Saturday, July 28, 2007

Sounds Good




The government's decision to give autonomy to the state-run radio and television is a welcome step


Law and information adviser Mainul Hosein has said last week that the interim government will give autonomy to state-run Bangladesh Television (BTV) and Bangladesh Betar (BB). Giving autonomy to these two organisations, or to free them from becoming Her Majesty's Voice has been a long-standing demand of the ordinary people. In fact, when HM Ershad, one of the vilest dictators in our recent history was ousted in a mass upsurge in 1990, all the major political parties promised to give editorial independence to the Betar and BTV. But the government that was elected in the election of 1991, only followed Ershad's footsteps very closely-- both the organisations, like other state-run bodies, were shamelessly politicised. Committees that were formed to "discuss ways" to give them independence, never came up with any fruitful suggestion. Committee members jetted off from one country to the other to learn ways in which autonomous television channels and radio stations worked. It is now difficult to tell what they have learnt from the numerous foreign trips that the committee-members made-- but BTV and Betar remained her majesty's droning yet faithful voice.

This trend, however disturbing, continued during Sheikh Hasina's five-year rule that followed. So the Prime Minister laying the foundation stone of a primary school became the lead in the prime-time news of state run BTV on a day when thousands died in an earthquake in a neighbouring country and when our own capital was clogged in rainwater. It crossed every level of decency during the last government's tenure. Khaleda Zia and her sons must have thought Bangladesh as their fiefdom, for no other reason is good enough to explain the eulogies of the prime minister, her late husband and their sons that the BTV and BB so diligently aired at regular intervals in the last five years. One example was good enough to show the level of arrogance with which the BNP-infested BB had treated its listeners: when bombs went off in all but one districts of the country, the Bangladesh Betar at 8 that night aired a programme praising the beautification of the capital.

It is indeed good that the interim government wants to put an end to this legacy. It is also time for the BTV to get rid of bad graphics, misspelled Bangla (not to mention, English) and soppy soaps with which the channel has been feeding its viewers for the last two decades.

In a country like Bangladesh radio holds immense potential. The government, while freeing the BB, must take steps to let a thousand radio stations bloom in the country. Small radio stations for townships--even for villages-- can be given permission to; these community radio stations play a vital role in case of natural disasters like flood and cyclone, besides this, it also gives that particular community a sense of identity. It is indeed sad that in a country like us, where a significant number of young people live, there is no campus radio, or no radio station specifically catering to the needs of the youth.

From its zero-tolerance policy on corruption to its promise of giving judiciary total independence, the interim government has taken numerous bold steps to create a free democratic Bangladesh. As the law adviser has so rightly said BTV and BB should be given autonomy as soon as possible, not only that the government must take steps to encourage the establishment of small radio stations where the youth can hone their artistic talent. Bangladesh is a country of forgotten dreams and missed opportunities; now that we have a government that actually thinks and, more importantly, acts accordingly, we have every reason to become hopeful. This government must make the best use of the door of opportunity that has opened before us. To build a dynamic modern Bangladesh a strong and vibrant BTV-BB is a must, we are hopeful that this government understands the necessity of it more than anyone.

This article was first published in the Daily Star on May 25, 2007

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