One of the most effective means for the ruling political party to control the nation was through manipulation of the news media. In the 1980s, the government's National Broadcasting Authority monopolized telecommunications within the country. Thus the party that controlled the government effectively decided the content of the country's broadcasts. Until the early 1980s, the government also ran a number of daily and weekly newspapers. Such newspapers printed the ruling party's version of the news. As part of Ershad's policy of divesting government-owned properties, however, these official sources of propaganda were removed from government control, thus ending a legacy left over from the Mujib period. Each major political party in the late 1980s had one or more newspapers that supported it, and each used its own newspapers to publish its official views.
Bengali society has the longest tradition of freedom of the press in South Asia, and its dozens of weekly and daily newspapers, press associations, and publishers guarantee that almost any opinion finds expression. Ruling regimes have countered this independence by exercising press censorship. Repression of the media has varied from banning certain publications for extended periods of time to officially pressuring publishers to regulate the content of news articles. For example, the English-language Bangladesh Observer was banned for three months in 1987, and the weekly Banglar Bani (Bengal's Message) was banned through much of 1987 and 1988. The weekly Joyjatra (Victory March) was banned in February 1988 for publishing "objectionable comments" referring to the possibility of Ershad's resignation. In 1988 the government closed the Dainik Khabor (Daily News) for ten weeks under the Special Powers Act of 1974 because the newspaper had released an article with a map making Bangladesh look like part of India, thus inflicting "injury to the independence and sovereignty of the country." In addition, the operations of the British Broadcasting Corporation were banned under the Special Powers Act from December 14, 1987, to May 2, 1988, and one of its correspondents was jailed for allegedly having manufactured "continuing hostile and tendentious propaganda."
Bangladeshi journalists are unionized, and they sometimes strike back at government censorship. During the 1988 parliamentary elections, journalists staged a walkout to protest attempts by the government's Press Information Department to restrict news and photographic coverage of election violence and opposition demonstrations. The continuing struggle between the press and the government regularly kept at least six newspapers on the list of banned publications in the late 1980s.
With a 29-percent literacy rate, newspapers and journals are not widely read in Bangladesh. For example, despite the publication of 62 daily newspapers, only 22 percent of all urban households in 1982 reported regularly reading them; a dismal 2.5 percent was reported for rural areas.
Both Radio Bangladesh and Bangladesh Television were established in 1971, and both came under state control in 1972. In 1984 they merged to form the National Broadcasting Authority. In 1988 the twelve home service stations and twelve FM stations of Radio Bangladesh offered a total of eighty-five hours of daily programming. Radio Bangladesh also transmitted to Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Western Europe via its shortwave station at Dhaka. Seven and one-half hours of daily programming were broadcast in six languages: Bangla, English, Arabic, Hindi, Urdu, and Nepali. The television service operated two channels, with eight and one-half hours of daily programming, relayed by twelve stations for reception throughout the country. However, outside Dhaka the number of television sets was very small, and television was not yet a significant medium when compared with radio, press, and word-of-mouth communications. Statistics from the early 1980s indicated that about 29 percent of the country's urban households had radios, and only 6.7 percent had television sets. In the countryside, broadcast communications were even less available: 13 percent of all rural households had radios, and only 0.2 percent had televisions.
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