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Bangladesh Local Governance in Practice: Journalists Strengthen Citizens’ Voice

Nilufar Ahmad's picture

The Bangladesh Non-lending Technical Assistance on Local Governance (NLTA) is a policy and technical assistance instrument of the World Bank complementing the Bangladesh Local Governance Support Project (LGSP) that has been supporting the Union Parishad (UP), the rural local government since 2006. The NLTA, supported by the Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC), Norway and AusAID, is broadening the dialog on decentralization, strengthening intergovernmental frameworks, and enhancing downward accountability and citizen’s voice in local governance.

Under the NLTA program, one journalist from each of 64 district press clubs was trained in LGSP rules and social accountability process and established a Local Governance Journalist Network (LGJN) in early 2009. This network of journalist is carrying out investigative reports as “third party monitors” on the implementation of LGSP. They are also facilitating local level dialogues between UPs and communities; facilitating citizen’s to hold the UP accountable.

The LGJN facilitated a National Roundtable on the Role of the Media in Strengthening Local Governance, participated by government officials from Ministries of Information, Local Government Division, representatives of electronic and print media, civil society, UP functionaries and development partners. Mr. Abu Bakkar Siddique, a local journalist from Gazipur said “We live in the UP, but do not know about its functions or activities and never written about it. I did not know about LGSP, that has been providing funds for my UP for the last few years. We always think about writing national news in national newspapers. Today I went to Savar UP, and saw the ideas and motivation of the UPs, and the way they are working with the community to make a difference in the local area. This is a great story of our own rural areas. I will write this in the newspaper, and it will provide hope to other UPs as well as communities that they can work together and promote local development in their areas. As the Parliament approved the Right to Information Act, we can use the opportunity provided by LGSP to make activities implemented by public funds more transparent and accountable to local people.”

Md. Abul Kalam Azad, a journalist from Comilla narrated their peer learning visit to UPs in the Cox’s Bazaar area. “we saw that the UPs are serving the needs of people. People are satisfied with UP services, especially on conflict resolution, provision of community Infrastructure, disseminating agriculture and other important information to farmers and providing important government document like birth certificate, farmer ID card to people. Md. Jahangir, Director, Centre for Development Communication, stressed “Media needs to focus on rural and local government news, as nearly 80 percent of people reside in rural areas. There is a demand for Upazila and district based local newspapers. Most newspaper readers are from urban areas, so the coverage of rural issues is limited. Urban readers are not interested in rural local government. Editors decide what to print, therefore, dialogues with editors are necessary, so that more news are published on local government and rural development issues. Bangladesh TV and radio need to have a regular program on local government – sporadic program will not have the necessary influence – nor on the community and neither on national policy makers.”

Mr. Kamrul Hassan Monju, Director, Massline Media emphasized “Print journalism is very vibrant in Bangladesh; many districts have large scale regional newspapers. However, there are significant differences in circulation between districts. While in some districts the average circulation of dailies is as high as 25,000, in other districts penetration is far lower. The same applied to wages for district level journalists, which varied widely.” He further stressed that “Investigative journalism on issues of corruption or malpractice is a costly and risky pursuit. In a number of cases, journalists were threatened by local vested interests not to involve themselves in local governance issues.”

Mr. Sohrab Hossain, a journalist from Khulna informed that “It is difficult to publish UP level news in the national newspapers as the editors prioritize other important global and national news and events. As a result, there is a disconnect between local and national news. Local journalists do not get opportunities to write in national papers and not able to develop their capacity. There is a need for mentoring and assisting the local journalists in developing their capacity. Networks like LGJN can make a bridge among the national and local media.”

The journalist network has facilitated many local and national dialogues between local government leaders and communities. The network is planning to organize district orientation for local journalists on local governance and is expected to be scaled up in the future.