Bloggers Take Center Stage in Bangladesh

What started out as a few Bangladeshi bloggers questioning some discrepancies regarding the Bangladeshi Army Chief’s bank loans spread like wild fire in the Bangladeshi blogosphere. Several of the most widely read Bangladeshi bloggers caught on to the story and expanded on the initial postings with further verification and analysis. What unfolded was an account of potential misuse of power that centered around three issues: 1. the Army Chief’s taking out a disproportionate amount of loans from a bank that he chaired; 2. repayment of a significant portion of the loan from unidentifiable sources; and, 3. violating the central bank rule by having family members serve as Chairman and Managing Director of this bank. – and what’s more, all of these claims were backed up by links to balance sheets and related central bank regulations.

This hit the blogs at a time when General Moeen U Ahmed, the Army Chief, was visiting the UK and the US. Some expatriate Bangladeshi TV channels and BBC Radio felt that the blog postings did not deserve to be ignored and followed up with live questions to General Moeen himself regarding the allegations. This has perhaps been one of the first Bangladeshi instances when the bloggers led the mainstream media into taking on an issue. However, this issue has been limitedly addressed by a small number of Bangladeshi-based newspapers. Perhaps this can be explained by the fear of reprisal from the military-backed government, which has curbed freedom of press significantly in recent months.

These blog-based allegations against the Army Chief are especially ironic since this caretaker government backed by the military came to power early January amidst political chaos with a stated aim of cleaning up the government from corruption. The government has already arrested and sentenced hundreds of top political leaders on charges of corruption in a process that has remained controversial. While General Moeen has denied the bank loan allegations, the questions raised by the bloggers remain largely unanswered. Are the bank balance sheets giving wrong figures or is General Moeen misrepresenting facts? In order to maintain moral legitimacy of his authority under the circumstances, the Army Chief has been put in a position where he will be required to come out with a clearer explanation than just a simple denial – thanks to the continuing pressure from the bloggers.

We have yet to know how the rest of this saga will unfold. But what is undeniably true is that through the uncovering of this ‘Bankgate Scandal’— Bangladeshi bloggers have already taken up a respectable position in investigative journalism. Bloggers are now becoming an increasingly important player that can both challenge a sluggish, government monitored mainstream media or become a direct source of news for Bangladeshis. This will surely encourage bloggers from other countries, especially those where free expression is stifled, to find a renewed sense of their purpose and responsibility.

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