Sensational story, dubious ethics

Bangladesh’s leading English daily was linked with ULFA by two publications, neither of which sought a response from the people and publications named in the story.
Hoot Desk with NAVA THAKURIA. Pix of Latifur Rahman from Daily Star.

This is an amazing story of sensational accusations made about a leading newspaper in Bangladesh by a New York-based website, picked up by a newspaper in Assam which did no checking of its own, and a subsequent denial by the implicated newspaper, after a gap of a month. At its core is the suggestion that the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), which is known to extort money from business houses in the state, invested in the media house which owns which owns The Daily Star of Bangladesh, and the Bengali daily Prothom Alo. The Star is the largest circulated English daily in Bangladesh. 

 

In a story datelined July 29, 2008, and titled "ULFA has stakes in Bangla media"  the Assam Tribune alleged that ULFA whose "business interests were diverse, ranging from driving schools, nursing homes, hotels to garment export houses to deep-sea trawlers,…partly owns or used to own Transcom Media, publisher of the prestigious Bengali daily Prothom Aalo, English daily The Daily Star, besides two periodicals. It is better known as Daily Star Group in Bangladesh, because of the tremendous influence of its English language daily."  (http://www.assamtribune.com/scripts/details.asp?id=jul3008/at08 ) The evidence offered for this revelation is an article on the website of the New York based journal of politics and world affairs, Global Politician.  There is nothing in the story to indicate that the writer made any effort to confirm these facts independently.

This article is colourfully titled "When the media turns into evil". It is by a writer called Sunita Paul, and is datelined June 8,2008. Over 2200 odd words, she details the  business profile the owner of Daily Star, Latifur Rahman, the turns in his business fortunes, and the part played in it by the ULFA. She states that Rahman¿s wife is related to Anup Chetia, ULFA¿s general secretary.  Her thesis is that an influx of funds from this group helped revive Rahman¿s fortunes, and his later acquisition of Daily Star. (http://www.globalpolitician.com/24880-media ).

More than a month later the Assam Tribune article appeared. Thereafter, in the first week of August, Nava Thakuria tried to contact the editor of the Bangladesh daily through e-mail and over telephone, but failed. He was said to be out of Dhaka. The  newseditor of ¿The Daily Star¿ responded to Thakuria, denying the allegation, but not offering  any official clarification on the issue. He wanted full details of the controversy, which was sent to him immediately through e-mail with a request to clarify the newspaper¿s stand on the issue, but no response arrived.

 

The office of the newspaper was contacted again on the third week of August and this time one senior journalist in news desk responded to Thakuria, but was able to confirm nothing. The latter  called the Star office on the fourth week of the private secretary of the editor. Finally the editor Mahfuz Anam responded by email on August 26 saying that he had been on holiday, and that he was  was sending a formal protest rejoinder to ¿The Assam Tribune¿ very soon.

 

On August 28, 2008, Assam Tribune published it in the front page issue (http://www.assamtribune.com/scripts/details.asp?id=aug2908/at03  ) a rejoinder from Alam.

 

"I strongly protest the content of the piece, which is full of lies, distortions and inaccuracies," said Anam adding, "Your correspondent admits he based his write-up on a piece in the Internet portal called Global Politician written by one Sunita Paul titled ¿When the media turns into evil¿. Should a journalist write a report purely based on an Internet piece without verifying anything himself?" He added that Barooah made no attempt to contact the office of the Star for their comments, nor try to ascertain the veracity of the Internet piece. Regarding Sunita Paul too his rejoinder said that  she never contacted him any of his administrative staff while writing the story to ascertain facts about them.

 

His rejoinder says,

 

"Mr Kalyan Barooah selectively quotes Sunita Paul, without verifying the facts, that Latifur Rahman, one of the owners of The Star and Prothom Alo became bankrupt in the nineties when Anup Chetia gave him a "few million dollars to reorganise his collapsed business". These are deliberate canard and outright lies. Mr Latifur Rahman was and is one of the most respected businessmen of the country and has been elected, starting from the nineties, numerous times as the president of the most prestigious business chamber of the country, namely the MCCI (Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry), a post to which he has been recently re-elected.

Transcom, as a company, was not started, as your reporter quotes Sunita Paul, in the nineties but has been in business since early seventies, after Bangladesh was born. Again, it was not Latifur Rahman who brought me to the Star, as claimed by your reporter quoting Paul¿s piece. I am one of the founding directors of the company and was the founder Executive Editor of the paper at the start and became editor at the untimely death of SM Ali within less than three years of the birth of the paper.

About the writer of the Internet portal piece, Sunita Paul, suffice it to say that Paul never contacted me or any of my administrative staff while writing the story to ascertain facts about our company and its finances. To the best of my knowledge she did not talk to any senior staff or any of the other directors of the paper, or any of the other persons who could have given her some facts about The Daily Star and Prothom Alo."

Mahfuz Anam, Editor-Publisher, The Daily Star, Dhaka.

 

The Assam Tribune editor (cum proprietor) and its New Delhi correspondent Barooah were contacted for their comments on the issue. While Barooah said his editor should be contacted for a comment, the editorial head of the newspaper never responded.    

 

Nava Thakuria contacted Sunita Paul who said the Daily Star editor¿s clarification was nothing but an attempt to save the face of his media group from the attention of anti-terror organizations around the globe. She also claimed that her article was published in a number of international media outlets including two Dhaka based portals and a weekly newspaper within June-July, but even then the editor preferred to remain silent till the last week of August. 

 

She also disputed Anam in the clarification where he argued that there was no media house called Transcom Media in Bangladesh. Anam claimed that the Star was owned by Mediaworld and the Prothom Alo by another company called Mediastar. But Sunita Paul reiterated that Transcom is the owner of all these newspapers including the Daily Star and Prothom Alo (reference www.transcombd.com).

 

The Global Politician carries several stories on Bangladesh by Sunita Paul. In one of them she makes a passing reference to her expertise on the subject: "Before I go into detail on this topic, let me first give a brief description of how best I know Bangladesh. I know this since much before it was born in 1971. I know the people and of course, know something that many of the Western pundits or analysts will take time to realize."

 

 

 

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