Despite the fact that an outline of the country’s print media was in place some 66 years ago---albeit without any written policy guidelines whatsoever---when the Awami League’s founder President Moulana Bhashani championed free flow of news and views of the opposition and of antiestablishment segments of the body politic, the irony of fate is that degenerate machinations were buttressed in independent Bangladesh by no other person than a sometime political disciple of the Moulana---Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who was said to be prodded by some botched leftist elements to absolutely gag the press, resulting in the ban on all newspapers and periodicals of the country except 4 (four) daily papers under government control.
That was a brazen betrayal because an overwhelming majority of the newspapers gave a rock-hard support to Sheikh Mujib during his stormy political career before independence. And some media leaders were his genuine friends in need. He sacked was one of the most courageous and well-known newspaper editors of the subcontinent Abdus Salam. Mujib imprisoned Enayetullah Khan, editor of the Holiday, and also poet Al Mahmud, editor of the Ganokontho. As if that was not enough, Mujib banned all the political parties [including Awami League (AL)] and launched the infamous one-party rule of the BKSAL.
The spectre of the reviled and rejected BKSAL is being perceived since the past five years as the ruling AL’s Prime Minister has repressed and oppressed the main opposition in the most fascist manner as horrifying law and order reached its nadir with rampant enforced disappearances, murders, custodial killings by RAB, police and other agencies. The AL’s farcical election of 5 January has not got ethical legitimacy at home and abroad. Now the government’s machination to throttle the media is seen in the recent move in the form a draft of the National Broadcast Policy (NBP) approved by the cabinet and gazetted. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on occasions expressed her anger and hatred for TV talk shows which she termed ‘tok’ (sour) and likened their participants to burglars. On October 11, 2012 PM Sheikh Hasina said: “Once we knew only those who go for burglary stay awake until midnight, now talk show people remain awake till midnight”.
While during the rule of military dictator Field Marshal Ayub Khan, in the face of a reasonably insulting and provocative headline [‘Chinilo kemon koria’ (meaning “How could he recognise him?”)] of a news item associating the then Governor of what was then East Pakistan with a donkey, from whose back he accidentally fell down while riding the beast, was not taken critically by the administration in mid-1960s. Juxtapose that despotic junta rule with today’s so-called democratic AL which has become so intolerant that the Amardesh editor Mahmudur Rahman has been in jail as a prisoner of conscience for the last 600 days, Channel One TV and Diganta TV were shut down and a new weapon called NBP has become essential.
It is beyond controversy that ‘news’ is what a government or its bureaucracy wants to conceal from the media; or for that matter, the people. In this context a really objective and impartial news item will invariably reveal the truth and certainly expose the villains who swindled and siphoned off billions of Taka from the public banks and the stock market. As if giving lessons to primary school pupils, the draft refers to the need for upholding the spirit of the Liberation War, which ideal has always been endorsed, espoused and upheld by all Bangladeshi newspapers. The draft refers to criticism of government’s disciplined forces and agencies. Don’t forget: the BTV and the Bangladesh Betar were absolutely mute, mum and dumb, while the private TV channels exposed the RAB’s contract killings of 11 people in Narayanganj.
The draft, which contains 59 clauses that can sure impede, obstruct and hamper objective and unbiased journalism, has only one clause vaguely mentioning improvement of these companies, which indicates the suspicious intention of the AL government.
The Information Minister’s draft, published post-haste as gazette notification as if a national crisis is imminent or has emerged, should have organised detailed deliberations and debates in 3 phases, not in one go, participated by at least 60 eminent journalists, representatives of both the factions of the DUJ and BFUJ, writers, columnists, the TIB, 6 large NGOs, representatives of 3 major political parties, 10 civil society leaders, VCs of at least 6 important private universities. Audiovisual records including their transcripts should be made available to all at Press Club and the RTI Commission. Side by side, better still, a 30-page questionnaire should be distributed among at least 6,00 senior varsity teachers and scholars for their written comments.
At the next stage, it may have a 12-member committee of editors of obviously independent newspapers such as the Daily Star, the New Age, the New Nation, the News Today, the Holiday, the Prothom Alo, the Amar Desh, the Naya Diganta, the Jugantar and the Manavzamin, who will prepare the final draft. Only then can an across-the-board, comprehensive, all-embracing media policy can be formulated for a nation which has fought and won freedom at the cost of three million lives to establish a democratic polity.
Barrister Harun ur Rashid
US Secretary of State John Kerry was in China on 9th-10th July for annual Strategic and Economic Dialogue with the Chinese leaders. The visit is part of the sixth round of such talks between the two countries.
Chinese President Xi Jinping opened the dialogue with a positive note saying China and the United States had more common interests than differences. He also emphasized China’s economic and military strength. “The vast Pacific Ocean has ample space to accommodate two great nations,” he said, suggesting as he did earlier that China would play a much bigger role in the Pacific.
