Dinkal’s Shutdown Is A Legal Decision, Not A Political Decision Or A Repressive Measure – OpEd


A bit of news published in the leading British daily ‘The Guardian’ on February 20, 2023 has come to my notice just as idle curiosity. They ran the news under the headline– ‘Bangladesh shuts down main opposition newspaper’ with the subheading– ‘Campaigners fear media crackdown under PM Sheikh Hasina after suspension order upheld’.

What strikes me is that the news was published under the same headline by a number of overseas newspapers, viz. Al Jazeera, the Economic Times, Dawn, Deccan Herald, Arab News, the Week and many others. The journalistic approach of the news and its ‘cut and paste’ methodology give me a hint that the news may have some hidden meaning.

The Guardian’s report and its copycat coverage seem to have been slanted in favour of what they called the opposition newspaper. It is absolutely preposterous to apprehend a fear of media crackdown on all newspapers to be caused by the procedural banning of a single newspaper from among more than 1000 published in the country.

The Guardian report also referred to the closure of 191 websites accusing them of ‘publishing anti-state news’ while it is a common practice and India has also banned a number of anti-India propaganda websites using the emergency powers under the IT Rules, 2021. The government, for emergencies, has recourse to such action which proves effective but is usually criticized by the opposition. One of the major ways by which Bangladesh has been cushioned from the worst effects of religious militancy is the banning of some websites and imposing curbs on cyber-propaganda and anti-state campaigns.

Although, we don’t want the steps to gag the press or impose a ban on the publication of any newspaper especially on this consideration that it may take the bread out of a lot of people’s mouth.  And we also like to believe that Sheikh Hasina at the zenith of her political power will not avenge herself on opposition journalists. But we must member that media can be used as a propaganda tool against the government.  In this case, govt has to take actions. It is evident in her getting along with some giant journalists who joined hands with to the small clique of conspirators in executing the notorious ‘Minus Two’ formula during 9/11.       

Besides, the pro-opposition politicians and journalists, particularly after the US sanctions on RAB, are seen to be (ab)using considerable latitude in criticizing the government and most of their venom directed at the premier finds expression in all other newspapers in the country. So, it is pointless to think that the government can escape into a world of no criticism by banning the newspaper of their political rival. So much as few journalists try to show Hasina’s regime as a totalitarian regime, it would be hard for them to gain ground and prove that the government has done it with malice aforethought.

If we take a dispassionate view of what actually happened to Dainik Dinkal ban, we may know the other side of the story. The Dainik Dinkal received declaration under registration number 72/2002 on April 16, 2002.  The Department of Films and Publications (DFP), Dhaka in a letter on October 01, 2019 requested the Deputy Commissioner, Dhaka to cancel the newspaper making allegations that the publisher of the newspaper Tariq Rahman, being convicted of a criminal charge  has been staying abroad for a long time without handing over the power to the person in charge, and that he (Tariq) changed the address of the office and the printing press without the permission of the appropriate authorities.

In effect, the district office on October 7, 2019 issued a show cause notice asking the daily to explain why the publisher was not handing over his power to a designated person, and why the daily had moved from its original location.  But the Dinkal authorities did not pay any heed to the Deputy Commissioner’s show cause notice and the newspaper continued to be published. Later, on October 14, 2021 the DFP again requested the Deputy Commissioner, Dhaka to take action as per the Printing Presses and Publications (Declaration and Registration) Act 1973 against Dinkal for not informing the DFP of the change of its publisher, editor and printing press. 

Tariq Rahman, the publisher of Dainik Dinkal, also the acting chairman of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, by being convicted on criminal charges and staying abroad for a long time without handing over power to the person in charge and by changing the office address and printing press without the permission of the proper authorities violated sections 10, 11, 16, 21(1)(b) of the Printing Presses and Publications (Declaration and Registration) Act 1973” and therefore Dhaka district magistrate Mohammad Mominur Rahman, also Dhaka’s deputy commissioner, in an order on December 26, 2022,  cancelled the declaration of the daily under the  said Act, which stipulated  that the declaration of a newspaper would be cancelled if its printer or publisher had been convicted of an offence involving moral turpitude.

On 29 December 2022, the newspaper filed an appeal to the Press Council Board challenging the District Magistrate’s order and the Press Council Board fixed 10 January 2023 as the date for hearing of the appeal and issued a notice to the Deputy Commissioner asking him to respond to the appeal. Mention may be made here that according to the the Printing Presses and Publications Act, 1973, the owner of a newspaper can appeal to the Appellate Board of the Press Council against the decision of the District Commissioner. The Deputy Commissioner submitted the reply to the Press Council Board on the day of hearing. The Dinkal authority applied to the Press Council Board for more two months for the preparation for the appeal. The Press Council Board on humanitarian grounds allowed them to continue publication till February 7, 2023 and asked them to prepare a reply. The Board fixed the next date of hearing of the appeal on February 7, 2023 by staying the order of the District Commissioner till the same day. The Appellate Board made it clear that no further extension of time would be granted. In the hearing session, the judges sought clarification from the lawyers of the defendants on matters as to:  whether Tariq Rahman has lost his legitimacy as the publisher of Daily Dinkal due to his long absence; how being a convict,  he is performing the duties of the publisher/editor; and why no formal information/application for change of the printing address in the declaration form has been sent to the office of the District Commissioner. After hearing the arguments of the lawyers on both sides, the court returned the verdict on February 19, 2023.

In the judgement, having considered the above matters, the three-member Appeal Board of the Press Council, headed by Justice Md Nizamul Huq Nasim, not finding any merit in the appeal, dismissed it under Sections 10, 11, 16, 21(1)(b) of the Printing Presses and Publications (Declaration and Registration) Act, 1973, and upheld the order of the District Commissioner leading to the suspension of the newspaper’s publication again. The Appeal Board ordered the authorities of Dainik Dinkal to conduct the activities of the newspaper in compliance with the activities of the District Commissioner and the law.  However, the Dinkal authority can go for further legal action to resume the publication of the newspaper.

But to stir up a debate on such a legally settled matter and to jump on the bandwagon without knowing both sides of the story cannot be appreciated. The concern of the USA and its allies over the legal and procedural cancellation of the declaration of a Bangladeshi newspaper is a tempest in a teapot. This is not a concern for freedom of press’ sake nor for the newspaper’s sake. It is for something else; something furthest removed from the interest of the press of Bangladesh or the people.

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