We're Live Bangla Friday, March 31, 2023

US expresses concerns over shrinking press freedom in Bangladesh: Peter Haas

US expresses concerns over shrinking press freedom in Bangladesh

The US embassy in Dhaka organised a discussion marking World Press Freedom Day 2022 at the EMK Centre in the capital on Tuesday. Collected

US ambassador Peter Haas said in Bangladesh, multiple journalists were recently assaulted in separate attacks in Narayanganj and Cox’s Bazar.

"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," he added.

Peter 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 made the remarks while addressing a discussion marking World Press Freedom Day 2022 at the EMK Centre in the capital on Tuesday. The US embassy in Dhaka organised it.

US ambassador said yours is a noble profession. And increasingly, around the world, it is a difficult and dangerous one.

"Just a few minutes ago, we held a moment of silence in honor of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was tragically killed in the West Bank," he added.

In Russia, journalists face grave danger if they dare to speak the truth about the tragic and brutal war Vladimir Putin’s forces are waging in Ukraine.

Among the journalists, Prothom Alo editor Matiur Rahman and Manab Zamin editor Matiur Rahman Chowdhury were present.

Peter Haas said each of these editors has shown tremendous courage in their editorial choices, despite facing tremendous pressure to suppress the truth.

"And I know there are many other courageous journalists out there, some here in this room, and many of whom have shared their stories with me," he added.

"We should all be grateful for the courage journalists display every day because their role in free societies is vital," Peter said.

They are the guardians of truth who educate the public and hold powerful individuals accountable.

This makes journalists key to any vibrant free society.

And their ability to operate freely and bring the truth to light must be cherished and protected.

State of Press Freedom

The founders of the United States found the idea of press freedom so important that it became the very First Amendment in our Bill of Rights.

Of course, that does not mean the United States is perfect when it comes to having a free press.

In the most recent Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index, the United States ranked 42nd out of 180 countries. Yes, that is in the top 25 per cent, but it’s far from the top. Frankly, the United States needs to do better.

The same World Press Freedom Index ranked Bangladesh 162nd out of 180 countries, a drop of ten places from the previous year.

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.”

The United States has made our concerns about the DSA clear, both in our Annual Human Right Report and in meetings with government officials. As you all know, this law threatens reporters with criminal prosecution if they publish things the government finds “false, offensive, derogatory” or “defamatory.”


While journalists play a critical role every day, they play an even more important role in elections.

"And we are all seeing an uptick in the number of news reports related to the upcoming national elections here in Bangladesh," he US ambassador 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.

But what exactly are the international election standards as they relate to journalists and media?

The Atlanta, Georgia-based Carter Center, a well-regarded authority on elections, publishes election standards used around the world.

Here are their standards as they relate to the news media:

  1. Editorial independence is protected and free from political or economic interference.
  2. The media may criticize the government.
  3. Media is not held liable for the reproduction of untrue statements made by others.
  4. Claims of defamation are not used to suppress freedom of expression, to stifle public debate, or to silence criticism of the government.
  5. Journalists are protected from harassment and violence.

I very much hope that these five principles are upheld throughout the election season and beyond.

I would like to close with two final statements:

First, 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.

Second, a free press is a key ingredient in a legitimate, free democracy.