On May 27, 2012, I wrote a piece here titled ‘The Economist Saga and Bangladesh’s Reactive Approach’ where I mentioned: ‘I am now waiting for a huge press statement or rejoinder to be issued from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.’ Finally, it has been issued on June 9, 2012.
I will put the whole of the rejoinder here for the readers. The aim of this essay is to raise some question on impact of such rejoinder. It was addressed to the Editor of the Economist.
Here is the full rejoinder:
Our attention has been drawn to two articles that appeared in the Economist on 26 May 2012 under the headlines “Politics in Bangladesh: Banged about: The prime minister sets the country on a dangerous path” and “Bangladesh’s toxic politics: Hello, Delhi: It is up to India to try to stop Sheikh Hasina ruining Bangladesh”.
We feel very sad to see a gradual deterioration of quality and objectivity in the articles appearing in your well-reputed magazine over the past few years, particularly with respect to Bangladesh — a country of 160 million people struggling to march forward towards inclusive development, democracy and the rule of law. The two articles in question not only reflect the high level of ignorance of the reporter(s) about today’s Bangladesh but also make us suspicious about his/her intention for writing such malicious articles full of misinformation and inaccurate conclusions apparently based on hearsay against the Government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina — a Government with the strongest ever mandate in the history of the country. The Economist, in these articles, also shows utter disrespect towards the people of Bangladesh as far as their capability and ingenuity to address national issues is concerned, and nakedly invites foreign intervention!
The biased articles, which accuse Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of ‘setting’ Bangladesh on a ‘dangerous path’, totally ignored Bangladesh’s achievements in the last three years. It would be impossible to list all those successes here, but we would recommend that your reporters do some study and research before writing their articles, particularly on Bangladesh. For a start, they may wish to be informed that the population of Bangladesh does not constitute “170 million poor Muslims”. We urge your reporters to study the demographics of Bangladesh for future reporting.
They may wish to explore, for example, why the UN Secretary General has termed Bangladesh a ‘model country’. Let us quote Mr. Ban Ki-Moon during his Bangladesh visit in 2011: “…As the rest of the world struggles with the economic crisis, you keep growing… I would say it is because you are investing in your people. As we see it at the United Nations, that is the secret of sustainable development. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that Bangladesh has become a model for the world… You are in the vanguard in lifting people from poverty. More and more children are attending school — boys and girls alike. You are improving public services, including sanitation and fresh water. I am particularly impressed by your country’s pioneering achievements in women’s and children’s health.” President Obama eloquently summarised Bangladesh’s progress in women’s empowerment and in fighting the menace of terrorism when he said to Sheikh Hasina last year in New York, “…you and your Government are doing an excellent job in empowering women and in countering terrorism.” German President termed Bangladesh as the “stabilising factor in South Asia” during his Dhaka visit last year.
Mrs. Clinton during her recent Dhaka visit congratulated the Bangladesh Foreign Minister “… on the impressive progress that Bangladesh is making on a number of important issues. Bangladesh is on track to meet many Millennium Development Goals by 2015 with a particular emphasis on saving the lives of mothers and children. The rates of maternal and child mortality have dropped; the rate of poverty has dropped, and that is a great tribute to the commitment that Bangladesh and the people of this country have made to improving the lives of all of your citizens.” Regarding Bangladesh’s achievements in addressing the climate change issues, she said, “The people of Bangladesh are setting an example for people everywhere in how to meet similar challenges.” Your reporters are apparently blind to all of this.
About Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s leadership in taking Bangladesh forward, we may again quote from the UNSG when he said in New York, “Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s leadership and her commitment made Bangladesh a development model”. These statements should provide your reporters enough lead to do some research on Bangladesh as it stands out today at the national, regional and global levels, instead of writing fictitious and ill-motivated articles on an imaginary decline of Bangladesh. Awarding of the UN MDG Award to Sheikh Hasina is just one of the many testimonies of global appreciation of her leadership in making Bangladesh a prosperous and just society where democracy and the rule of law would reign supreme. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s firm conviction in democracy is also well demonstrated in her statement made at the 16th SAARC Summit in Thimphu in April 2010 where she mooted first the idea of “SAARC Charter of Democracy”. The Government of Bangladesh spearheaded formulation of this SAARC Charter which was adopted unanimously by the SAARC mechanism last year.
Your reporters may also learn that it was during the term of this present Government that we lodged a case against Myanmar for successfully securing our maritime rights, thus paving the way not only for utilising the huge maritime resources for the development of the people of Bangladesh but also for improving relations with Myanmar. We have adopted a similar strategy to resolve our maritime issues with India. Such pragmatic policies not only helped improve Bangladesh’s relations with its neighbours but have also put Bangladesh in the driver’s seat in making South Asia a prosperous region through her initiatives on regional trade and connectivity.
The views expressed in the articles on Bangladesh’s domestic politics seem to be favouring the return of undemocratic rule in the country. The people of Bangladesh under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League, however, are vigilant against such designs — internal and external. Her Government has made constitutional amendments making the unconstitutional usurping of power a punishable offence as well as scrapping the provision of a ‘Caretaker Government’ after the country’s highest court declared it illegal – your reporter referred to this as ‘messing’ with the Constitution! We condemn such blatant disrespect for the people of Bangladesh for their aspiration of having a truly democratic country where only the people would elect their representatives. Accusing the Government of murder and attack on activists and journalists — without providing a thread of proof — is a malicious act and a demonstration of truly poor journalism by The Economist.
Your reports comment that the purpose of the International War Crimes Tribunal seems to be “an attempt to discredit the BNP and its Islamist allies” — without providing any evidence whatsoever in support of the statement — shows your magazine’s level of commitment to see the establishment of the rule of law in Bangladesh! By doing this, your reporter not only humiliated the sacrifices made by the three million Bangalee martyrs of our Liberation War of 1971, but also insulted their families who have been waiting for justice for four decades in independent Bangladesh. The Government wishes to reiterate that it does not interfere in the activities of the International War Crimes Tribunal nor does it intervene in the proceedings of other courts in the country.
The Government has made it clear repeatedly that the Grameen Bank is a statutory body where it is also a shareholder. It is the Government of Bangladesh that established the Grameen Bank. Its activities would naturally be governed by the relevant laws, rules and regulations of Bangladesh irrespective of different designs of some quarters within and outside the country. Terming a Prime Minister of being “increasingly paranoid” is simply unacceptable and reflects upon the absence of journalistic ethics at The Economist.
It is also interesting to see that The Economist, which dedicates so much of its space to ensuring accountability of governments, is against the accountability of NGOs. This Government is a great supporter of the civil society and freedom of expression. A separate NGO Affairs Bureau under the Prime Minister’s Office has been working to facilitate the work of NGOs in Bangladesh. The Government of Bangladesh firmly believes that NGOs are also the partners in its development endeavours. It is, however, equally important that the Government ensures financial and functional accountability of the NGOs which collect fund, particularly from abroad, in the name of the people of Bangladesh. As a democratically elected government, Sheikh Hasina’s Government will do everything in the interest of the wellbeing and development of the people of Bangladesh; that is the mandate it received from the people of Bangladesh in 2008 elections – the freest and fairest in Bangladesh’s history.”
My opinion will be brief. First of all, this is really hard. The reply contains harsh words. And the rejoinder contains so many success stories of the government that should have been sent to the Economist in a different format from time to time. The Economist was made an adversary. Instead of making the media an adversary blatantly, the government should have been taken a different path. More Economist stories will appear and more rejoinders will go in the future but such exercise will not be able to alter the strategic agenda that the international media has. Look at the picture above and tell me why this media portrays Brazil in a different manner so much?
Photo: The Economist Cover.