Newmedia leadership and youth participation in Bangladesh

Countrywide 459 blasts in 63 districts within 30 minutes at August 17, 2005 have made a black scene in Bangladesh history. With this terrorism was involved mostly marginalized grassroots youth, are innocent believers and have no clear concept about the modern world, culture, faith and life style. General finding, this incidence is not cause but result. It happened, because Bangladesh could not educate and train these youth generation as universal minded that can encounter fanaticism, hateism and ignorance. The grassroots reality is that majority of rural people don’t have minimum access to basic information; the youth and children are growing without knowing and live high risk of conflicts, HIV and degradation of human values with extreme poverty and insecurity.

“Our aim is to build an ICT-driven nation comprising a knowledge-based society by the year 2006.” was the national commitment given by Bangladesh prime minister in December 11, 2003 shown a vision to nation particularly to youth. But the dateline has been passed; still now the nation is fighting with poverty, corruption and reaching to minimum standard of MDGs. Majority rural poor is not familiar with even newmedia terminology and development mottos. “Education for All”, “Health for All”, “Gender Equality” ” Knowledge Based Information Socitey”, ” Unlocking the Potential” etc development” slogans yet could not overcome the formation level.

But since this decade the situation, particularly in urban and semi-urban areas has been changing tremendously by the emerging of mobile phone technology and unprecedented youth participation as user and entrepreneur. Bangladeshi youth now highly motivated and widely using the mobile phone. Amazing stats 70% mobile phone users are youth whom most favorites are innovative use of cell technology. The most important result is the country now connected and active in communication. However village and town now connected over GPRS and WiFi Internet service provided by the cell phone companies. The young girls are also empowered and have pride to overcome negative forces, dowry, domestic violence, acid attack, gender discrimination etc. Vast numbers of grassroots women particularly young girls are conscious and confidently running business as well. The unprivileged rural mothers now send children school and see vision for quality life.

This positive result happens by the continuous efforts of nationwide large number of NGOs, particularly by the group meeting and micro-credit program of development organizations.

Nowadays in Bangladesh for grassroots development and awareness ICT that is mobile technology is working as action media. The situation could be more active if the multinational telecommunication companies’ Internet connection and device could be accessible in price for rural poor. In this case if the Government can also take community based ICT initiatives as did in 80s’decades’ to promote radio and TV through local government institutions.

History and national challenges

History:

The history of Internet in Bangladesh is young. In April 1994 off-line e-mail system of Bangladesh was operated from Netherlands as “DripTAP” brand and the first ISP was set up in June 1996. The internet technology could not expand as VSAT licensed was blocked by BTTB until 2000.

Within low bandwidth and high price also Internet and mobile telecommunication are getting popularity since 2000. But the access is limited up to certain level in urban areas only. Majority of the rural people don’t have access with this powerful media.

Presently Bangladesh has more than 100 ISPs. Mostly are based in Dhaka and divisional city , but gradually some are spreading to other cities/towns. However all ICT service providers now are focusing predominantly on the city area, not interested to the village, even though 80% population of the country lives in village. All are reluctant with the prejudice that village is not a profitable region, even though there is a business success story of Rural Internet’ program of Grameen Phone. However the country now connected with Global Information System by Submarine Cable connection.

National challenges:

As like as other non-English development nations, in Bangladesh also language forms the biggest barrier to computer and internet literacy. However majority rural peoples still now don’t have access to education, information and citizen rights to democratic participation in development process.

Yet this technology and English language both exist. The local & new global cultural practices are struggling. This is the new media reality in Bangladesh.

Low computer penetration, slow and expensive Internet access, lack of Bangla interface, prohibition to online payment system, cyber security and lack of cyber laws are big challenges of the nation. Within these barriers also, the use of ICT is increasing in the human rights and development arenas of Bangladesh, especially by the youth leaders, journalists and media activists. The global information system is affecting positively towards behavioural change and practices.

