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Publicity officers cannot be journalists

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After country's independence, the Associated Press of Pakistan following a government order on January 1, 1972 got a new name - Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS), and journalist Faiz Ahmed was appointed as its Chief Editor.

But the new name and set-up did not change its old character. From the very beginning, there was no long-term pragmatic policy to run the BSS.

All the subsequent governments used it for spreading their propaganda and journalists were used as their 'publicity officers'.

The BSS got the status of national news agency following two martial law proclamations issued on August 20 and November 8 in 1975.

The BSS Ordinance, which was prepared in 1979 to operate the organization, had clearly mentioned the service holders as 'officers' and 'employees'. That means, the persons since then were working as government 'officers' not journalists. Most contradictory is that, it is mandatory for BSS Chief Editor to be a journalist, but he has no freedom for a journalist.

According to the 12(1) of BSS ordinance, the Managing Director shall be appointed by the Government from amongst the journalists having not less than fifteen years experience in journalism on such terms and conditions as may be determined by the Government and he shall also be the Chief Editor of the Sangstha. It also said the Managing Director shall be a whole time officer and Chief Administrative Officer of the Sangstha.

The article 13 (1) elaborates the appointment of other 'officers' saying that: "The Sangstha may, subject to such general or special orders as the Government may give from time to time and subject to such terms and conditions as the Government may determine, appoint such 'officers and other employees' as it considers necessary for the efficient performance of its affairs."

We know, the definition of 'journalist' and 'officer' is not the same. Usually, the journalists-turned-officers of BSS remain full-time busy to serve the government high-ups -- from Prime Minister to lower-grade MPs. As a result, the news agency has turned into a 'publicity machine' of the governments.

Though BSS is a decades-old losing concern, its 'officers and employees' enjoy all the facilities under the latest Journalists Wage Board. Whereas many journalists of the print and electronic media do not get such advantages. Why the Information Ministry overlooks such discrimination?

In several countries including Britain there is even no information ministry. Its only reason is to give the media a suitable working atmosphere so that journalists could do journalism independently without anyone's inference.  
Not only that, in many countries the governments do not have ownership of national news agencies also. As an example, the Indian government has not any direct control on Press Trust of India (PTI). Local newspapers of different Indian states are the owners of PTI.

Just after Bangladesh's independence, the number of newspapers was 10. The Pakistan Press Trust's own newspapers Dainik Pakistan (later Dainik Bangla), Morning News and in absence of owner The Pakistan Observer (The Bangladesh Observer), Purbodesh and Chitrali were operated by Newspaper Management Board under direct supervision of Information Ministry.

The government at that time took responsibility to run these newspapers in the changing socio-economic scenario of a war-ravaged country. Now 47 years have gone after the independence. Is there any necessity to run any newspaper or news agency giving subsidy on a regular basis?

The Awami League government in 1997 abolished Times-Bangla Trust cancelling the publication of Dainik Bangla, Bangladesh Times and Weekly Bichitra when it became impossible for the government to bear the brunt of huge financial liabilities.  No doubt, it was a wise decision.

At present, the number of unskilled journalists in BSS is several times more than the skilled and experienced journalists. The main reason is that, they all have got appointment under active political consideration.

Some veteran journalists and former BSS Chief Editors are of the view that the media should run independently without interference of the government. There should not be any farcical activities in the name of journalism.
Why these 'publicity officers' would be fed years after years giving millions of taka subsidy from the state exchequer when the rests of the country's print and electronic media are engaged in a tough competition for their survival?

The government should not make BSS a dumping place of partisan amateurs. If government pays subsidy to BSS, then it must give subsidies to other newspapers and news agencies too.
Otherwise, stop the practice.

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