Disinformation poses threat to Bangladesh’s democracy


Recently, in the run-up to the elections, terrible acts of vandalism and aggression have struck Bangladesh through rallies organized by the Bangladesh National Party (BNP), in attempts to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina from her post and for a caretaker government to oversee the upcoming election in January 2024.

Since these rallies have taken place, the global media has filled its pages with numerous claims regarding Bangladesh. It is disappointing to see respected journalists breaking a cardinal rule and not checking their sources thoroughly.

Of course, the BNP have been stoking the anti-democratic fires, shouting that the election will not be free, fair or remotely democratic, to anyone that will listen. However, the facts are that the election will be overseen by the independent electoral commission and will be closely monitored by observers from the UN and the EU. When an opposition party loses an election, there is too often a refusal for introspection and so it is much easier of course to claim unfairness.

It has become increasingly apparent that there are actors who would seek to undermine and malign Bangladesh. They do this by distorting facts and painting a picture of a very different country to the one we know and are proud of. Indeed, if we were to believe this alternate version, we would think that Bangladesh is ruled by a militaristic dictator, one who denies all citizens any basic rights and who threatens the potential and growth of the country. We all know this to be far from the truth.

However, what is most interesting, is that these ‘alternative facts’ have become more popular in the lead up to the general election. This is dangerous. In today’s world, these ‘alternative facts’ have considerable power and can be disseminated at rapid pace across the globe, influencing the minds of numerous voters. Furthermore, when one considers that the sources of these ‘alternative facts’ are often forms of esteemed media outlets, this presents us with a larger problem.

Sheikh Hasina has led Bangladesh through a decade of development strengthening ties with global partners and asserting itself as a key economy in South Asia. Bangladesh has gone from struggling to feed its people to a food exporter with a GDP rising from $71 billion in 2006 to $460 billion in 2022, making it South Asia’s second largest economy after India. Key societal aspects have also developed including human rights issues and transparent democracy – with the major assurance of free and fair elections. Bangladesh has earned its place at the summit of summits, from its incredibly strong track record economically, to Sheikh Hasina’s efforts in stamping out Islamist extremism, while protecting religious freedoms for minority ethnic groups. The successes are plain for all to see. This is also exemplified by Sheikh Hasina’s recent meeting with Prime Minister Sunak and the compassion shown to Rohingya refugees.

The mainstream media depicting the opposition as a party enduring harassment goes far beyond the realms of reality, especially when the facts on the ground are that BNP activists vandalized buses and trains, injuring passengers and damaging vehicles. Police were attacked and people hurt. This is all too familiar and eerily similar to the attacks that BNP unleashed prior to the general elections in 2014 and 2018.

We are living in an increasingly connected world, where it has become much easier to access information and news from all over, at any time. However, with this benefit, comes a burden: disinformation. It is becoming harder and harder to ensure that the information we receive is true and factual. It has become so easy for those with an agenda to distort the facts and to hijack the truth for their own agenda. These myths and pure fiction surrounding the Bangladeshi narrative must be addressed, and I hope that this is a first step in this direction. Bangladesh is still a young country, with vibrancy, energy and growth. It has already achieved so much, and the future is extremely exciting.

Disinformation is a threat to democracy, and law and order that the Government of Bangladesh has to address ahead of the upcoming election and why clear, fair communication is vital.

By: Syed M. Ali, Chair and Founder, Study Circle, UK.


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