Media Relations of Bangladesh Police

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Traditional police image.

It seems to be apparently quiet now after a row that embroiled Bangladesh Police and the media over police action on journo. I kept mum as I was quietly observing how media reports the issue and how police handles the situation. I took a bit of time to write this because of my previous involvement with the police in training (some of) them how to improve their relationship with the media for the betterment of the democratic society that we have.

All it started over police action on some journalists on duty. A number of similar events took place triggering severe public outrage, or so to say media outrage. Leaders of journalists from a protest rally threatened the police that they will retaliate with ‘news and photos’.

And I saw how Police as a government ‘institution’ was in a face-to-face situation with the media – the fourth pillar of the state.

On the following few days, there were reports, editorials, caricature cartoons, op-eds and so on blasting the police. I counted number of police-related stories shot up. On one single day, the daily Prothom Alo published 12 stories outlining police misdeeds in events that were reported.

Interestingly, there was a good sign. The top notch of the police reportedly sat several times to discuss how to tackle the situation. They also sat with the junior tier officers who at the front line face the people and the media on the spot and these officers were open in lambasting the journo during the meeting.

Now the question that haunted me was how the media could make a government institution their adversary by their threat of ‘retaliation with news and photos’? Can they? I mean can the media take the side of the media when it gets involved in an incident?  Well, one can say that they can as they do it all the time whenever anything happens. I guess it deserves a second thought.

Secondly, the issue of police behaviour which has been questioned since 1861 and most probably will be questioned in the future. There are two things: police behaviour with public and police behaviour with the media. Both are important for police.

A good number of police personnel know that media are helpful if they want to achieve their goal to ensure peace and discipline in the society.  They know if they can utilise the media, they can reach the people more effectively. They know that journalist’s jobs are to get and tell a story. The journalists look for conflict, changes, and information of interest of the public. These smart officers know that police and media should be strategic partners and the relationship should be mutually beneficial. A close working relationship with the press from the part of police before a crisis occurs can help a lot and their honesty and openness would be the best policy. Cooperation and partnership between the police and the media are very important for crime prevention as well. The print and electronic media are significant players now in Bangladesh in highlighting and reporting law and order issues. They also play a key role in monitoring trends and articulating public opinion, maintaining accountability and transparency of public officials and agencies, and in creating awareness and reflecting public opinion. Efficient media relations can play very important role in any organisation. It can connect the organisation with media; enhance credibility; promote understanding; increase accessibility and visibility; create a positive image for the organisation and who can argue with this point?

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This image demonstrates how police are often treated by political activists.

I would like to mention here some strategic aspects which former Additional Inspect General (Administration) Mr. N.B.K. Tripura was convinced to say (Mr. Tripura is now serving as the Secretary to the Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs). ‘‘For a modern police service Media relation is the process by which Police and their organisation gain access to any and all media to distribute the information and influence the public. It goes beyond merely providing the information the organisation wish to share; it focuses on building and maintaining a “relationship” with media personnel.”  He knew that media relation is often one of the more cost-effective ways to influence public perception. Selecting the appropriate media relations activity and knowing how to implement it effectively can make all the difference in one’s level of success.

However, developing effective relation with media is an ongoing process that requires media training. Such technical know-how makes people in the spotlight, or people on the spot, feel comfortable, not only in handling questions, but also in clearly presenting key points while sounding sincere and credible. But building a reasonable, working relationship between various forms of the mass media and law enforcement organisations is difficult. There is often lack of trust between members of the media and law enforcement officers which we see. I truly believe the best relations a law enforcement agency can have with the media would be one bounded by skilled law enforcement officers who understand the characteristics of the media and have been thoroughly trained for media presentations.

Training is a must for the police so that they know better about the person who is risking life along with him on the spot of an event. At the end of the day, when the police return home and remove the uniform, he may find the person waiting for him to watch television together. Also the journalists should learn how police work, what tremendous pressure they take while discharging their duties and what happen to police officer when s/he removes the uniform. They become someone who is their brother or sister at home on the dining table. Same rules of the engagement are appropriate for police dealings with the public.

The issue was once again another incident of poor public affairs of the government institutions in Bangladesh.

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Hillary Clinton’s visit: Flawed Understanding of How Media Work

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A vernacular daily Prothom Alo today (13th May, 2012) published an opinion piece on US-BD relations by Dr Gowher Rizvi, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s International Affairs Adviser, which appeared to me as an ideal piece showing lack of government understanding of how media work, how media set agenda and what influence media in setting their agenda.  Moreover, the writer himself admitted the fact that Bangladesh government’s ‘inability to communicate’ Bangladeshi media ‘sadly missed the real significance’ of the recent visit of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Dhaka. According to Dr Rizvi, the outcome of the visit in the media remained focused mostly on what he said ‘peripheral issues’ and the ‘advice’ given by the Secretary was the main food for their thought. What he believes and the point which makes many people happy is that the decision to sign an agreement for a high level Partnership Dialogue has helped to elevate US-Bangladesh relations to a new height as the same status is also enjoyed by India and China. And I doubt how far the top brass in the government could successfully make the media stakeholders aware of the meaning of such heightened status. The opinion also approves my doubt. And the writer at the end has fallen in the trouble that he identified in his piece. “Diminishing the substance by magnifying the peripherals is not the hallmark of objective journalism.” Did he mean, the media had done it deliberately? I mean by the words ‘diminishing the substance’? Or the government failed to adjust where the media should magnify? Was there any pre-visit briefing where the Ministry of Foreign Affairs briefed the media of the agenda? Even if they did, the media will always take issues on top of their list and their agenda setting is influenced by a variety of reasons that the statesmen should be well aware of. Nevertheless, there has been a step forward in the understanding and at least they now can identify what is their inability in communicating millions of people through the pages and screens of media. Let’s not discuss how they will deal with global communication when Dr Rizvi himself is learned to have opined that the Foreign Ministry “lacked creativity and vision.”

Related Links:

http://www.prothom-alo.com/detail/date/2012-05-13/news/257236

http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/article1541123.ece

Photo: Dr Gowher Rizvi, Harvard JFK School website.

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