Mendacities of Amar Desh
Dr. Richard Benkin writes from USA
May 10, 2007 was a sad day for journalism in Bangladesh. It was a sad day because the nation’s fifth largest vernacular daily, Amar Desh, created front page news out of an old and discredited story. It was a sad day because the reporter and the paper failed on every journalistic level to investigate its “scoop.” It
was a sad day because it scanned one public document and a web site to
fabricate its front page news—something most ten year olds can do these
days on the internet. The scene was even sorrier because it appeared that the paper’s editors believed they really had something there. They did not.
Their allegations that former Home Minister Lutfuzzaman Babar illicitly hired me to repair Bangladesh’s image had been refuted at least twice in print (Weekly Blitz in May 2006; News From Bangladesh, April 2007). They
originated in a speech by the Awami League’s Saber Hossain Chowdhury in
April 2006 as part of a political attack on the BNP. And indeed I was approached to see what I could do since efforts by the Bangladeshi embassy in Washington and its expensive lobbyists were proving a dismal failure. At
that point, I was glad to do what I could to help Bangladesh and
hopefully help secure trade advantages for the Bangladesh garment
industry—and in conformance with US law, I registered immediately with
the Department of Justice. After that one speech, the AL never mentioned it again. Amateurs like Amar Desh and
periodic bloggers, however, seize on this non-story periodically in an
attempt to discredit the international support for Salah Uddin Shoaib
Choudhury. But in true amateurish fashion, Amar Desh never investigated that. It never sought to find out why the AL never pursued it; nor did it even try to find out if I continued with these efforts or whether I collected money from Bangladesh. Neither happened, and the relationship ended almost as soon as it began.
If Amar Desh had
any respect for its role in society or its obligations to its readers,
one would expect it to confront me with the allegations—something it
never did. Clearly, neither quality journalism nor truths are priorities for Amar Desh, which included utter fabrications in the piece. For instance, it stated that I “hired several writers” for this task. Never happened, and Amar Desh offers not a whit of evidence to support its allegation or even try to explain how it came to its false conclusion. It states I “published an article titled ‘Babar and his magic stick’ on 15th June through a journalist named Christopher Giddings” and offers several excerpts. More mendacity! I have no idea who Christopher Giddings is, and I certainly had nothing to do with his online article.
But at least Amar Desh is consistent. As with everything else it published, Amar Desh failed to investigate this matter or provide any evidence for its allegation.
Why Amar Desh grabbed this hoary and discredited story at this time is the real mystery. Perhaps
it was the result of deep-seated bigotry, as evidenced in its headline
trumpeting a “Jewish lobbyist,” as if that in itself was a crime. Perhaps
it was resentment at the international community’s support for Shoaib
and the recent parliamentary resolutions expressing it. Perhaps
it was the paper’s desperate attempt to save its disgraced owner,
currently in jail for plundering the country and taking food from the
mouths of Bangladesh’s children; a flaccid attempt to gain support by
playing on prejudice and turning on his former party. Perhaps it was just bad journalism. Whatever combination of factors it was, it brought disgrace to journalism in Bangladesh, as the Amar Desh piece would not have survived the most elementary journalism course anywhere else. But that seems to matter little to Amar Desh,
which cares more about its disgraced patron’s well-being than the
country’s standing in a world where international credibility can make
the difference between success and starvation. For shame!