Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Malicious journalism against Al Jazeera

Newspapers in all countries at times deserve serious criticism - look no further than the Leveson inquiry in the UK for examples - but in an article written about Al Jazeera and its correspondent here in Dhaka, a national Bangla language newspaper reached rather close to the bottom as far as journalistic practices are concerned.

In this incident, it is not just the newspaper itself that deserves criticism. Also worthy of censure is the devious role that the Bangladesh 'intelligence' agencies (is there a word less appropriate, I wonder) who intentionally used the newspapers to get published totally untrue and malicious stories. Apparently, journalists from a number of different papers including Daily Star got calls from this agency with this 'story' and ignored them.

It is, though, only Daily Jonokhonto (and Bhorer Kagoj to a lesser extent) that need to hang their heads in shame. Of course, the fact that a number of papers clearly decided not to run the article is a positive sign,

So what is it all about. Here is an approximate translation of part of the front page article in Daily Jonokhonto (original article is here). Do remember as you read it, there is barely a single accurate sentence:
"To stop the trial against the war criminals, Jamaat has taken a new strategy. They have spent a huge amount of money to bring foreign journalists in Dhaka. In the meantime, a journalist of Aljazeera has come to Dhaka to interview top war criminal Golam Azam. That journalist has fixed the time of his interview with Golam Azam. The interview will be taken tomorrow (Wednesday).  An influential intelligence agency has confirmed the news.

An official of that influential intelligence agency told that a journalist of Aljazeera television has arrived in Dhaka few days ago. He is here to accomplish a special assignment. His name is Nicolas Haque. After arriving in Bangladesh, he took a mobile phone connection from Grameen Phone. Journalist Nicolas already talked to some of the Jamaat leaders. It is known that, several reports will be made to change public opinion around the world to protect the top war criminals who are also engaged in the crimes against humanity.  Interview of Golam Aazam will one of the reports among all. The highest level of the government was also informed about it. But the journalist of Aljazeera has fixed everything to interview Golam Azam. He also talked to arrested Golam Azam in the prison cell of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Medical University. An intelligence report has also been submitted to the highest level of the government. Prime minister’s office is also informed about this matter. It is not known yet what steps will be taken from government’s side?

Source said that he would interview Golam Azam in connivance with some officials of Bangabandhu Shiekh Mujibur Rahman medical university and also with some police personnel. If government stops the reporter of Aljazeera, he will broadcast it widely saying that the trial is NOT going on fairly and transparently. Source said that Jamaat would then bring other influential news media of the world in Dhaka by offering huge amount of money. If government allows the interview of Golam Azam, his lies about the trial process of the government will be broadcast all over the world. For that reason, government is confused and facing troubles."
The inaccuracies in this story include:
  • Nicholas Haque is the Al Jazeera correspondent based in Dhaka, so he certainly cannot be paid to come to Dhaka. He has already been here for a few years.
  • He has never intended to interview Gholam Azam - but rather his son;
  • There was nothing secret at all about him setting up or undertaking this interview. It is just part of normal journalism. He was doing a piece on Azam's detention; in such circumstances it is quite reasonable to seek to interview a family member of a detained person.
  • The reports stated thatL 'It is known that, several reports will be made to change the public opinion of the people around the world to protect the top war criminals who are also engaged in the crimes against humanity.' I am sure the Al Jazeera correspondent is flattered by his potential influence, but doing a report on Gholam Azam's detention is a perfectly newsworthy subject which can be made without having any motivated agenda. 
  • It would be nice also if Jonokhonto understood the concept of innocent until proved guilty, even for those accused of war crimes.
One thing that the article did get right is that he has a Grameen Phone connection. But this is apparently an account he has had since coming to Bangladesh, some years ago! 

I have no idea what will be the content of Al Jazeera's piece  on Gholam Azam, but I would be pretty certain that it will be a balanced piece of journalism.

Clearly what has happened here is that the agencies tapped the phone of Azam's son, heard Nic trying to make an appointment to meet him, and decided to spin the story of Nic, newly arriving in Dhaka, setting up an illegal interview with Gholam Azam, as part of a Jamaat conspiracy to spend lavish amounts of money to bring in foreign journalists.

Sounds great. Such a pity that there is not an iota of truth to it!

This could be a rather amusing story, perhaps. But there is a serious side to this. It is becoming increasingly difficult for journalists in Bangladesh to undertake independent journalism on the International Crimes Tribunal; journalists who write articles considered 'off message' by the current establishment, are routinely being labelled 'pro-Jamaat' or 'pro-war criminal'.

That is not the right atmosphere to ensure that a fair trial takes place.

And please .... Bangladesh intelligence agencies, stop using the media to plant stories, and newspapers stop printing them.


  1. First of all I would like to say a big thank you to David Bergman for unveiling the truth with honesty and courage. This is really a big shame for the government and its intelligence agency. This shameless action, in one hand, clearly shows the corrupt mentality of the government, on the other hand, it has again proved that they do not have any respect for the citizens of the country. They think that 160 million people are so foolish that they do not understand anything. I am really shocked by seeing the heinous form journalism that very shamelessly demonstrated by Jonokonto and Vorer Kagoj. Shame to them. Thanks to all other news paper who have set an example of honest journalism and showed enormous courage by refusing to publish this fabricated story.

  2. This Al Jazeera report is one of the many attempts to make this war crime tribunal controversial . And these attempts are co-ordinated , meticulously planned . Any sane Bangladeshi would love to see these atrocious criminals hanged for what they did in 1971 . Human rights are for those who vilolated human rights . Such a shame .

  3. @Sakib, Al Jazeera does not need to make the tribunal controversial. The supporters of the tribunal are doing enough on that front. And it is obvious that those who see the tribunal as an obstacle, maybe just a judicial stamp, to take revenge on the 'criminals' are bound to fear independent journalism.