Dhaka University Teachers’ Association or DUTA has criticised the Prothom Alo for its Independence Day story on price rises, saying it sees an “anti-state conspiracy” in the report that landed the reporter in jail.
Without naming the daily in a statement on Friday, the association said: “We’ve noticed with deep concerns a conspiratorial attempt against the state in the name of publishing news by a daily. The Dhaka University Teachers’ Association condemns such an evil act.”
It said the report used the comment of a labourer in the place of a caption for a child, and the comment ridiculed Bangladesh’s independence.
The association, without naming Ekattor TV, said another media outlet revealed the photographer bribed the child to take the photo by taking advantage of his poverty.
Taking photos of an underaged person without their guardian’s permission is against media ethics, according to the DUTA statement.
“To publish the comment of one person with someone else’s photo and intentionally publishing misleading photos and comments are tantamount to cheating with the readers. It appears all the rules of journalism were broken intentionally to publish the story.”
The report, published on Mar 26, was described as "anti-state" by Awami League leaders.
“What will we do with independence if there’s no food to fill our stomachs?” a labourer was quoted as saying on the Mar 26 online version of Prothom Alo. He indicated that people sweat over how to secure rice, meat and fish every day.
His comment was reflected in the headlines, but the report used the photo of a child also mentioned in the article. The headline and the image were used to post a card on social media, which stirred considerable controversy. Leaders of the ruling party Awami League said the report contained 'seditious' materials.
Later, Prothom Alo removed the photo and changed the report's headline. It also removed the social media post.
However, police arrested Samsuzzaman Shams, the reporter who filed the story, in a case under the Digital Security Act. Prothom Alo Editor Matiur Rahman has also been charged under the law for the report.
Some quarters and the international media are saying the government took suppressive action against the journalists for publishing news on price rises, DUTA President Professor Nizamul Hoque Bhuiyan and General Secretary Zeenat Huda said in the statement.
“In fact, people involved in the publication of the report have faced action for using a child by bribing him with dishonest intentions in presenting the story.”
The association said the incident reminded it of a false report on a woman wearing a fishing net in an attempt to undermine the efforts of the then government to rebuild the war-ravaged country after independence.
It also accused the Prothom Alo of trying to create a void in the country’s politics during the 2007-2008 military-controlled caretaker government.
“Such an evil attempt to make the state ineffective in the name anti-government criticisms is unacceptable when the international media is hailing the country’s economy for turning around by tackling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Ukraine war.”
“We urge all not to be misled by such news and demand that the government take proper legal steps against the newspaper and others involved in the report.”
In journalist Shams’s alma mater, Jahangirnagar University, students blocked the Dhaka-Aricha Highway for nearly an hour after marching on the campus demanding his release.
“We haven’t come here under the banner of any organisation. Shams Bhai was a student of the university. He worked to take the facts to the people. Sadly, he faced the state’s wrath for doing this,” said Sudeepta Dey, a student of the archaeology department.