Shut Down Of Daily Dinkal And Media Freedom Narrative: Example Of Post-Truth Politics? – OpEd
By Aziz Patwary
On February 19th, Bangladesh shut down a daily newspaper, Dainik Dinkal, for violating the country’s press and publication law. The decision has created a national debate in Bangladesh. Many portray this shutdown by legal intervention as an attack on the country’s media freedom.
The issue has also attracted international media such as BBC, Al Jazeera, and The Guardian. Committee for Protecting Journalists (CPJ) also quickly gave a statement citing the decision as a ‘blatant’ attack against media freedom. Perhaps, the daily’s political affiliation with the opposition, BNP, and its top leader, Tarique Rahman is the reason behind such media attention. But in the era of post-positivism, it is worth asking if the shutdown is really a media freedom issue. Or is it an example of post-truth politics?
What is ‘Post-Truth’ Politics?
Post-truth politics, also called post-factual politics and post-reality politics, is a political culture in which debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion disconnected from the details of policy, and by repetition of the framed statement, it ignores objective rebuttals to it. Post-truth politics is largely applied by populist political parties to pursue the masses. It is a very modern concept that has become popular in academia since 2015 to understand contemporary phenomena.
As the narratives are framed based on emotions and personal beliefs rather than objectivity. Academics, political leaders, and commentators become very important in shaping them. In post-truth politics, disinformation, false or fabricated news, rumor, conspiracy theories, and manufactured controversies are widely used to shape public opinion or ‘gaslight’ the public into confusion and fuel dissidence.
Dinkal’s shutdown is not a single decision, rather it’s a legal process. The issue began on 26th November 2022, when a Dhaka court ordered to cancellation of its license over a violation of the law. After that, the Dinkal authority appealed against the decision on 29th December. But their appeal was rejected at the Bangladesh Press Council on 19th February. Since then, the publication of the daily is off.
The allegation brought against Dinkal is that it is violating press and publication law.
According to law, the editor of any Bangladeshi daily must hand over the charge of the respective newspaper if he stays more than 6 months abroad. The editor of Dinkal is Tarique Rahman, the top leader of the main opposition, BNP. Tarique Rahman is currently a fugitive in the eye of the law as he has been sentenced to several criminal lawsuits against him. He is also one of the masterminds behind the 21st August Grenade Attack that took place in 2004. Tarique Rahman has been living in exile in the United Kingdom to escape jail time for more than 14 years now.
Yet he did not hand over the charge of the Daily Dinkal to anyone. The managing editor, Shamsur Rahman Shemul was managing the newspaper till the court decision with Rizwan Siddique as the acting editor.
Such management of the daily Dinkal is a clear violation of the law upon which the press council decided to reject the appeal. It is worth mentioning that the press council also consists of a wide range of stakeholders including fellow journalists.
Dinkal and Post-Truth Politics
No doubt, Bangladesh is struggling to uphold its media freedom. The country is currently at 162nd in Global Media Freedom Index 2022. But the legal proceedings and Dinkal’s clear violation suggest that the shutdown is a completely legal step. Hence, it has nothing to do with media freedom in Bangladesh. Yet CPJ portrayed it as a ‘Blatant attack’ on press freedom.
Again, the prominent international media such as Al Jazeera, Barrons, and the Guardian portrayed Dinkal as the ‘main opposition newspaper’. There is also an attempt to portray Dinkal as a dissident voice and a ‘prominent’ newspaper.
But in reality, Dinkal is just another newspaper struggling to maintain existence with least circulation. According to the government’s Department of Films and Publications, the daily’s latest daily circulation stood at only 15,580 copies. With such low circulation, Dinkal is not even in the top fifty Bengali newspapers in Bangladesh.
It seems the press freedom narrative and the debate over license cancellation are driven by subjectivity, and emotion; disconnected from the detail of the case and objectivity. The narrative is also driven by a conspiracy theory aimed to fuel dissidence only. Therefore, the debate and the narrative regarding Dainik Dinkal is an example of post-truth politics.
In a nutshell, Dinkal’s shutdown is a legal decision. It is not a political decision or a repressive measure. Bangladesh currently has more than 500 dailies published every day. Dinkal is just one of them that violated the country’s law. The subsequent debate and narrative are only exaggerated portrayals and it reveals that there is post-truth politics at play motivated by subjectivity, emotion, personal belief, and conspiracy theories.
Aziz Patwary is a British-Bangladeshi and former employee of the World Bank