It is commonplace to talk about bias and political partisanship in Bangladeshi media, but a relatively new — and much overlooked — report, now puts some flesh to those bones. Titled, “Who Owns the Media in Bangladesh”, and published by the Dhaka-based Centre for Governance Studies at the beginning of 2021, the report provides some solid research and information on the ownership structure of the country’s television stations and newspapers. It also has an excellent website.
Discussion about partisanship in the Bangladeshi media tends to focus on print media, but television is far more important. Recent polls suggest that 68% of Bangladeshis get their news from the TV — and only 2% from newspapers, 4% from the internet and 4% from social media!
Apart from the government owned BTV, there are currently 30 operational private TV stations. Between 2001 and 2006 when the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) was in power, five of these stations (Jamuna, Boishakshi, Banglavision, RTV and Desh TV) received their “No Objection Certificates”, allowing them to set up a station. The remaining 25 stations received their NOCs during the Awami League periods of 2009 to 2013. Since then, with the party still in power, there are 15 further TV stations which received their NOCs but their frequencies have either not yet been granted or they have not yet started.
Obtaining NOCs and broadcast licenses are highly political processes — and only those individuals with good links to the party in power (whoever it may be) will receive them. It is important to note that the NOC/license, for many of those who initially received them, was simply a very lucrative asset which they could sell for large sums of money. The report notes that only three of the currently 30 operating TV stations — Channel 24 (Ha-Meem group) Maasranga TV (Square group), and GTV (Gazi Group) — continue to be fully owned by the original license holders.
So who currently owns these TV stations?
The Centre for Governance Studies report provides details of the ownership of most of the 30 currently operating TV stations — which make clear two very obvious points.
First, that the vast majority of the TV stations are not owned by companies only operating in the media sector but by large commercial conglomerates with financial interests in a very wide range of business enterprises. This raises serious questions about how these stations can report independently on a vast range of commercial news where the owners have a very clear vested interest. I will write separately about this.
Secondly — and the focus of this column — is that a significant number of TV stations, around one third, are owned, or partly owned by individuals with direct connections to the Awami League government.
GTV (Gazi TV)
It is run by Gazi Satellite Television Ltd, part of the Gazi group of companies which is owned by Golam Dastagir Gazi, the Awami League minister of textiles and Jute with his family. The Awami League MP, Saber Hossain Chowdhury, MP is also a director of Gazi Satellite Television Ltd. The group also owns the online news website Sarabangla.
It is run by Bengal Media Corporation, part of the Bengal group of companies which is owned by Awami League member of parliament, Morshed Alam and his family members. (The company also owns Channel 52, which the report notes has received a license, but the frequency has not yet been granted.)
It is run by Mohona Television Limited whose chairman is the Awami League MP, Kamal Ahmed Majumdar. The Awami League MP Hamida Banu is also director of the company that owns the channel.
It is run by Barind Media Limited, part of the Renaissance Group of companies which is majority owned by Shahriar Alam, the Awami League state foreign minister, and members of his family.
It is run by Media Scene Ltd, part of the Karnaphuli group of companies which is owned by Saber Hossain Chowdhury, an Awami League MP, and his family members. Awami League MP, Golam Dastagir Gazi, is also a director of Media Scene Ltd. In 2015 records show that Syed Abul Hossain MP and Asaduzzaman Noor MP were directors.
Karnaphuli group also owns the newspaper Bhorer Kagoj.
ITV (Independent TV
It is run by Beximco Media Ltd, which is part of Beximco, a conglomerate controlled by Awami League MP and advisor to the prime minister, Salman F Rahman, and other members of his family. Beximco group also owns The Independent newspaper.
DBC News Channel
It is run by Dhaka Bangla Media and Communication Ltd whose chairman is
Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury, former media advisor to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Yussuf Abdullah Harun, an independent MP, is also a director of the company. Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury is also editor of The Daily Observer.
In addition, the stations below also have close links to the Awami League:
It is owned jointly by the Meghna group and Mozammel Babu and his family members. Though Babu holds no formal position within the Awami League, he holds and articulates very pro Awami League positions.
It is run by Somoy Media Ltd, which is jointly owned by the City Group, a large conglomerate, along with Morshedul Islam, who is the brother of former Awami League food minister Advocate Qamrul Islam.
It is run by Jadoo Media Limited, which is part of the Mohammadi group of companies, which was founded by Anisul Huq, former Awami League Mayor of Dhaka North City Corporation. After Huq’s death in 2017, the Mohammadi Group is now primarily owned by his wife, Rubana Huq and family.
There is also one company with a direct link to the Bangladesh Nationalist Party.
It is owned by Mohammad Mosaddak Ali Falu, a former BNP member of parliament.
It is of course likely that many other TV stations have links to the Awami League which are not so obvious. But, even without this comprehensive understanding, it is very worrying for media freedom that nearly a third of Bangladesh TV stations have such direct links to the governing party of the country●
David Bergman (@TheDavidBergman) — a journalist based in Britain — is Editor, English of Netra News.