The ownership and digital divide

Digital divide between urban and rural, poor and rich is still now sharp in Bangladesh. The Telephone density in cities is 0.5 lines per 100 populations where as the lowest that of the world is 0.05 per 100 people rural Bangladesh. Even though Grameen Phone, Banglalink, Aktel, Warid etc multinational telecommunication companies are providing huge connectivity that exceed four cores but the most users are city dwellers.

It is clear that only the wealthy and city dwellers have wide and open access to this technology. Here, a computer costs more than one year income of a farmer and 6 months of one middle class salary man.

Compare to the percentage of global internet users, Bangladesh is having very few percentage. In total population less than 4% people has access the internet. But the positive things the percentage is now rapidly growing up. In city area most of all educated youth are using internet.

However the ownership of the modern technology should be to the majority people. But in Bangladesh not yet established this motif. Rural people don’t have access, at the same time don’t have basic knowledge about the power of newmedia. Moreover the general peoples are not attracted to this media as there is huge lacking of local content. Majority peoples can not understand the importance and trends of internet.

The situation could change dramatically if Bangladesh could link the internet with the commerce. The main problem is online transaction is prohibition , however don’t have proper security and laws.

In this situation Bangladesh has declared National Policy on ICT with the vision to comprise the knowledge society by the year 2006. In view of this, a country-wide ICT infrastructure will be developed to ensure access to information by every citizen to facilitate empowerment of people and enhance democratic values and norms for sustainable economic development by using the infrastructure for human resources development, governance, e-commerce, banking and public services.

But in this year 2008 also villages do not have sufficient connection with the outside world. Rural residents do not have access to news about the country, government, education, neighboring markets, or even about job opportunities.

Newmedia leadership and national commitments

The most crucial barrier for Bangladesh in newmedia leadership development are the lack of adequate ICT knowledge and strategy both in Government and NGOs level. It comes from the lack of “visions for change” and “expertise of senior citizens” who are policy makers and top of the society. The gap between the national vision and reality is getting increased. This gap can be filled by giving opportunity to youth to be ICT leader and policy makers.

However Bangladesh could prepare the excellent ground as it has huge number of youth who knows functional English and has college or university degrees but is unable to get job in city areas. These jobless youth can play prime role as a social entrepreneurs, local content producers, publishers as well as new media promoter and effective users of digital applications.

It is proved; the future of ICT promotions, entrepreneurship by youth is bright in Bangladesh. Since 2001 the use of ICT tools has been increased dramatically in Dhaka, major districts and divisional cities. In divisional cities almost 10,000 cyber caf has been established, mobile phone users has also increased into 30 times, 70% house has satellite cable connections. Most significant information is 75% mobile phone users and 95% cyber cafs’ owners are young. More than 90% cyber businesses are running successfully by young business men.

According to National Policy, “Bangladesh is committed to provide the Internet facility will be extended to all the district headquarters and subsequently to its adjacent area up to Upzila levels. Internet will be provided to the educational institutions and libraries. To ensure public access to information, Cyber Kiosks will be set up in all Post offices, Union complex and Upzila complex. ” but the situation is not going successful way.

Bangladesh now needs Electronic Government. But only 10% of government ministries and agencies have websites, most of websites don’t update regularly. All Government services, information and public resource documents should have accessible for all citizen; but only a few and limited forms are available.

There is a great potentiality if Bangladesh can make a group of youth leaders and professional with social commitment. The young leaders can start the mission of development centering on “Village Cyber Kiosk” and or agro based ICT entrepreneurship. The initiative already has been started. The Grameen Phone, BRAC, MMC, DNet and some other ICT NGOs are now running successfully “Rural Telecenter”. With the vision to establish nationwide 40000 Telecenters by 2011, “Bangladesh Telecenter Network” has been already established.

