Sunday, June 20, 1999

A Public Reprimand: Stop Demonization of the Bangladesh TV

Fraud and falsehood dread's examination. Truth invites it. - Thomas Cooper

I was aghast reading the Star Weekend Magazine's, June 11th 1999 issue. Captioned 'BTV's package crisis: Who calls the shots' -it seemed anybody worth his or her salt including so called 'stars' of the BTV called all the shots in this biased story, and the ones that DID NOT were the 'third and fourth class' employees of the BTV?

In so doing, The Daily Star once again chose to opt, with an emerging 'third class elite' (I promise an introduction later!) in the Bangladesh cultural arena - free flow of 'classist' insinuations and innuendoes notwithstanding. All of this over eight printed pages was an attempt at the demonisation of a national institution called the Bangladesh Television. Ironically it is also an institution despite all its short falling's and rampant corruption, the 'viewers choice' of ninety percent of our population. Run on taxpayer money, its ultimate owners are us - the common citizens of Bangladesh?

The three week old crisis in BTV between dishonest 'patriots' serving a vested coterie interest on one side of the equation, versus 'the people': has caught individuals from dubious shades of interest, on the wrong foot, and the mentality, from that hurt (shall we say SLAP ON THE FACE), has resulted in the kind of arrogance, clear shades of which The Daily Stars perpetrates on its reader in its cover story. It is elitist and 'classist' to a fault. What a shame. What a SHAM.

For instance the description of the Non Gazzetted Employees Association (NEWA) could not be completed in the report without 'rubbing-in' of the racist, classist and derogatory term 'third and fourth class employees'. This was meant to further demean and insinuate a section of hapless Government employees - whose only 'crime' appears to be their poverty at birth and the curse of remaining poor. As if, they are some third and forth class human beings not worthy of our respect or being heard? As if, they are creations of some lesser God. A classic and classist US versus THEM Standoff - Excellent!

Those reading the story will have noticed that there was no attempt by the two journalists writing the story, to talk to anyone in the NEWA, a 'third-class peoples' organization that has been around for quite some times now. This is what I call megalo-facism and Daily Star stands accused of blatant insensitivity as it sought to print only 'notes' provided by the Package Forum (PF hereinafter) and the journalist duo's assignments did not cover the NEWA or any 'third class' employee of BTV to be interviewed? Proofs of demonization signed, sealed and delivered.

The PF on the other hand, is an organization formed as a consequence to this crisis, and only after it became apparent that the 'other' bonafide organization 'authorized' to represent the vested interest of the coterie the so-called Sammilito Sangskritik Jote has lost its credibility to the public in recent times, through its fascist overtures and subtle muscle flexing all in the guise of culture!

The track record of members of the PF and their credentials being well known in the cultural arena, and have been suspect. Clearly, the PF belongs to a fringe coterie interest, and not necessarily 'the people', neither are they the 'patriotic force' that is being regularly forced down our parched throats.Indeed who they are for want of more appropriate expression is the infamous 'cultural Mafia', that no newspaper in Bangladesh talks about, other than 'strictly glowing terms'! This, in fear of being deprived of its livelihood - advertising - and The Daily Star is therefore no exception. The Mafia control on the advertisement industry being well known - the position of The Daily Star is excusable, a 'business decision' and 'innocently fair'?

However for those of us that still wish and aspire for the virtue of truth (this being no crime), have also a right to tell The Daily Star to stop indulging in the hypocrisy of congratulating itself about its 'neutrality', 'objective bravery' and importantly to drop that mask of being a 'national newspaper' forthwith. The newspaper does not serve our national interest and is blatantly unpatriotic period.

The Daily Star in the cover story, to be projected as if they are some 'would be saviors from an impending doom' has blown the vested coterie out of proportion! I for one, don't buy this attempt to gain capital by exploiting on a public 'sense of insecurity', as also this 'experimental excrement' that Daily Star wishes to dish out to an unsuspecting reader group. If this makes me the ONLY citizen of Bangladesh who feels this way - with due apologies Ladies and Gentlemen, I still am a citizen of Bangladesh and am entitled to my say? Now who the hell, am I?

I am a Bangladesh subject and I am proud of it - yet I carry quite a few 'burdens of shame'. One of burden is a 'feel good' obsession called 'Bangladesh', although I sometimes wonder if that word has lost currency, or gone out of fashion? A secondary burden is being a reader of a so-called 'excellent' newspaper the Daily Star in a country where among the English newsreaders - there is no 'second choice'! A secondary burden nonetheless, as what the newspaper does not have is any 'independent view' on any cultural aspect of Bangladesh - and creativity relating to culture is a trait rarely displayed in its reporting. Books reviewed without been read, TV drama critiqued without been seen, and audio tapes reported on basis of hearsay has made culture necessarily notorious in the daily.

