US Ambassador to Bangladesh Peter Haas on Tuesday reiterated Washington’s concern over Bangladesh’s Digital Security Act.
"The United States has made our concerns about the DSA clear, both in our Annual Human Right Report and in meetings with government officials," the ambassador told an event at EMK Centre here commemorating the World Press Freedom Day 2022.
He referred to Reporters Without Borders (RSF) most recent World Press Freedom Index that ranked Bangladesh 162nd out of 180 countries, a drop of ten places from the previous year.
The envoy said one reason Bangladesh scored so low is the Digital Security Act, which the report calls “one of the world’s most draconian laws for journalists.”
"We are also concerned about the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission’s draft “Regulation for Digital, Social Media and Over-the-Top Platforms” and the draft “Data Protection Act,” Ambassador Haas said.
"While neither draft has been finalized, we fear they contain provisions which could be used to further intimidate journalists and others eager to express themselves," he mentioned.
The US envoy said the founders of the United States found the idea of press freedom so important that it became the very First Amendment in their Bill of Rights.
"Of course, that does not mean the United States is perfect when it comes to having a free press," he said.
In the same RSF World Press Freedom Index, the United States ranked 42nd out of 180 countries. "Frankly, the United States needs to do better,” he said.
The ambassador highlighted five principles including protection of journalists from harassment and violence, noting that journalists play an even more important role in elections.
"I very much hope that these five principles are upheld throughout the election season and beyond,” he said.
Four other standards that Haas highlighted relating to the media are protection of editorial independence free from political or economic interference; allowing media to criticize the government, ensure that media is not held liable for the reproduction of untrue statements made by others and claims of defamation are not used to suppress freedom of expression, to stifle public debate, or to silence criticism of the government.
He referred the Atlanta, Georgia-based Carter Center, a well-regarded authority on elections, while sharing election standards used around the world.
"We all have an obligation to protect the free press and to allow journalists to seek and report the truth without fear, harassment, or censorship," the ambassador said, adding that a free press is a key ingredient in a legitimate and free democracy.
He said the United States’ policy on the Bangladeshi elections – or anywhere for that matter – is that the people of the country should have the ability to choose their own government through free and fair elections conducted in accordance with international standards.
Terming journalism a noble profession, Ambassador Haas said increasingly, around the world, it is a difficult and dangerous one.
Monjurul Ahsan Bulbul, US Jefferson Media Fellow and former President of the Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists (BFUJ) delivered the keynote speech.
Matiur Rahman, Editor of the Daily Prothom Alo, Japanese Ambassador to Bangladesh Ito Naoki, Canadian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Lilly Nicholls and British Deputy High Commissioner Javed Patel also spoke at the discussion.
A moment of silence was observed in honor of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was tragically killed in the West Bank.
Bulbul highlighted the challenges of journalism and said doing journalism in Bangladesh is like swimming in a pond full of crocodiles.
Matiur Rahman described his personal experience of long career in journalism and challenges he and his newspaper faced.