On December 6, 2007 the Chief Adviser of Bangladesh Government, Dr Fakhruddin Ahmed formally launched Mission 2011 of Bangladesh Telecentre Network (BTN) with the hope to give access to information and knowledge for improving rural poor’s livelihood through the use of modern information and communication technologies. He said ” We need to remove barrier and empower these people by providing them with access to new technologies.”

In this situation, the powerful new media can play most important role to establish Millennium Development Goals and the Knowledge Society by giving the ownership of modern technology and knowledge to the majority. My understanding, the Internet has the sprit of public service. It opens enormous potentiality by exposing the knowledge, information and resources for all. Proper information easily can breakdown all kind boarders and boundaries.

In order to promising newmedia leadership development “University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh ( ULAB)” is giving education on Newmedia, digital production and online journalism. Hope other universities will follow up such time need initiatives.

Newmedia as action media

ICT particularly newmedia has potentiality to serve as a democratising force. It provides public access to information, builds a virtual space for community gathering and grassroots development for repression, propaganda and enforces authoritarian control, particularly for the marginalised community. ICT, specially Internet, used in collaboration with human rights activism, creates virtual alternative tunnels for the free flow of uncensored information within and out of country. Global information systems, Internet as well as ICTs have opened up the golden gate for human rights development in Bangladesh.

The youth entrepreneurship and youth participation can make ICT as action media for human rights and aspects of information society promotion. To establish nationwide Human rights multimedia resource centre’ (can be called InfoCenter or telecenter ) in every village, large number of NGOs network can play an important role.

It is proved that only one responsible website can change the situation dramatically by encouraging, awakening and making people sensitive to participation in development process and or for protecting the violence and human rights abuses. It gives continuous objective education and awareness both to the defenders and offenders. Such type of effective and popular portal or website has not yet been launched in Bangladesh. Hope soon will be appear such type initiative by promising youth leaders.

Because of excessive focus on personal matters and benefits; the extreme individualism, selfishness, corruption, dogmatism, violence (both visible and invisible) are increasing dangerously in Bangladesh. People are becoming separated to separate, divided to divide. This is the time to inform and educate the people about rights and power of participation by grasping the new media opportunities. ICTs, particularly the Internet and multimedia, can play most important role for promotion of human rights and development in Bangladesh.

Youth initiatives and success stories

The most recent national achievement is making database based national voter list with young computer operators. By this initiative the nation has been inspired and had been introduced with compute and modern technology. Again it has been proved if the nation unite, surly Bangladesh will be used the newmedia for its development.

However the youth leading “Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha” (www.shidhulai.org) has received award from Bill & Millenda Gates Foundation however recognized by UN as best practices of “education and education”. Xayanit (www.xayanit.com ) wined GKP Youth and ICT Award, 2005 . The UnnayanTV ( www.unnayantv.com ), Bangladesh first online TV has been final listed by the Stockholm Challenge 2008.

However the youth platform Meghbarta, Drishtipat, Banglarights, Somewherein Blog, UnnayanNews, Uttorshuri, Adhunika is running successfully by youth.

Conclusion:

The nation is now fighting against the poverty, corruption and the degradation of human values, however heartrending to establish human rights and democracy. As the country now has been divided based on information and views. By sharing the proper information Bangladesh can overcoming the misunderstandings, and can find the common vision for national prosperity. Misguided grassroots youth could be saved from militancy, corruption, dogmatism as well as from terrorism.

Majority access to basic information and people’s participation are the precondition for democracy, human rights and development. By establishing rural information center, VISP (village internet service provider) and recruiting the young newmedia leaders and professional Bangladesh easily can improve its capacity. However the nation could be prepared for reaching to millennium targets and last mile solutions by giving the ownership of modern information and technology to majority rural poor. Regarding this, the large number of NGOs network and local government organizations can play the prime role, national scenarios will totally change as was happen in 80s’decades’ by Radio and TV promotion through local government institutions.

Note: This paper was presented in the AMIC Annual Conference 2008, Manila, Philippines.

Published in Helium / One World / USA

July 30th, 2008|