Yet what level of 'excellence' or 'creativity' has the newspaper reached in its so many years of existence? It compares nowhere, near the standards of English language newspapers from anywhere in the region. In style, presentation, content or even in the use (abuse!) of the English language - to say the least it falls miles behind the Assam Tribune, Sentinel - small newspapers from Guwahati in Assam, and let's not forget the much better written, and news made by the English speaking Bengalees of West Bengal in Calcutta. The Daily Star is clearly a 'third class' newspaper (which is acceptable - since it is in English!) - that does not unfortunately want to champion the cause of the 'third and fourth class' of Bangladesh. How sad!

The 'revolt' in the BTV started, as The Daily Star would have us believing:

'when actor Abul Hayat's package drama Prottyasha was about to be aired, a few fourth class employees went to the control room, picked out the cassette from the VTR and stopped it.'

Very dramatic, however what has been conveniently forgotten is what the 'fourth class' employees allegedly committed, was a crime - that clearly went unreported even after making news in The Daily Star (credibility!). Assuming that there is truth to the report other than a 'voice in a tape' picked up from many eager ones out to demonize BTV - the 'crime' happened bang in the middle of a national broadcast institution - in breach of national security? These are serious accusations and allegation made by the Daily Star - and since clearly no one knows who the culprits were - neither could the Daily Star come up with some names to support evidence of the crime (mentioned twice in the course of the report), the newspaper is expected to clear its 'name' or stand further accused of inciting a flip rebellion inside a national broadcast institution?

The signal's are however ominous. Through this 'alleged' act, a deliberate and clear signal has been sent to the coterie, as also the Mafia bosses, that the BTV has been taken over by the 'people'. In no small parts the 'fourth class' employees now heading off the PF, constitute elements representing eighty percent of our population. They are the real have not who whether we like it or not have eighty percent of the jobs in the BTV?

Despite all the tall talks of the PF 'joining hands' with foreign satellite TV if 'demands are not met', and ofcourse their loyalties to ATN, or the incumbent Ekushey TV - the truth as it stands: ninety percent of the population of Bangladesh are patriotic enough to watch BTV, regardless of whatever garbage is being fed to them - EVERYDAY! Therefore why a newspaper of Daily Star's stature failed to come up with these vital statistic as to 'viewers preference' for our beleaguered national institution - is a mystery?

Why did the NEWA take recourse to this 'crime' - is anybody's simplistic guess? Answer: I feel it was necessary, as there was no other way they could ever be heard! The so called rules that seeks to ensnare them, where survival means only to co-opt to the whims and caprice of the Mafia - a legacy of some two decades - had to be brought down immidiately. Our 'third class people' know too well - that rules are for fools, and meant for the guidance of wise men.

The guidance that could not be picked up by ears of our 'wise men' is due in part, to their complete failure to develop a 'fair' infrastructure relating to marketing and distribution of package programs. Unthinkable that this could not be achieved despite the PF having laid 'virtual siege' to the national institution for this length of time? There were ofcourse valid reasons and coterie interest linked as to why it could not, or should not be done? It suited the best interest of the cultural Mafia to continue operating in the slipshod manner, where non-was accountable. It meant for no question to be asked as our taxpayers were ripped off by our 'stars' for the BTV telecast of the World Cup Cricket of an estimated five crore takas? The revolt has roots in that Cricket deal - where all class 'made money' and only the 'third class' did not. The deal helped fill pockets of a few - specially those that have abused the BTV by first becoming 'stars' at public expense, then advertisement executives, and now are making attempts as if, we should be taking them in as our new Masters? Never. To fight 'this lot' is justified and fair, is what the 'third class' believes in. The fight goes on.

As if there can be no end or tomorrow to a natok - we are to contend with dinosaurs, the likes of Abul Hayat and Assaduzzaman Noor and Ali Zaker and Ramendu Majumder(aka Nurul Islam) and Hasan Iman etc, basically a bunch of jokers who should be retiring, yet are shamelessly and endlessly vying for positions of 'media moguls', 'conscious voice' and 'national heroes'. Also not to forget our 'national plastic polyvinyl ladies' in the likes of Bipasha's and Shomi's and Mimi's, of Tania's, Tropa's and Mou's - who have been transported to a galactic pedestal - and we are left with the spectacle of paying our fealty and to 'bah bah' them for their alleged 'good looks' and 'talents' every time they take a turn.... Clap, clap, and clap!

