Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
While an expanding number of privately owned broadcast outlets provide greater diversity, media continued to face myriad pressures in 2006, the most striking of which is the high level of violence directed against journalists and the impunity enjoyed by those who attack them. Although the constitution provides for freedom of expression subject to “reasonable restrictions,” the press is constrained by national security legislation as well as sedition and criminal libel laws. Journalists continue to be slapped with contempt of court and defamation charges or arrested under the 1974 Special Powers Act (which allows detentions of up to 90 days without trial) in reprisal for filing stories critical of government officials or policies. Cases of criminal defamation suits against private newspapers by ruling party politicians reportedly increased in 2006. The case of journalist and writer Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury—who was arrested in 2003 and prevented from traveling to a conference in Israel, charged with sedition, and spent 17 months in jail before being released on bail in 2005—remained open throughout 2006 as he awaited trial. Choudhury also received death threats from Islamist groups, and in July the offices of his magazine were bombed.
Authorities limit official access to journalists from certain publications. The government remained sensitive to international scrutiny; foreign publications are subject to censorship, while foreign journalists and press freedom advocates have encountered increasing difficulties in obtaining visas to enter Bangladesh and are put under surveillance while in the country. In an effort to tighten censorship laws, the government passed legislation in September that would enable officials to suspend the broadcast of any private satellite television channel “for the public interest.”
Journalists are regularly harassed and violently attacked by a range of actors, including organized crime groups, political parties and their supporters, government authorities, and leftist and Islamist militant groups. Most commonly, they are subjected to such attacks as a result of their coverage of corruption, criminal activity, political violence, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, or human rights abuses. Police brutality toward photographers attempting to document protests or other political events also remained a concern. Reporter Bellal Hossain Dafadar was murdered in September 2006, and several hundred others received death threats or were physically assaulted and injured. In several instances, the offices of news outlets were attacked by unknown assailants. Harassment of journalists intensified alongside the rise in political tension preceding the November handover to the caretaker government. Impunity for those who perpetrate crimes against journalists is the norm, and investigations into the cases of reporters killed in previous years generally proceed slowly, if at all. However, in March a fast-track tribunal sentenced 1 person to death and 11 others to life imprisonment for the 2004 killing of journalist Kamal Hossain. The fear of violent reprisals causes many journalists to practice some level of self-censorship when covering sensitive topics.
With hundreds of daily and weekly publications, the privately owned print media continue to present an array of views, although political coverage at a number of newspapers is highly partisan. The state owns or influences several broadcast media outlets, whose coverage sometimes favors the ruling party but generally provided more balanced coverage in 2006 than previously. Private broadcasting has expanded in recent years, with six satellite television stations now broadcasting. Private outlets are required to air selected government-produced news segments as a condition of their operation, and the new broadcast licenses issued in 2005 were allegedly given to those with close political connections, according to the U.S. State Department. Political considerations influence the distribution of government advertising revenue and subsidized newsprint, upon which many publications depend. Access to the internet, although generally unrestricted, is limited to less than 1 percent of the population, and some journalists’ e-mail is reportedly monitored by police.