British Council, Dhaka, 27 April 2001

Report on Book and Film launch and Discussion Meeting held at the British Council Auditorium at 9.30 a.m., followed by a screening of ‘Michael Jackson comes to Manikganj’, directed by Nupur Basu.

The book and film launch in Dhaka was held in association with the British Council and University Press Ltd, the Bangladesh publishers of ‘Satellites over South Asia’. The launch was preceded by a discussion on ‘Bangladeshi Culture and the new broadcasting environment’. The aim was to create an opportunity to hear from those involved in current thinking on issues of public interest broadcasting commercial influence and regulation in Bangladesh, and to provide a forum for informed debate. What had been planned for 24 April as a full day workshop, had had to be postponed because of a general strike throughout Dhaka. As a result not all the previously scheduled speakers were able to attend and the programme was cut back to a two hour discussion meeting preceding the screening of Nupur Basu’s film ‘Michael Jackson comes to Manikganj’. The panel was chaired by Afsan Chowdhury on behalf of the Media South Asia Project and included the Deputy Director of News Bangladesh Television Mr Faruque Alamgir ; the MD of Ekushey TV Mr Farhad Mahmud; the Executive Director Nijera Kori, Mrs Khushi Kabir; the Executive Director of Mass Line Media Bangladesh, Mr Kamrul Hassan Monju ; and Mr Rashed Kanchan, the Executive Director of Impress Telefilms (representing Mr Shykh Seraj Chairman and CEO Impress Telefilms). The participants were welcomed by the Deputy Director of the British Council in Bangladesh Mr Charles Nuttall, and the discussion was introduced by Dr William Crawley on behalf of the Media South Asia Project, and by the Chairman of University Press Ltd, Mr Mohiuddin Ahmed.

William Crawley thanked the members of the panel for participating at very short notice following the rescheduling of the meeting, and the British Council for hosting it. The discussion was part of a south Asia wide debate which the Media South Asia project was aiming to promote by extending awareness of the expertise and thinking in Bangladesh to other countries in South Asia and vice versa. He thanked the Chairman Afsan Chowdhury for the expertise he had brought to the project on behalf of Bangladesh, and presented apologies on behalf of the Director of ‘Michael Jackson comes to Manikgunj’ Ms Nupur Basu who had been unable to come to this meeting. However he was glad to be able to welcome the cameraman for the film, Kawsar Chowdhury..

William Crawley referred to a report published that week in the Dhaka Independent on ‘Globalisation the good news’, by an American journalist reporting from the US town where the first Pizza Hut was started. The report showed that immigrants (in that case Italian) carry both their food and their politics with them to their new homes and sometimes send them back to their original home in an altered form. This showed globalisation as a two way process. In a similar fashion, chicken tikka masala marketed in Bangladeshi-run Indian restaurants had apparently replaced fish and chips as Britain’s ‘national dish’. It was established as an important truth about globalisation that a recognition of diversity was an essential element to its advance. But there were strong commercial pressures towards homogenisation and conformity within those local variants. The debate was focussing on issues of cultural impact, programme strategy, converging technologies and policy making for the electronic media in Bangladesh and the other states of south Asia.

Mohiuddin Ahmed on behalf of University Press Ltd welcomed the publication of the Bangladesh edition of the book and stressed the commitment of UPL to publishing authoritative titles on issues of social and developmental importance to Bangladesh. The Chairman Afsan Chowdhury introduced the members of the panel. He described the background to the writing of the book and the production of the film as part of a South Asia-wide collaborative project.

The Deputy Director of News, BTV, Faruque Alamgir speaking on ‘Responding to Satellite Competition’, stressed the primary role of BTV as the national broadcaster and its responsibilities in projecting national culture and promoting development. But he also referred in positive terms to the cooperation established between BTV and the private terrestrial broadcaster Ekushey TV. The Managing Director of Ekushey TV, Farhad Mahmud, endorsed this view in his presentation on ‘Private broadcasting and public responsibility’. He projected his policy that Ekushey TV as a commercial station was also committed to public service broadcasting and the strengthening of an independent Bangladeshi perspective in news and current affairs both at a national and international level. Rashed Kanchan representing Channel I as a satellite broadcaster, spoke on ‘Culture and Entertainment’. He presented the channel’s aim of providing an authentic source of Bangladeshi cultural and entertainment programming with new and livelier formats than was customary on the state channel. But he cautioned that a commercial satellite broadcaster was subject to commercial imperatives as a matter of survival, and that this would sometimes inhibit them from promoting a strong public service line (for example, in avoidance of tobacco advertising) which were advocated on public health grounds. Khushi Kabir, Executive Director of Nijera Khori spoke, on ‘Communication and broadcasting strategies for development’, outlining from the point of view of a development NGO the contribution the non government sector can make to promoting public awareness through the mass media. The Executive Director of Mass Line Media, Kamrul Hassan Monju, speaking on ‘Defining a community audience', outlined his experience in planning for a community radio service in the coastal district of Patuakhali. The broadcasting project, planned in association with DANIDA was still awaiting authorisation, as the Bangladesh government regulatory framework did not extend to permission for independent local or community broadcasting.

David Page and William Crawley argued in their book that the state's role as regulator had been undervalued. They suggested possible agendas for responding to the new situation. They included a need to redefine the public interest and to make demands of both state and private sectors in order to ensure diversity of programme choice and socially relevant programming; measures of reform of state broadcasters and their systems of funding. They argued from South Asian examples that regulated terrestrially based commercial competition, as adopted in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, was an effective way to improve media performance whilst remaining sensitive to local culture and opinion. The decentralisation of programme-making could aid the development of civil society and promote media diversity in a globalising world. The discussion looked at some of the arguments for decentralisation and the problems involved in lessening central control and protecting against market judgments which in cross border broadcasting were liable to override judgements of cultural acceptability. Though not as full as had been planned, the meeting provided a useful point of development for the agenda of the later workshop on Broadcasting and Development held in Manikganj 1-3 March 2002 in association with Proshika and the Bangladesh Centre for Development Journalism and Communication.