Bangladesh TV station taken off air for election day

Jamuna TV is unable to broadcast to the public on election day in Bangladesh. (AFP pic)

DHAKA: A leading Bangladeshi news channel has been taken off the air, officials said Sunday as the country votes for a new government amid allegations of a media crackdown.

The private Jamuna TV said the action was taken late Saturday.

“Cable operators took Jamuna TV off air without giving us any explanation,” Fahim Ahmed, the station’s chief news editor, told AFP.

“We are still transmitting. But no one in Bangladesh can see our channel due to the blackout,” he said. The channel’s output can still be seen online.

The broadcaster, which is owned by Jamuna Group — one of Bangladesh’s biggest conglomerates, which also runs a newspaper — is known for its independent coverage.

Salma Islam, a member of the family that owns the group, stood in Sunday’s election as an independent candidate against an influential ruling party businessman.

A top cable operator in Dhaka said Jamuna broadcasts stopped for technical rather than political reasons.

“We are not getting their signal,” said SM Ali Chanchal, owner of cable operator UCS. Jamuna rejected the explanation and insisted their signals were being broadcast as normal.

Authorities have also ordered the country’s mobile operators to shut down 3G and 4G services until midnight on Sunday “to prevent the spread of rumours” that could trigger unrest.

During Sunday’s election two photojournalists from the Manob Kantho local daily were injured when they were attacked by unknown assailants in Dhaka.

“Some 20-30 men suddenly assaulted and started beating us. They broke our cameras as well,” photographer Jubair Rakesh told AFP.

Journalists, including two from AFP, were also prevented from taking images at some polling centres by pro-government activists.

There have been mounting accusations that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government has been stifling dissent and curbing freedom of the press ahead of the vote.

Internationally renowned photographer Shahidul Alam was detained for nearly four months after he was accused of making false and provocative statements against Hasina on Facebook.

Two pro-opposition editors have been detained for months over what they say are trumped-up charges while the editors of two influential dailies were accused of sedition and scores of other defamation cases.

In recent months Hasina’s government has also strengthened a digital security law, which rights groups and journalists have said makes investigative journalism almost impossible.