Wednesday 21 October 2020.Time-
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Prothom Alo retracts story amid protests

Dhaka, 16 April, Abnews: Hauled up for gender insensitivity, Prothom Alo, the second best-selling broadsheet in Bangladesh, has retracted a short story by Hasnat Abdul Hye carried in its Bangla New Year special on Apr 14.

The short story, titled ‘TV Camerar Samne Meyeti’ (The girl in front of the TV camera), centres around a politically active girl ‘Seema’ leading the slogan shouting brigade who is sexually exploited by a senior politician, the man who recruits her. The story suggests her popularity stems from her sexual free-mixing with males. The decision to retract the short story was taken by the Prothom Alo management after a flurry of protests by readers, who vented mostly in social media as well as at Shahbagh, the city square hosting a campaign against religious fanatics since Feb 5. Readers feel the story seeks to run down the image of the large number of women participating in the mass protests at Shahbagh. One reader even pulls up the short story as being inconsistent with the image of a ‘modern, emerging Bangladesh’. Many have said that the damage to the ‘brand’ has already been done but some say the apology puts the record straight. Still others say the tenor of the story sharply questions gender emancipation.

Some of the comments are posted on the paper’s online version. Bangladesh has been globally acclaimed in recent years for giant strides it has taken towards female empowerment. ‘The opinions expressed in the short story are not in keeping with our editorial policy and the ideals espoused by the newspaper,’ the Editor said in a statement carried in the daily’s online version. There was no print edition of the paper on Monday (Apr 15) because the 14th, the Pahela Baishakh, was public holiday. He ‘sincerely apologised’ to all readers of Prothom Alo for the ‘inadvertent goof-up’ which he says led to the publication of this short story. Hye, the writer who is a retired senior civil servant who served as Secretary at the Ministries of Industries and Land, also apologised, hours after the editor’s apology was put up in the internet edition. There have also been demands that his various awards, including the Ekushey Padak and Bangla Academy Award, be revoked. Hye joined the Civil Service of Pakistan in 1965 after a stint at the Dhaka University economics department as a teacher, and retired from the Bangladesh Civil Service in 1999. Born in 1939, Hye won the Academy Award in 1977 and was chosen for Ekushey Padak in 1994 for ‘contribution to literature’. The short story has already been withdrawn from the e-paper and the online archive of Prothom Alo’ the Editor said in the statement.

Some media managers have questioned the newspaper’s editorial oversight and leadership after publication of the short story. Abdul Qaiyum, Sazzad Sharif, Anisul Huq, Mizanur Rahman and Utpol Shuvro are the senior editors with the newspaper under the leadership of Matiur Rahman. Qaiyum, Associate Editor of the daily, echoed the editor who would not speak to us for comment. Asked whether action was underway against those involved with the ‘gaffe’, Qaiyum said, ‘We are investigating who made the mistake and at what point [of editorial decision-making]. ‘We will take steps so that such incident is never repeated.’ The daily has been taking heat in Facebook and other social media since Sunday following the publication of the story that ‘dishonourably represented’ female protesters of Shahbagh’s ‘Ganajagaran Mancha’.
Meanwhile, students and people burned copies of the daily at the TSC of Dhaka University in protest. Allegations of running ‘derisive’ story had surfaced against the daily some days back. Later the daily retracted the story, offered apology and removed the editor of the relevant section then. In 2007, Prothom Alo similarly apologised for a cartoon, allegedly defaming the Prophet Mohammad, after a flurry of protests from readers. The management sacked the 20-year-old cartoonist Arifur Rahman and section editor Sumanto Aslam for the goof-up, and Arif was also dragged to prison. The paper’s management refused to give legal support to the cartoonist, and Matiur Rahman, the editor, went to a hardline cleric to personally apologise for the ‘blunder’. Then caretaker government advisor Mainul Hosein brokered an understanding between Prothom Alo and the Islamists agitating against it over the cartoon. Seeking apology for his writing, Hasnat Abdul Hye said: ‘It’s evident that a number of readers have been angry after reading the story. I’m sorry and sincerely apologising for inadvertently angering them.’ He said he would not use the story in any book. But many say mere apologies by Prothom Alo and Hye are not enough compared to what they have done. Blogger Pinaki Bhattacharya, a supporter of Ganajagaran Mancha, has written in his Facebook status: ‘Can it be accepted if one says ‘sorry’ after giving a slap?’ ‘The story could reach the press from the editor’s desk for whose mistake? Who are responsible (for it)? What punitive actions have been taken against them?’

Many like Bhattacharya came down heavily on the story as well as on Prothom Alo for running it.



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