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Unpacking yellow journalism in Bangladesh: Big tycoons, big lies

By Hasan Ibne Hamid* 

As the National Election is approaching, the political climate in Bangladesh is rapidly changing with political heatwaves and social turmoil. Internally, pro BNP-Jammat civil society groups are fanning flames over media to tarnish the political horizon of Bangladesh. Whilst, externally, some major external players have launched their smear campaign to manipulate the public opinion and upcoming election results. However, there is another interoperable force, namely, the “Yellow Media” ‒ lying at the critical juncture between internal and external forces ‒ which are propagating, fabricating, and spreading misinformation, disinformation and false narratives to secure its vested political interests and financial objectives. In this regard, time and again, the names of the big media tycoons namely, The Daily Star and Prothom Alo ‒ are popping up as the precursor of the “yellow journalism” in Bangladesh. Recently, these vested media houses are corroborating as the spokesman of the foreign intelligence services ahead of the upcoming election to tarnish the political image of the Bangladesh government.
For instance, on December 6, 2022, The Daily Star, on its first page, published a “ill-motivated” report titled “Probe S. Alam Group assets, PM orders amid allegation of over evaluation of land”. The report entails that Bangladeshi Premier Sheikh Hasina has called for an investigation into the affairs of S. Alam Group, which has been in the public discourse in recent times for its alleged excessive borrowing from the banking system in violation of rules. The report also said that Dr. Ahmed Kaykaus, the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, has given instructions to the Deputy Commissioner of Chittagong Mohammad Mominur Rahman in this regard. However, according to the sources of the Prime Minister’s Office, both of the referral persons – Principal Secretary Dr. Ahmed Kaykaus and Chittagong Deputy Commissioner (DC) Mohammad Mominur Rahman - expressed their utter despair that such false news was not expected from a cerebral newspaper like the Daily Star. After unpacking the truth, the media outlet itself admitted their mistake in a statement after the response of the Prime Minister’s office and in this case their comment is, “We stand corrected”.
Anam’s politics of “we stand corrected” is nothing new in Bangladesh’s political arena. Along with Prothom Alo and the CPD, Daily Star was an alleged mastermind in creating the pretext to promote an unconstitutional military-backed caretaker government in 2007 in the disguise of `depoliticization’ campaign. At that time, these outlets created the path of arresting political leaders by circulating propaganda under the direct prescription from the then DGFI officials. In 2013, Prothom Alo and Daily Star, the two leading dailies in Bangladesh, were also alleged to make controversies against the `Ganajagoron Moncho’, an activist platform to demonstrate on the demand of prosecuting the war criminals in the 1971 Liberation War. While the Daily Amar Desh, the mouthpiece of anti-liberation forces, published a propaganda news after the conviction of Delowar Hossain Sayeedi to provoke communal violence, the consequence of the news was intensively awful. It resulted in vandalization of roads, transports, offices and killing hundreds of people in political violence. Mahmudur Rahman, the then editor of Amar Desh was charged for spreading false news. Interestingly, however, the Prothom Alo Editor Matiur Rahman and the Daily Star editor Mahfuz Anam signed in a joint statement demanding his quick release. Not alone in the case of Mahmudur Rahman, they also signed a statement demanding the release of “Adhikar” editor Adilur Rahman, who was arrested for publishing false report on the death toll in the police operation to pacify the mass gathering of Hefazat-e-Islam on May 5-6, 2013 in Motijheel, Dhaka. As evidence shows later on, many people were found alive in their homes, who were enlisted as “dead” in the report.
Even, after failing to establish a pro-western puppet regime in the national election 2014, the media outlet overwhelmingly stood in favor of the West. While Dan Mozena, the erstwhile US Ambassador, gave a speech in support of the right-wing elements of the BNP-Jamaat-Hefazat axis, flouting all diplomatic etiquette, the then Awami League General Secretary, Syed Ashraf, made a statement criticizing Dan Mozena’s statement. However, in counter-reaction, Mahfuz Anam wrote an editorial in the Daily Star to teach him decency and criticized the government’s zero tolerance policy against militancy and boycotted the anti-militancy round table discussions! More pathetically, in 2015, Mahfuz Anam compared the political crisis of Bangladesh to the ethnic problems of Rwanda's Tutsi and Hutu in his editorial to implement and propagate the US policy in Bangladesh by discounting one of the bloodiest histories of human civilization, where the notorious Rwandan genocide witnessed a massacre of eight million people in just 100 days!
The latest addition to the saga of the Daily Star’s “yellow journalism” is manifested on December 08, 2022, when the outlet published a blatantly partisan editorial regarding the political violence on the BNP rally in Dhaka’s Nayapaltan. In the editorial, Mahfuz Anam referred to the death of a “BNP activist”, although the Daily Star did not independently verify that the deceased was a member of the BNP. Later it was revealed that a common citizen died in a cocktail explosion by BNP activists. But how he died will be clear after getting the postmortem report. In other words, the trend of propagating the people through fabrication and manipulation of the news has become a part and parcel of the Daily Star’s yellow journalism.
The history of the Daily Star’s controversial journalistic practices is nothing new. Yet, the question is remains, how long it would continue such yellow journalistic instances. Despite repeated apologies and admissions of mistakes, the Daily Star’s misrepresentation of rumors and lies in the name of journalism has not stopped. Because, these vested groups lie in the critical juncture between the domestic hostile actors and foreign intelligence agencies. Tasneem Khalil, former journalist of the newspaper, has admitted this fact in multiple media previously. Thus, the report published in the Daily Star on December 6 is just a trailer, perhaps, we have to see a lot more in the future!
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*Political and International Affairs Analyst

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