Saturday, October 10, 2015

7 things to know about the government's advert embargo

On Thursday, Al Jazeera published a report on how on 16 August 2015, Bangladesh intelligence agency officials had instructed telecommunication and consumer good companies from advertising in the country's two leading newspapers.

After you have read the article, as well as the full statement from Telenor (the majority shareholder of Grameen Phone), here are seven further things to understand about this situation.

1. Dont underestimate the significance of this attack on Prothom Alo and the Daily Star

Love them, or hate them, the Daily Star and Prothom Alo are the leading English and Bengali language papers respectively. In part, this is because they are centrist, independent from government and operate at arms length from their corporate owners - unlike much of the media here. In fact, the papers do share many of the current government's values relating for example to extremism, the 1971 war, the war crimes trials, and secularism. However, at the same time they are willing to report on governance failures - whether these relate to elections, corruption, or general mal-administrations, and these rile the government

The order by DGFI, presumably with the agreement of the powers that be in the Bangladesh government, to stop large companies from advertising in Prothom Alo and the Daily Star is a serious attempt to undermine the freedom of the media in Bangladesh. By throttling the papers' advertising revenue, the government is trying to bring these papers in line - so they no longer are the independent institutions, able to question and challenge the government through their reporting and investigative journalism.

Though there is a background of historic disagreements as to why parts of the government do not like these papers, this current attack on the papers is probably not just about settling scores. Members of the government think that Prothom Alo's reporting and journalism, which reaches many millions of people, can swing votes. This attack is about ensuring that when the next elections come, the government has beaten these papers into submission - and perhaps even to have them shut them down.

2. The silence of the media

What is particularly worrying about the current situation, is that not a word about the instruction has been reported in the country's newspapers or electronic media - not in the Daily Star/Prothom Alo, nor in other newspapers and TV media, although they are all fully aware of the situation.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

'An instruction from the authorities': Full statement given by Telenor

Al Jazeera, yesterday published a report on the involvement of the military intelligence agency, DGFI, in instructing large telecommunication and consumer product companies from advertising in the country's two largest and most popular independent newspapers.

You can read the article here.

Telenor, the Norwegian parent company of Grameen Phone provided a statement to Al Jazeera, only part of which was reported in the article. Below is the full statement. It was sent by Tor Odland, VP, Head of Communications, Telenor Group in Asia
"Grameenphone, a company majority owned by Telenor Group, has along with several other large corporations, received an instruction from the authorities to stop advertisements in two leading newspapers in Bangladesh. As a result, Grameenphone has been unable to effectively maintain commercial communication with its customers via these newspapers. A significant number of steps have already been taken by Telenor and Grameenphone to limit the overall impact. This includes initiating a dialogue with the industry, investors, media partners and the authorities. These efforts will continue with the aim of resuming normal commercial activities with the newspapers as soon as possible."