Kerry spoke of the need for cooperation between Washington and Beijing and reassured his host that the “US does not seek to contain China”. US President Barack Obama also said in a statement that the US “welcomes the emergence of a stable, peaceful, and prosperous China. We remain determined to ensure that co-operation defines the overall relationship,” he said.
China is not impressed with the US statement because the US naval assets have been shifted from the Mediterranean Sea to the Asia-Pacific region.
Furthermore the US-ally Japan’s prime minister in July this year announced a reinterpretation of the country’s pacifist Constitution, freeing its military for the first time in over 60 years to play a more assertive role in the increasingly tense region.
The decision will permit Japan to use its large and technologically advanced armed forces in ways that would have been unthinkable even a decade ago when they were limited to defending the country. The revision will allow the military to come to the aid of friendly countries under attack, including the United States.
In turn, the US has stepped up joint military exercises with the Philippines and its military presence there, a move over which China has raised concerns. One of the latest exercises was conducted in the South China Sea near disputed waters.
The US and China have also had disagreements in recent months, particularly over cyber-attacks. In May, US authorities charged five Chinese military officers with hacking into American businesses. Beijing has vigorously denied the charges, accusing the US of launching cyber-attacks against China.
In the above context, both China and the US had low expectations for progress on the issues discussed at the annual Strategic and Economic Dialogue this year.
However the primary purpose of the visit of the US Secretary of State was to continue the dialogue and to read the mind of Chinese leaders. Both countries need to cooperate for peace and stability of the Asia-Pacific region.
Joint working group
The dialogue, according to the State Department, agreed on the following:
Enhanced cooperation on nonproliferation; recognizing the common threat posed by weapons of mass destruction, the US and China agreed to establish a joint working group to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and related technologies.
Reaffirm commitment to military-to-military relations: Senior civilian and military officials used the July 8 Strategic Security Dialogue to enhance mutual understanding and trust by candidly discussing some of the most sensitive issues in the bilateral relationship. Our two militaries agreed to develop relations by building a sustained and substantive defence dialogue, explore practical areas of cooperation, and enhance risk reduction measures. They also agreed to include U.S. Coast Guard and China’s maritime law enforcement agencies in an air and maritime rules of behavior working group.
Facilitate travel for tourism, study, and business: In recognition of the importance of travel and tourism to the two countries’ economies, the US and China committed to explore new proposals to significantly extend reciprocal visa validity for tourists, short-term business travelers, and students.
Combat wildlife trafficking: To improve coordination, they agreed to increase interaction among wildlife enforcement networks, build public-private partnerships to combat wildlife trafficking, and strengthen public understanding of the harmful effects of the illegal wildlife trade on ecosystems and economic development. The United States and China also agreed to continue supporting international law enforcement efforts, including Operation Cobra.
Denuclearization on the Korea Peninsula: The two sides reaffirmed the importance of denuclearizing the Korean peninsula in a peaceful manner and committed to full implementation of relevant UN Security Council resolutions. The United States and China also called on all sides to create the conditions necessary for resumption of the Six-Party Talks.
Syrian conflict resolution
The two countries restated their support for the Geneva Communique, and the work of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and stressed the need for the international community to provide support to alleviate the suffering of Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons. The United States and China called on all parties in the conflict to seek an early ceasefire and the cessation of all violence, to avoid civilian casualties, and to resume negotiations as soon as possible.
The United States and China remain committed to actively support the P5+1 process in seeking a comprehensive, long-term solution to Iran’s nuclear program. Both sides called on Iran to fulfill its international non-proliferation obligations and to cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The two countries reaffirmed the importance fully implementing UN Security Council resolutions 1696, 1737, 1803, 1835, and 1929.
The United States and China will explore opportunities for further cooperation to support political stability and economic revitalization in Afghanistan. They also committed to continue the joint diplomatic training program for Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials and to work together to support regional cooperation efforts such as the Istanbul Process.
Improve global health: Reflecting our common interest in promoting global health, the United States and China agreed to strengthen dialogue and exchanges on healthcare reform, malaria control, non-communicable diseases, and emerging infectious diseases. In support of these initiatives, the two governments will support workshops and high-level summits; strengthen the capacity of other countries in preventing and controlling malaria; develop a public-private platform to enable private sector leadership for health promotion; and participate in the Global Health Security Agenda.
Two sides remain far apart on China’s aggressive efforts to assert claims over islands in the South China Sea and East China Sea claims disputed by Japan, the Philippines and others in the region.
Both sides did not close the gap over charges that Chinese hackers are industrial secrets from US companies.
