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Bangladesh daily shutdown: Reason? Editor, a 'fugitive, lives in UK to avoid jail term'

By Aziz Patwary* 

On February 19th, the Bangladesh authorities shutdown a daily newspaper, "Dainik Dinkal", for allegedly violating the country’s press and publication law. The decision has created a national debate in Bangladesh. Many portray this shutdown by legal intervention as an attack on the country’s media freedom. The issue has also attracted international media such as BBC, "Al Jazeera" and "The Guardian".
The Committee for Protecting Journalists (CPJ) has given a statement citing the decision as a ‘blatant’ attack against media freedom. Perhaps, the daily’s political affiliation with the opposition, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), and its top leader, Tarique Rahman is the reason behind such media attention. But in the era of post-positivism, it is worth asking if the shutdown is really a media freedom issue. Or is it an example of post-truth politics?
Post-truth politics, also called post-factual politics and post-reality politics, is a political culture in which debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion disconnected from the details of policy, and by repetition of the framed statement, it ignores objective rebuttals to it. Post-truth politics is largely applied by populist political parties to pursue the masses. It is a very modern concept that has become popular in academia since 2015 to understand contemporary phenomena.
The narratives are often framed based on emotions and personal beliefs rather than objectivity. Academics, political leaders, and commentators become very important in shaping them. In post-truth politics, disinformation, false or fabricated news, rumor, conspiracy theories, and manufactured controversies are widely used to shape public opinion or ‘gaslight’ the public into confusion.

Dinkal shutdown

Dinkal’s shutdown is not a single decision, rather it’s being considered a legal process. The issue began on 26th November 2022, when a Dhaka court ordered to cancellation of its license over a violation of the law. After that, "Dinkal" appealed against the decision on 29th December. But their appeal was rejected at the Bangladesh Press Council on 19th February. Since then, the publication of the daily is off.
The allegation brought against "Dinkal" is that it is violating press and publication law.
According to law, the editor of any Bangladeshi daily must hand over the charge of the respective newspaper if he stays more than 6 months abroad. The editor of "Dinkal" is Tarique Rahman, the top leader of the main opposition BNP.
Tarique Rahman is currently a fugitive in the eye of the law as he has been sentenced to several criminal lawsuits against him. He is also one of the masterminds behind the 21st August Grenade Attack that took place in 2004. Tarique Rahman has been living in exile in the United Kingdom to escape jail time for more than 14 years now.
The managing editor, Shamsur Rahman Shemul, was managing the newspaper till the court decision with Rizwan Siddique as the acting editor. Such management of the daily "Dinkal" was interpreted as a clear violation of the law upon which the press council decided to reject the appeal. The press council also consists of a wide range of stakeholders including fellow journalists.

Post-truth politics?

Bangladesh is struggling to uphold its media freedom. The country is currently at 162nd in Global Media Freedom Index 2022. It is against this backdrop that one should see the legal proceedings and "Dinkal's" alleged violation leading to its shutdown.
CPJ portrayed it as a ‘blatant attack’ on press freedom. Prominent international media such as Al Jazeera, Barrons, and the Guardian portrayed "Dinkal" as the ‘main opposition newspaper’. "Dinkal" is seen as a dissident voice. This despite fact that "Dinkal" is just another newspaper struggling to maintain existence with least circulation.
According to the government’s Department of Films and Publications, the daily’s latest daily circulation stood at only 15,580 copies. With such low circulation, "Dinkal" is not even in the top fifty Bengali newspapers in Bangladesh. Not without reason, the narrative around the shutdown appears motivated by subjectivity, emotion, personal belief, and conspiracy theories.
---
*British-Bangladeshi, former employee of the World Bank

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