Wednesday, February 24, 2021

The Bangladesh government has a lot to hide: a response to the personal attacks

On February 1st, Al Jazeera broadcast the documentary, “All the Prime Minister’s Men” and since then the investigative film has been watched on social media millions of times and widely discussed in Bangladesh. The government and its supporters have responded very critically – but instead of responding through a detailed formal rebuttal of the substance of the allegations, they have launched a smear campaign against the broadcaster, and those interviewed in it - or others whom they falsely claim were involved in making the film.

It is this smear campaign – not the substance of the film itself - that I am commenting on in this article. I have been subject to vicious lies and defamation, without it should be said being provided a single right of reply. Not a single one of all these newspapers, online sites and TV stations, which are repeatedly criticising me and making false allegations, have ever contacted me before publication, a very basic tenant of journalism.


It should be noted that this kind of government backed campaign seeking to smear individuals is far-far from unique. There is a very long list of people in Bangladesh accused falsely of various things in the media – from Md Yunus in 2011 to Shahidul Alam in 2018 – because the government, for one reason or the other, wants to discredit them. Many of them are not just defamed but are subject to false criminal cases. Whilst this government strategy is nothing new – what is perhaps different right now is the extent of the concerted campaign on television, newspaper and social media - suggesting that the stakes are higher for the government.


The film itself was made by Al Jazeera. Whilst I played a role in the film, I was not involved in the filming, editing or production. This is important to mention as there are some who suggesting in Bangladesh media that the film is my creation – and indeed, even more absurdly, that I have even paid for Al Jazeera to make the film. This is totally untrue.


Other claims against me are also totally false – in particular claims that I have any financial or political connection with opposition parties or politicians, or indeed that I support these parties. It is a common trope in Bangladesh for the government to allege that those they consider its critics to be “Jamaat supporters”, “against the liberation war”, and are “haters of Awami League” – all of which have been levelled against me - and it goes without saying that all these claims are false and have no foundation.


Some of these articles claims that I have been involved in certain meetings taking place with well known opposition politicians, when supposedly various things were agreed. These claims sometimes include a surprising level of detail, which make them appear convincing. However, they are all complete fabrications. Total fiction. If you read such allegations, ask for the evidence – as there is none.


More recently it is suggested that I am a director of a well known Bangladesh company. For the avoidance of any doubt I can confirm I am not a director, officer or owner of any company, anywhere in the world.


Other articles also suggest that my family members are somehow involved in the making of the film. None of my family members had any knowledge  about the content of the film which was kept confidential until its release.


At the centre of this is a total misunderstanding – almost certainly a very intentional and deliberate misunderstanding - about the nature of journalism and journalists, and in particular of investigative journalism. It is assumed by the Bangladesh government that journalists that investigate or undertake investigations or assist others in their investigations of Bangladesh have ulterior partisan motives, are doing their work with malicious or vindictive intent and are part of some kind of wider conspiracy seeking to bring down or do damage to a political party of government.


Along with many journalists in Bangladesh, who are also trying to do the kind of work, all that I am doing – though my work at Netra News and in other parts of my journalistic life - is to uncover wrong-doing, corruption, human rights violations and the like. It does not matter to me which government in Bangladesh is in power. if they were in government, I would have equally been involved in a similar film on the BNP or the Jamaat, and my own writing would be focused on the wrong-doing in those governments.


It is important to note that the Awami League has been in government since the end of 2008 – a period of over 11 years. I only returned to journalism in 2009 – when the Awami League government was in power – so was not in a position to write about any other Bangladesh government. However, prior to that, I was involved in making in 1994 the path breaking Channel Four, The WarCrimes Files, which accused three UK based former members of the Jamaat-e-Islami of involvement in war crimes during the 1971 war. Then, of course, as the film served their interests I was celebrated by the Awami League. I did not work as a journalist between 2000 to 2010.

Much has been written about my work writing about the International Crimes Tribunal. It is very unfortunate that someone writing about due process and fair-trial issues should be portrayed as pro-jamaat or indeed even as pro-war criminal. 

It is time for the Bangladesh government and its supporters to stop shooting the messenger.- and instead respond by learning lessons, conducting investigations and undertaking reform. The messages of investigative journalism may be difficult for those in the government to swallow, and clearly it has the right to rebut any alleged factual inaccuracies in journalistic reports, but launching a campaign to impute the motives of those who are involved in producing it is simply wrong, nasty and does serious damage to many innocent people and their families


In the end, the government response simply suggests that it has much to hide.

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