The Daily Star Editor Mahfuz Anam has admitted to his 'biggest mistake' in journalism, saying it was wrong of him to run corruption stories against Sheikh Hasina during the 2007-8 military-controlled caretaker regime.
Speaking at a panel discussion on ATN News on Wednesday, Anam told talk-show host Munni Saha that his paper had been fed those graft stories by the military intelligence outfit DGFI.
Running those graft stories against Hasina based on unsubstantiated DGFI information was “my biggest mistake", said Anam, after being pressed hard by anchor Saha and fellow panellist bdnews24.com's Gazi Nasiruddin Ahmed.
"It was a big mistake as an editor, in my journalism career,” said Anam who, in the discussion, was speaking about freedom and responsibility of the media. “I admit it."
The private TV station organised the discussion on Wednesday to mark the English-language newspaper's 25th anniversary.
Saha started the discussion with reference to the allegations that The Daily Star had played a controversial role during the caretaker government regime. Anam attempted to brush the allegations aside.
Nasiruddin Ahmed, bdnews24.com’s Head of Current Affairs and Editorial Policy Coordinator, then tried to refresh Anam’s memory about some reports the newspaper had run at the time.
The Daily Star is widely criticised for 'backing' the army-installed government, led by former bureaucrat Fakhruddin Ahmad and armed with sweeping emergency powers to curb media and civil rights.
At the initiative of the Centre for Policy Dialogue, The Daily Star and its sister concern Bangla-language daily Prothom Alo made the ground welcoming an unconstitutional government with a campaign for 'depoliticisation' through citizens' dialogue across the country, critics say.
Anam wanted specific examples when Saha raised the issue in the discussion.
Nasiruddin Ahmed then mentioned a report, published in the newspaper, that accused Sheikh Hasina, now the prime minister, of taking bribes.
The report referred to a confession given by detained Awami League leader Sheikh Fazlul Karim Selim without attributing the allegation to a source.
Political analysts say there was an attempt of character assassination of Hasina and former prime minister Khaleda Zia to banish them from Bangladesh's politics. The attempt is called 'Minus Two Formula'.
The Daily Star ran similar reports against Khaleda Zia.
When Saha spoke about the 'Formula', Anam defended himself saying, "Everyone did the same."
But he had to go back on his words and eventually admit that it was a “big mistake” to publish news fed by the DGFI.
On several occasions, Hasina has criticised the stance the newspaper took at that time.
Transcom Group, controlled by businessman Latifur Rahman, who in 2007 was named on a list of "corrupt individuals" by the military-run government; Abdur Rouf Chowdhury of Rangs Group and founder Editor SM Ali invested in the owning company Mediaworld.
After SM Ali's death, majority owner Latifur Rahman appointed former Unesco communications officer Mahfuz Anam, who had some stakes in the company, as editor.
The Daily Star is celebrating its 25th anniversary with the theme - 'Celebrating 25 Years of Journalism without Fear or Favour'.
Referring to the theme, bdnews24.com's Nasiruddin Ahmed asked Anam, "...did you publish such news during the emergency rule driven by fear? And do you refrain from publishing news against foreign donors or NGOs as a favour?"
Anam did not answer the questions.
In the discussion, the editor of the print newspaper also acknowledged the importance of Internet-based newspapers and spoke of plans to revamp his publication.