Awami League miserably fails in fighting disinformation thus inviting unexpected consequences

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Bangladesh, Awami League, BNP, Al Qaeda, Sanctions, National Democratic Institute, NDI

Ruling Awami League party in Bangladesh, having been in power for over 15 years, faces an increasingly multifaceted battle against disinformation offensives orchestrated by vested interest groups, including some individuals living abroad as well as people associated with Al Qaeda-connected Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Despite its pretty long tenure, the party has been struggling to effectively fight malicious narratives, which are disseminated through social media, newspapers, and TV channels – both in Bangladesh and abroad. One prominent figure in spreading disinformation targeting Awami League government is Zillur Rahman, who, with the backing of the National Democratic Institute (NDI), has been a leading source of misleading contents aimed at tarnishing image of Bangladesh, destabilizing the government and create grounds for return of BNP into power and turn Bangladesh into a neo-Taliban state. It may be mentioned here that although NDI claims to be a non-profit American non-governmental organization, it is believed that it is a covert organization of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Notably, supposed allies of the Awami League, such as Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury, who was given a television channel and an English-language daily newspaper, has been conspicuously reticent in fighting such disinformation and extend support to the government. However, Sobhan’s English daily is very little known to native people and has no impact in the international arena. This lack of enthusiasm from media allies exacerbates the challenge for the Awami League. Despite being direct beneficiaries of the current government, their unwillingness to counteract the spread of disinformation further weakens the party’s position as well as destroys the image of government on the global stage. At the same time, their claim of being ally of Awami League is put into serious doubts.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has issued licenses to a large number of television channels during her tenure. However, these channels also show reluctance or no interest in defending the government and fighting disinformation against Awami League. The media landscape, thus, appears increasingly hostile or indifferent, making it difficult for the government to present its narrative effectively. On the other hand, mainstream media are busy with their owners’ interests and agendas, such as defaming business or political rivals, thus turning them into corporate media cartels. These sorts of audacity and unethical practices weaken Bangladesh’s democracy.

Since the successful general elections held on January 7, the ruling party has adopted a “no tension” stance, reminiscent of its attitude over the past 15 years. This complacency is dangerous given the persistent and growing disinformation campaigns. Ignoring these challenges could lead to catastrophic consequences for the government and the country, particularly when BNP and its cronies are desperately lobbying in the US with the nefarious target of getting a large number of figures in the government and country’s law enforcement and intelligence agencies under sanctions.

Awami League’s nonchalant approach fails to recognize the potential damage that unchecked propaganda can inflict on public perception and political stability. It is already crystal clear – the Western media as well as their cohorts in other continents are biased against Bangladesh and the Awami League government. Before the 12th parliamentary election, the Western media were vehemently spreading propaganda and disinformation targeting Bangladesh, with the vicious agenda of sabotaging the election and pushing the country towards constitutional vacuum. And, such trends are still continuing.

A significant wave of disinformation is set to hit Bangladeshi social networks, spearheaded by Zillur Rahman – a person mainly patronized by Channel-i, a private television channel owned by Faridur Reza Sagor, who is known as an ally of the ruling party. This channel also is co-owned by another individual named Shykh Siraj – who was given Ekushey Padak by BNP government as he was known as a strong supporter or military dictator Ziaur Rahman.

Surprisingly, the same individual also received Swadhinata Padak during the rule of Awami League government. It may be mentioned here that, in 2007, Channel-i had assigned Zillur Rahman to interview Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s self-proclaimed fugitive killer Abdur Rashid Khandekar. No one asked – why Faridur Reza Sagor and Shykh Siraj had initiated this interview or if it was solely initiated by Zillur Rahman, who maintains deeper ties with BNP.

According to social media sources, disinformation campaign run by Zillur and others includes pre-made content ready to be disseminated through Facebook pages and over 40 fake Facebook groups. Additionally, several fake articles are slated for publication on WordPress-based websites. The narratives being pushed will focus on critical issues, such as:

  1. Alleged imposition of more US sanctions on Bangladesh.
  1. Claims that US official Donald Lu is threatening the Bangladeshi government with regime change.
  1. Assertions that Bangladesh is fearful of the US administration.
  1. Reports suggesting that Bangladesh is losing its market share in the US garment industry.

These manipulated messages aim to create a climate of fear and uncertainty, potentially eroding public confidence in the government. Surprisingly, Zillur Rahman reportedly is proclaiming that more fresh sanctions are coming within very short time although it is not yet clear about his source of such claims. Can we anticipate, Zillur has access of the extremely confidential matters of the US State Department or he has been assigned by Washington to spread such information in advance?

In this atmosphere of heightened misinformation and disinformation, it is crucial for the public to exercise caution. Social media users are urged to verify news and information from reputable sources before sharing. The spread of fake news can have severe repercussions, not only for the government but also for the country’s political and economic stability. Bangladesh’s Information and Broadcast Minister must scrutinize all on-air content around the clock. There should be prompt action against any disinformation or misinformation. Offenders must be held accountable.

The Awami League faces a critical challenge in combating the pervasive disinformation campaigns. The indifference of media allies and the government’s complacency post-election victory have compounded the problem. As orchestrated disinformation efforts gain momentum, it is imperative for both the government and the public to remain vigilant. The stakes are high, and failure to address these threats could have far-reaching consequences for Bangladesh’s democracy and political landscape.

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