Journo watch in country's interest, Bangladesh minister says

DHAKA (The Daily Star/ANN) - Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali assures that journalists would face no obstacles in travelling abroad and performing their professional duties there.

Bangladesh Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali yesterday assured that journalists would face no obstacles in travelling abroad and performing their professional duties there.

He made the remarks after the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Wednesday instructed all its diplomatic missions to monitor the activities of Bangladeshi journalists abroad and report to Dhaka.

In response to a question from a reporter during a press conference yesterday, Ali said, “I didn't see it [the directive note]. I'll look into it. No journalist will face any barrier. If anybody does, let me know.”

Ali, however, said it was necessary to monitor whether anybody while travelling abroad was doing anything that goes against the country's image and interest.

He further said monitoring was not only for journalists but also for all citizens and that was in the interest of the county.

But his ministry's letter to missions only mentioned journalists. “ … it is requested kindly to take up the matter seriously so that Bangladeshi journalists whenever travelling to the respective host countries, should be monitored to unearth their activities,” it read.

“The Parliamentary Standing Committee has expressed its concern over the negative activities of Bangladeshi journalists abroad as such activities give wrong information on Bangladesh in the international arena,” it said.

Diplomatic sources said the ministry's instructions came after the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Ministry of Foreign Affairs during its 12th meeting discussed a series of recent visits by Bangladeshi journalists to Pakistan at the invitation of the Pakistan government.

Lawmaker Mahjabeen Khaled, a committee member, alleged that those Bangladeshi journalists were spreading propaganda and disseminating misleading information about the 1971 genocide.

Pakistan in recent months took a good number of Bangladeshi journalists, in batches, to Pakistan despite diplomatic tensions following the executions of war criminals in Bangladesh. Some of the journalists were allegedly Pakistan leaning.

Even though the foreign ministry directive did not clarify what type of “negative” activities journalists carry out abroad, the government move has created widespread criticism.

Journalists feared harassment and abuse of the directive.

Journalists also feared that they may face difficulties at immigrations -- during departures and arrivals.

State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md Shahriar Alam and Foreign Secretary Md Shahidul Haque were present at the press conference at the ministry.

Meanwhile, President and General Secretary of Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists (BFUJ) Manjurul Ahsan Bulbul and Omar Faruq told The Daily Star that they had contacted the ministry immediately after learning about the matter yesterday to know about the details of the directive.

“We are hopeful of the withdrawal of the directives of the foreign ministry or we will issue our formal reaction in the next few days,” said the BFUJ president, adding, “We will hold a meeting with the top brass at the foreign ministry on Sunday or Monday to discuss the matter.”

General Secretary of Dhaka Union of Journalists Sohel Haider said steps could be taken if a journalist group or individual was engaged in a campaign against the development, interest and image of the country.

“But the step can't be taken under Article 57 of the ICT Act … steps must be taken through the Press Council, which is now a strong body,” Sohel said.

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