As if, we have only been able to produce twenty 'talented' people to be demonstrated on BTV , from a total population of one hundred and twenty million inhabitants ? As if we have that severe a 'talent bankruptcy' if we may?

It is indeed a sorry state of affairs, of a dwindling dynasty of aging actors and actresses of TV natoks unwilling to give up, as also the midget monstrosities called 'heroines' corralled from among their own children, cronies, hanger-on's..... have I left out any !

The only other value added qualification that can be attached to these midgets is their endorsement of some multi national soap or shampoo makers, and 'Cover Stories': day in and day out in vernacular entertainment magazines - all ingredients for a great package drama - tragically gone awry. Unfortunately a spell of Black Magic, and bad luck combined has hit them and taken them by surprise. It indicated clearly that the END is near... 'Pack up' time in package speak!

What has suddenly dawned in the new 'third and fourth class' thinking is yet to be understood by the coterie. The simple fact that the coterie is irritating people to the point of annoyance, and all that is constantly been fed to us about them, by them and for them, courtesy of the national media at tax payers expense, is also getting vulgar by the days explains their horrendous lack of plain decency. Consideration is a human virtue - that does not penetrate those with thick skins.

And what are we being fed ? A constant fare of news, covering unsolicited views of our 'stars'' ranging from fashion to fundamentalism, flab to fitness - of their trials, tribulation of their obesity of their anorexia nervosa, and pretensions of a 'swinging life', Mercedes Benz and all! The truth is - those cars, neither the 'stars' nor their fathers will own in a long, long time to come!! Good luck however is in order.

Because the press do not question - or perhaps are not permitted to on 'pain of death', the alleged 'creativity' or 'excellence' of members of the coterie is grotesquely hilarious. A large part of our 'third and fourth class' population, who stay away from the 'glare of publicity' - are therefore left with 'no choice' than to reject this lot self seekers and their machination - and ask them to quit. No long do the people of Bangladesh have an interest, or have anything to do with wedding pictures of STARS making 'national news' in 'national dailies' of the Daily Star variety. No deification of abject mediocre's is the clear message - enough is enough.

Unknown to the coterie - this rage among the third and forth class employees crossed all limits in recent times and such is the rage - that had it not been the video tape but the face of Mr.Hayat standing - he could have very well have been slapped, with 'hai Allah chotoloker thappor'....being one of the commonest dialogue of our natoks. Is it art imitating life or vice versa is anybody's penny! This very notion of the chotoloke (low life) is a constant reminder that despite our best intention's to appear 'progressive' and 'secular' - we nurture a culture of hate and consider Governments employees to be our 'domestic helps'. A dangerous mindset that promotes deification of a few and demonisation of others - and a culture of carrying a tag of being 'somebody's somebody'. No sane human, no civility in the world at the beginning of this new millennium can tolerate this senile dichotomy - or leave things without a protest. Ironic all of these despite all our rosy talk of globalization. Indeed these are mindset's that have to be marginalised, otherwise the whole definition of culture stands to gets marginalised and wiped out.

The first reaction of the coterie to the crisis sealed their fate. The NEWA was told 'you are bunch of peons, drivers, and riff raffs - we don't talk to you. We will talk with the Government'. Fair enough - Time will tell, however for the moment, the advent of the chotolokes to power in BTV has been attributed to the Ershadian autocracy:

'Auto promotion a system introduced by former president Ershad has been largely blamed for this misplaced power. Under this agreement, any one, even a driver can become the DG through continuos promotion. This has allowed many non-technical unqualified individuals to reach officers level. Since then consecutive governments including the present one has totally ignored the issue'.

while Ershad might have 'introduced' auto promotion - in reality what he did was to endorse the auto promotions consequent to the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971! In those first years when we were recovering from pangs of our bloody birth, Cashiers became Managers in banks, Sepoys became Majors, Majors became Generals, Clerks became Managing Directors, and on the same token, within the new BTV, spot boy's became producers, assistant became directors and so on and so forth. So clearly the suggestion by the The Daily Star:

'The system of auto-promotion should be replaced by a culture of employing qualified and deserving individuals'

is not going to work - for what we have inherited is not so simple. Jobs, qualifications and deserving individuals etc. are terms that can raise further questions. What constitutes qualification where the ultimate parameter of judgement is 'creativity' that neither the NEWA nor the PF has? Really, who decides as to who is deserving? Indeed many 'third class' of the post 1971 era - are today sitting smack in the middle of the PF, masquerading as the 'elite first class' that are today, one way or the other connected to the cultural Mafia or are its 'new, important and credible leaders'! This indeed is the composition of the 'third class' elite - that I promised to introduce readers at the start of this essay? Today those very 'third class' employees of 'BTV of yore', are telling The Daily Star,

'There is no decorum. A fourth class employee has the audacity to tell the shift in-charge 'shut up and sit quietly'.

audacity is a cliché word that should be outdated as for someone using it, it pretty much reeks of narrow mindedness and again classist and oppressive. But what about insubordination? Revolts occur when subordinate voices are not heard. We are after all talking about a revolt inside the BTV - are we not?

