Freedom of the Press 2005

Media continued to face a number of pressures in 2004, the most striking of which was the high level of violence directed against members of the press and the impunity enjoyed by those who attack them. Although the constitution provides for freedom of expression subject to "reasonable restrictions," the press is constrained by national security legislation as well as sedition and criminal libel laws. Journalists continue to be slapped with defamation charges or arrested under the Special Powers Act (which allows detentions of up to 90 days without trial) in reprisal for filing stories critical of government officials or policies. Editor and publisher Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, who was arrested in November 2003 as he was about to depart the country to participate at a conference in Israel, was charged with sedition in February 2004. Choudhury remained in prison at year's end, despite appeals that he be released on bail to receive medical treatment. Authorities have also reportedly limited official access to journalists from certain publications. The government remained sensitive to international scrutiny; foreign publications are subject to censorship, while foreign journalists and press freedom advocates have encountered increasing difficulties in obtaining visas to enter Bangladesh and are put under surveillance while in the country.

Journalists are harassed regularly and violently attacked by organized crime groups, political parties and their supporters, government authorities, the police, and extremist groups. Most commonly, they are subjected to such attacks as a result of their coverage of corruption, criminal activity, political violence, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, and human rights abuses. In August, Prothom Alo, Bangladesh's largest Bengali-language daily, was targeted after it published a series of investigative reports on militant Islamist activities in the southeastern region of Chittagong. Five journalists were killed during the year, and hundreds of others received death threats or were attacked, according to local watchdog group Odhikar. Impunity for those who perpetrate crimes against journalists is the norm. As a result, many journalists practice some level of self-censorship.

The independent print media continue to present an array of views, although political coverage at a number of newspapers is highly partisan, and a growing number of newspaper owners are either members of or otherwise affiliated with parties in the ruling coalition. The state owns most broadcast media, whose coverage favors the ruling party. The few private broadcast outlets that have been granted licenses are required to air government-produced news segments as a condition of their operation. Political considerations influence the distribution of government advertising revenue and subsidized newsprint, upon which many publications are dependent. Although Internet access is generally unrestricted, authorities reportedly monitor some journalists' e-mail.

2005 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

Press Freedom Score

(0 = best, 100 = worst)
(0 = best, 40 = worst)
(0 = best, 30 = worst)