Meanwhile, despite their mutual suspicion, China and the US have managed to make the dialogue happen. This is the only way to stop the downward spiral in their bilateral relations. Cooperation between the US and China, the world’s two largest economies is vital to global stability. There is nothing to be gained to follow the path of confrontation.
The writer is former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.
At long last the National Board of Revenue (NBR) has initiated to launch a drive to realise taxes from the foreigners working in Bangladesh. According to NBR, five lakh foreigners are working in Bangladesh with various categories of visa. Of them, only 10,000 have valid work permits. But most of them do not pay taxes. NBR has recently sent letters to different local and foreign offices requesting them to inform the tax administration about foreign nationals who work with them.
Foreigners come to Bangladesh for business, investment, job and tour purposes. The foreigners seeking jobs have to obtain permission from different government entities like Board of Investment, Export Promotion Bureau, Export Processing Zone, NGO (Non-government Organization) Bureau Authority and others.
$14,058 billion siphoned off from Bangladesh
A working foreigner having permit has to pay 25 per cent of his or her income as tax as per rule. No tax can be collected from those who have no work permit. Majority of the foreigners are from South Asian countries. They work in RMG (ready made garment), IT (Information Technology) engineering, pharmaceuticals, marketing and service sectors. This was reported in a prominent English language daily on June 29, 2014.
One year ago on June 21, 2013 I wrote a letter entitled “Hundi business will ruin our already fragile economy” published in the Holiday. My letter threw light on transferring money abroad through ‘Hundi’ by the foreigners who are residing in Bangladesh illegally. These foreigners are residing in Bangladesh for years together. They came to Bangladesh on tourist visa and then worked in different establishments. A total of $14,058 billion had been siphoned off from Bangladesh in 10 years since 2001 through mis-invoicing, bribery a tax evasion. The task force should find out these illegal foreigners who are involved in transferring money through ‘Hundi’ and bring them to book.
Indian expats sent home $3,716 million
I wrote another article headlined “Indian expats remitted $3,716 million in 2013” published in the Holiday on March 14, 2014. The article said Indian expatriates who live and work in Bangladesh sent home in 2013 as much as $3,716 million and the number is expected to increase in the next few years. Presently, a total of 50,000 Indians are residing in Bangladesh. Most of them came in search of job opportunities. People who are migrating to Bangladesh illegally are from West Bengal, Meghalaya, Assam, Tripura and Mizoram.
Besides this, many Indian artistes and cultural activists came to Bangladesh to participate in various programmes during the last five years. Their sponsors invited them to come to Bangladesh. But we do not know the amount which we spent as ‘honorarium’ for Indian people whom we invited to participate in the programs. The NBR can impose 1 per cent surcharge on ‘honorarium’ spent for foreigners.
A Bangla daily reported that Indian TV (Television) channels earn several crore takas per month on advertisement and subscriber’s fees from Bangladesh. Indian TV channel Star Plus earns $195 thousand, Star Movie $118 thousand, G. Studio $ 94 thousand, GTV $ 67 thousand, Sony $ 123 thousand, Star Gold $ 61 thousand, G Cinema $ 95 thousand, Star Sports $ 70 thousand, BAU $ 5 thousand, Star Jalsha $ 17 thousand, G Premier $ 39 thousand, G Action $ 29 thousand, G Café $ 19 thousand, G.Bangla $ 17 thousand, Sub TV $ 6 thousand, Tara TV $ 6 thousand, Tara music $ 6 thousand, Star One $ 23 thousand and Star World $ 23 thousand. However, the report said this is not a complete list.
Bangladeshi TV channels are not allowed in India
Indian people can not watch Bangladeshi TV channels because these are not allowed there. Indian TV channels have captured Bangladesh markets to promote their commodities and advertisements. Indian TV channels do not pay any taxes to the government of Bangladesh for it. On the contrary Bangladesh TV channels have to pay VAT (value added tax) to the government and are being harassed for it, as reported on July 7, 2014.
We allowed India transit and corridor facilities and use of Mongla and Chittagong Port free of charge. If we charge fee for it, we will be ‘uncivilised’ according to Mashiur rahman an adviser to PM Sheikh Hasina. May be, the NBR does not want to be ‘uncivilised’ by imposing taxes on Indian TV channels. In July 2012 he blamed the Bangladesh media and some scholars for confusing the nation about the transit facility being offered to India hiding the fact about its future benefit. “They are making stories not based on facts. They are not making the people of Bangladesh aware about the great potential of the transit facility,” said Mashiur while speaking as chief guest at a seminar on regional economic integration held in the city.
Question arises: when Bangladeshi TV channels have to pay VAT then why taxes would not be imposed on Indian TV channels who earn several crore takas from Bangladesh per month. Besides this, Indian TV channels ruin the character of our younger generation. These TV channels encourage them to commit various crimes. The NBR should impose taxes on Indian TV channels in the interest of the country’s economy.