In recent times, we have woken up to the realization that things have gone through massive upheavals and changes. We have gotten digitized, satellite channels are competing for slots of times in our homes and our lives, and in every sphere of our cultural life things are seemingly 'happening'. With this advent of new and fresher ideas, education and technology being at the backbone, we somehow expect changes to affect only our lives and not the 'third and fourth class' human beings in our society. Having such manic disregards to the changes occurring in the chotoloke mindset is tantamount to committing collective national suicide. The chotoloke does not exist but in the figments of our over heated imagination - an imagination that is gross and more sinister - deadly.

Let me explain by a recent example.

The crisis in the Gono Shahajjo Shangstha (GSS) has roots in the mishandling of the 'third and fourth class' employees in the organization - one of the country's largest NGO. A sexual harassment allegation made against its Managing Director by a widowed 'telephone operator', saw the 'drivers' and other 'third and fourth class' employees revolt and bring it to the state of quagmire it finds itself today.

What was overlooked was among the 'third and fourth class' is today we have educated people - and indeed I recall meeting one driver of that organization - who had a Masters degree, and was very, very eloquent. He could have passed of anywhere as an 'officer' - yet here he was proud of the fact that he is a driver.

Therefore the next time around, before we make a dehumanizing sneer at any 'driver' - we ought to exercise caution! It is only because we choose to remain blind or live in rejection to the realities of these great change sweeping the country, that we reel in shock and horror, reading press accounts of a 'telephone operator' telling the world that she had been sexually molested by the boss man! Those feelings of 'shock' are meaningless for at that point of time - we have no right to retort 'what audacity', for when abuse is the agenda - it no longer remains an US versus THEM matter any more. It becomes a Human Right matter.

That is basically the problem inside the BTV. Human rights are being abused and we the so-called 'elite's' of the so-called 'first class' are the abusers. All this in the way we speak, think or write about the 'third and fourth class'.

'The AL government too is reluctant to create disaffection between itself and these employees'

The AL government's reluctance is justifiable. It knows too well, that in the years it has remained outside power, inside the BTV its 'third and fourth class' employees were the real bastion of its power, and these employees were never found lacking whenever there was a need to flex the muscles of dictators or an autocrat or now 'democrats' with pretensions of demi-Gods. Many a time they have been pivotal to paralyze the national media, and let the forces of the people prevail in past agitations. It is a matter of great pride for all patriotic citizens of this country, that while the like of Golam Azam has been effectively rehabilitated by coterie interest in the name of opposing him, the BTV and its employee have the distinct honor of never allowing this national traitor to set foot in its premises. So much for patriotism.

Finally the Daily Star is accused of not even understanding the differences in the equipments despite use of colorful expressions of the 'linear' and 'non-linear' variety. The cumulative investment of the PF of over one hundred crores takas is made out to be some kind of a 'big deal'. In reality those are 'toys' and cannot or should not, be compared with the sixty-nine crore Taka BTV recently spent to upgrade its 'dated' equipment. For all practical purposes the high tech implements in place are not only the best in the country - but indeed the entire region. There is a difference between a Mercedes Benz and a Toyota car, while both are CARS, is the difference The Daily Star does not know.

It all boils down to our will to protect our national property. Clearly neither side in the crisis are less corrupt than the other, but the package manufacturers stand accused of selling many garbage (at tax payers expense) of a quality lower than the BTV's standards! All package programs are not necessarily brilliant - there are some that can make anybody sick. It is basically trying to decide out what we want to see, and what is being forced on us. With the new equipments in the BTV, the heartburn of the PF is understandable. However the conspiracy that is looming together with these attempts to outright demonize BTV, indicates that the coterie interest wants to take over the institution, now that it is laden with more jewelry than it ever did in its history. A terrestrial TV with state of art equipment's. However, part of that jewelry are the 'third and fourth class' employees, and all patriotic people should applaud them for their timely resistance.

June 20th 1999

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