Ethics, credibility of The Economist questioned

The Daily Star/BSS, June 10, 2012

Bangladesh yesterday protested against the two reports published in the London-based The Economist on May 26, insisting that Dhaka saw a gradual deterioration of quality and objectivity in the articles of the magazine over the past few years, particularly with respect to Bangladesh.

In a rejoinder, the foreign ministry said the two articles not only reflected the high level of ignorance of the reporter(s) about today’s Bangladesh but also made Dhaka suspicious of the weekly’s intention behind writing such malicious articles.

The magazine published the articles 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”.

The articles, it said, were 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 showed 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 rejoinder said the biased articles that accused Hasina of “setting” Bangladesh on a “dangerous path”, totally ignored Bangladesh’s achievements in the last three years. “It will be impossible to list all those successes here, but Dhaka 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,” it said.

“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,” reminded the rejoinder.

The statement put forward some quotations of world leaders such as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who during his Bangladesh visit in 2011, said, “…As the rest of the world struggles with the economic crisis, you keep growing… 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,” Moon added.

President Barack Obama eloquently summarised Bangladesh’s progress in women’s empowerment and in fighting the menace of terrorism when he told Hasina last year in New York: “You and your government are doing an excellent job in empowering women and in countering terrorism.”

German President Christian Wulff termed Bangladesh a “stabilising factor in South Asia” during his Dhaka visit last year.

US Secretary of State Hillary 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 particular emphasis on saving the lives of mothers and children.”

She added: “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, Hillary said, “The people of Bangladesh are setting an example for people everywhere in how to meet similar challenges.”

The rejoinder said, “Your reporters are apparently blind to all of these.”

It also came up with more specific evidence and noted that about Hasina’s leadership in taking Bangladesh forward, the UNSG observed: “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,” suggested the foreign ministry rejoinder.

Conferring the UN MDG Award to 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.

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 first mooted the idea of a “Saarc Charter of Democracy”. The Bangladesh government spearheaded the 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.”

The foreign ministry rejoinder further said Dhaka had adopted a similar strategy to resolve maritime issues with India and added that such pragmatic policies not only helped improve Bangladesh’s relations with its neighbours but had also put Bangladesh in the driver’s seat in making South Asia a prosperous region.

“The views expressed in the articles on Bangladesh’s domestic politics seem to be favouring the return of undemocratic rule in the country,” observed the rejoinder, adding that the people of Bangladesh under Hasina’s Awami League were vigilant against such designs — be it internal or external.

The government had 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 (Economist) reporters 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.”

The rejoinder said 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.

It said The Economist reports had commented that the purpose of the International War Crimes Tribunal seemed to be “an attempt to discredit the BNP and its Islamist allies” — without providing any evidence whatsoever in support of the statement. It showed “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 statement said that the government did not interfere in the activities of the tribunal nor did it intervene in the proceedings of other courts in the country.

The government had made it clear repeatedly that the Grameen Bank was a statutory body where it was also a shareholder. It was the Government of Bangladesh that established the Grameen Bank.

“Its (Grameen Bank) 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” was simply unacceptable and reflected on the absence of journalistic ethics at The Economist.

The rejoinder said it was also interesting to see that The Economist, which dedicated so much of its space to ensuring accountability of governments, was 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 firmly believed that NGOs were also 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, Hasina’s government would do everything in the interest of the wellbeing and development of the people of Bangladesh, for “that is the mandate it received from the people of Bangladesh in 2008 elections — dubbed as the freest and fairest in the history of Bangladesh.”

Thus was the rejoinder wrapped up.