BNP to revoke DSA, all other ‘repressive’ laws if returns to power: Fakhrul

BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir on Sunday categorically said their party, if returns to power, will revoke all ‘repressive’ acts and ordinances, including the Digital Security Act (DSA).

Speaking at a views-exchange meeting with journalists, he also said their party will ensure the implementation of the Wage Board for journalists and media employees and empower the Press Council if their party forms government in the days to come.

“We would like to clearly say that if we form the government, all the repressive acts and ordinances those are obstacles to the independence of the media will be annulled,” the BNP leader said.

BNP arranged the programme titled, ‘Media Control Laws in Annihilating the Media: Bangladesh Perspective’ at the Jatiya Press Club. Former BNP MP and its executive committee member Jahiruddin Swapan presented the keynote paper.

Fakhrul said their party believes that it is not possible to give democracy an international shape without the independence of the media. “BNP has been working towards that goal since the rule of late President Ziaur Rahman.”

He said the current government has enacted various laws, including the DSA. “These laws are like putting a nail in the coffin of media freedom.”

The BNP leader said regulating the media is probably now one of the biggest problems in the world, especially in Bangladesh. "As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh's independence, we are saddened to see that the media is being completely controlled." Those who want to write freely and express their opinions freely, can't do it now. Moreover, they’re being subjected to different types of repressions and threats and they are facing obstacles to performing their professional duties.”

He alleged that the government has been controlling the fundamental issues of democracy in a planned way one after another since it came to power. In doing so, they have thought the media must be controlled first.”

The BNP leader also said almost every media outlet of print and electric and the social media platforms are controlled by the government's intelligence agencies. “Their surveillance has reached such a level that which journalist is talking to whom or meeting whom or who are meeting an editor are being monitoring by the agencies.”

“Laws are now enacted to completely regulate the media…it hurts me a lot when I see journalists are not able to write and the editors are being threatened in various ways. In fact, the courage of the journalists is being taken away through this,” he observed.

Under such circumstances, Fakhrul said all should raise their voice to restore the press freedom.

He said it will be ensured, if BNP returns to power, that no matter what is published in the media, the aggrieved person or organisation cannot file a case in the court without resolving the issue in the Press Council that will be reconstituted with more power.

Besides, the BNP leader said their party will take steps for ensuring a fair distribution of advertisements to make the media self-sufficient. “BNP is also thinking of giving financial incentives to the media on the basis of a certain number of circulations and TRPs.”

Stating that the entire nation is now in danger, he said a strong unity of people all walks of life is now necessary to restore democracy in the country and defeat the ‘fascist’ regime.

Fakhrul is confident that there will be a change in power in the country through the next national election, "We are very optimistic as the people of Bangladesh have never been defeated. We’re not excited seeing the light at the end of the tunnel as we’ve always been working to establish democracy.”

Speaking at the programme, Prothom Alo joint editor Sohrab Hassan expressed solidarity with the commitments of BNP to ensure media freedom.

“We can try to be reassured. But our past experiences don’t suggest us to be reassured…No government was newspaper or media-friendly since independence,” he said.

He said politicians have the responsibility alongside the journalists to remove the barriers to the freedom of expression and raise voices against the repressive laws and repression against the journalists.

“We surely want the support of the opposition in removing the obstacles to free press and the freedom of expression. But at the same time, I would like to issue a warning so that the same thing should not happen if they come to power,” the senior journalist said.

He said the Awami League government has enacted a repressive and autocratic law, the Digital Security Act. “I condemn it and demand its withdrawal."

Sohrab recalled that Awami League amended the ICT Act that was enacted during the BNP regime. “Awami League has increased the punishment through the amendment.”

Senior journalists and current and former leaders of pro-BNP factions of BFUJ and DUJ participated in the discussion.