borders, Hasibur Rahman Mukur, Executive Director of MRDI and Journalist Rita Rahman were present at the workshop.

Julfikar Ali Manik , a well-known Investigative Journalist, stringer of New York Times and Planning consultant of Boishakhi Television has shared his professional experiences and stories about investigative journalism with participants. He also gave presentation on What are particularities of investigative reporting? How to differentiate investigative reporting from “standard” reporting? What is the role of an investigative reporter and so on.

MD Saiful Alam Chowdhury, Associate Professor, Department of Mass Communication & Journalism, University of Dhaka and Janina Islam Abir, Lecturer, Department of Media & Communication School of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences, Independent University, Bangladesh were presented their presentation on investigative journalism and use of right to information act for the participants.

A total 22 participants from print, electronic, online media participated the workshop. Of them, 13 participants joined the workshop from different parts of the country while 9 other participants joined from the capital.

Main photo –  from left to right:

Mr. Muhammad Zamir, Former Chief Information Commissioner and former Ambassador, Mr. Faruq Faisel, South Asia Regional Director of Article 19, Her Excellency Ms. Sidsel Bleken Norwegian Ambassador in Bangladesh, Mr. Abed Khan, Chairman Press Institute of Bangladesh and Editor, Mr. Md. Golam Rahman former Chief Information Commissioner and Professor and Adviser Daffodil International University. (Photo: Rofiqur Rahman Reku/Article 19)

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