Parents of a ten-year-old kid Sobuj in the Dhaka suburbs have said they are shocked over how their child was enticed to come up with a quote by a 'Prothom Alo' journalist.
“The kid alleged the reporter paid him 10 Taka and took his picture after which he was quoted as saying that "my state of hunger makes independence look meaningless."
“First the journalist took my photo without asking me. When I noticed he gave me some money without telling me that my photo will appear in their newspaper.”, recalled Subuj, according to television reports.
“As we did not send our boy to the market, he has no clue of prices of foodstuff...but attributing false data to my child is truly a travesty of truth for us," said Sobuj's mother.
The parents also expressed frustration during TV interviews over using such fabricated “comments” and deemed them to be “a travesty of truth” and alleged that “such irresponsible effort put them into needless mental stress."
"How can a journalist of a top daily pay to fix a quote and then use the picture of a minor child which any respectable media outlet would have blurred? This is blatant child exploitation and a clear violation of basic media ethics. And then getting the child's identity wrong is horrible journalism which responsible editors should not tolerate," said ace lawyer Tarana Halim, a former minister and now Central Executive Member of Awami League.
During a demonstration at Russell Square to expose the ' falsehood', Halim on Thursday said some reports in foreign media have perpetuated the fake narrative by reporting that the erring journalist Shamsuddin Shams has been arrested for reporting on the high prices of essentials.
"The police has acted on a case filed, the case was not filed by the government but by a lawyer who has good reasons to sue the journalist for exploiting a minor child. This boy was looking for fish and meat, not rice and lentils. His parents have basic amenities at home including refrigerator and pricey timber furniture, so Sobuj is not the starving child the journalist made him look like," Halim told the rally.
Halim said: "Media solidarity for a good cause is understandable but how can you rally for a colleague who has violated every professional ethic one holds dear to suit his false narrative."
Sobuj's house, located in Savar, is equipped with necessary amenities while their parents refuted such claims of living in hunger.
Suboj's family came in for “unnecessary trouble” after Prothom Alo published a caption on the Independence Day, with a photo of the kid, introduced as a day labourer and holding flowers.
"On an empty stomach, what would I do with independence? Food essentials are out of my reach…" read the caption of the story uploaded by Prothom Alo.
Amid criticisms the outlet later removed the banner offering explanation on the site calling it a “discrepancy” for wrongly introducing the kid as a day labour Jakir.
Even a release from a professional body, Broadcast Journalist Center, comprising of journalists from different outlets, called that editorial judgement as “controversial”, saying publication of the story gave rise to allegations of belittling the freedom of the country and marks a blot on the professionalism.
BJC, however, condemned the arrest of the journalist.
“I want to clarify that we must register our collective protest against the disgraceful act of bribing a child to elicit a statement to get the honorable prime minister or the government on the wrong foot or insult them,” Tarana Halim said.
“His residence is endowed with a television, a refrigerator, and furniture made of teak. Also, he is a school-goer. As a women and children's rights activist, I must say that the journalist or the newspaper who carried a piece of news against such a family exploited a child and child exploitation is a criminal offence.
“What message did you deliver? Even before this kid reached his puberty, you taught him that his ethics could be traded for money. You also taught that money makes more sense than the ideals one live by. You taught that conscience can be mortgaged in return for money. You taught him that money is the mother of all evils.
“What we learned from our moral science book is wrong. You normalized the fact that a child can be used as a means for gaining political advantages. You taught him that money can justify one's derailment. If that derailment is guided by one of the pillars of the nation's conscience, we fall short of words to condemn that pillar.
“You demonstrated to him the way of grabbing easy money. Today in exchange for Tk 10 he was made to utter a statement for the newspaper. Can you guarantee that this child will not end up being a frightening criminal like Avi? This is because you instilled in him the greed for money.
“You showed this child the illegal source of making money and gave him the pleasure of making easy money, a devil against which we are fighting, I am fighting, and the entire Bangladesh is fighting. That is why this is the time we protested,” said Tarana Halim.
“I want to say a few words for those who have done it. Do you want to conjure up some issues? Do you call up Basanti who was made to wear a fishnet? That incident set the background for killing Bangabandhu and his family? You also recall that Basanti confessed to her mistake before her death. I am just reproducing the quote. "A journalist bribed me and asked me to wear the net wrapped around my saree so that he could take a picture."
“Therefore, as a mother, as a women and children's rights activist, I want to say that we must register our collective protest against the disgraceful act of bribing a child to elicit a statement to get the honorable prime minister or the government on the wrong foot or insult them,” she said.
“This is because we are against child exploitation and child abuse. We are against bribing a child and transforming him into a feared criminal.”