Bangladesh: Journalist Nirmal Sen, a torch that keeps illuminating

A journalist as he was, he was always honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information. Diligently sought out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing; identified accurate sources; and for their reliabilities.


by Anwar A. Khan

( August 21, 2017, Dhaka, Sri Lanka Guardian) Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist’s credibility. Nirmal Sen was a veteran journalist in Bangladesh and President of a left leaning political party, Sramik-Krishak Samajbadi Dal. He was a confirmed bachelor, loved his motherland so dearly and dedicated his entire life to bring about the welfare of Bangladesh’s people. He suffered a brain stroke and died on 2013 at the age of 82. Sen made his debut in journalism during Pakistan period and worked for Dainik Paigam and subsequently the-then Dainik Pakistan and later the now defunct Dainik Bangla. When we remember journalist Sen, Mark Twain’s words come to our mind, “In the real world, nothing happens at the right place at the right time. It is the job of journalists and historians to correct that” and Sen, all through his life, tried to work in that direction.

Without integrity journalism is untrustworthy and suspect. Integrity gives a journalist the authority to investigate issues, shine a light in dark places and to dig where others don’t. It is essential for informing the public debate with trustworthy, rigorous journalism. Being the founder President of the Federation of Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists (BFUJ) in post-independence period in 1972 and 1973, he played a pioneering role in ensuring press freedom and journalists’ rights. As a politician, Sen also played a glorious role in all pro-democracy movements and upholding the cause of the downtrodden people since Pakistan period. After Nirmal Sen’s death, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Press Advisor Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury remembered him with these words, “Nirmal Sen was a brilliant, honest and dedicated journalist who never deviated himself from the stand of professionalism despite having a particular political belief. For him, journalism was more than a profession — it was a public good vital to our democracy. A true newspaperman, he transformed the Newspapers, where he worked, into the country’s finest newspapers. The standard he set — a standard for honest, objective, meticulous reporting — encouraged so many others to enter the profession.”

A journalist as he was, he was always honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information. Diligently sought out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing; identified accurate sources; and for their reliabilities. During his lifetime, he told the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience boldly, even when it was unpopular to do so; examined our own cultural values and avoid imposing those values on others; supported the open exchange of views, even views they find repugnant; and gave voice to the voiceless. He was a journalist who was free of obligation to any interest other than the public’s right to know. He south truth and reported it. He was a standard bearer for courage, fairness and integrity in an industry going through seismic change. He was a mentor to so many across the industry and his professionalism was respected across the political spectrum in Bangladesh. He was a journalist’s journalist and set an example for all around him. He was a presence, a force. Maybe, it is hard to explain the full force of his personality to people who never met him.

Nirmal Sen

Marguerite Duras has said, “Journalism without a moral position is impossible. Every journalist is a moralist. It’s absolutely unavoidable. A journalist is someone who looks at the world and the way it works, someone who takes a close look at things every day and reports what he or she sees someone who represents the world, the event, for others. He or she cannot do his or her work without judging what he or she sees.” Whether on print or electronic media, our journalists should abide by high standards of ethics and strive to adhere to stringent standards of journalistic integrity. People expect our reporters, producers and writers to be fair and honest and to confirm the facts before articles or TV segments are released to the public. Integrity requires us to adhere to the highest ethical standards of every profession and to the values enshrined in the journalistic principles. Journalists have a responsibility to ensure that their reputation retains its high standing with whomever they come into contact. Everyone is expected to accept certain responsibilities, adhere to acceptable professional standards in matters of personal conduct and exhibit a high degree of personal integrity at all times. Nirmal Sen’s trustworthiness and reputation for integrity was his greatest asset.

Like Sen, there are many more decent and honest people than knaves in Bangladesh’s journalist circle but that protecting people who go out on a limb to help us is paramount. The basis of journalism as the fourth estate and a watchdog for corruption and injustice brings an unequivocal responsibility for journalists to be equally skilled and hard-working as they are virtuous and ethical. However, it could be argued that the digital world we live in today, with its instantaneous access to information, click-bait culture and citizen journalism, has seriously impeded the prevalence of quality journalists. Despite this, journalists who showcase outstanding work and are considered as highly influential risk-takers in today’s media still exist. Nirmal Sen was a journalist who possessed truth and accuracy; independent voice; fairness and impartiality; humanity; and above all, accountability.
Sen was a man of commoners, he was an extraordinary journalist. He was also a special person, one of the nation’s leading lights in journalism, a gracious and inspiring colleague of other journalists, and a warm and steadfast friend to many. He was a pacesetter with the pen. He saw things that other people did not see. And once he saw those things, he embraced them and exposed them in terms of putting information into the hands of people who would normally be left out of the process, meaning the society of Bangladesh. His work will stand as a lasting legacy of journalistic excellence and integrity of which, I hope, all in the Press and the journalism industry at-large can feel extremely proud. He was like a mythogenic character, a man totally taken by his muse and by his determination to hold to the standards he respected. I hope someone, perhaps one of his talented colleagues or any other journalist, will one day produce if not exactly a life of Nirmal Sen, a book about his priorities, his journalistic manners, his immense effect on our culture, his politics and his enormous impact on his devoted admirers.

He can be described as a “living history book” in Bangladesh’s journalism. As a journalist, he was able to bring to contemporary news commentary a deep sense of how governmental institutions and players operate, as well as the perspective gained from decades of watching history upfront. He had lived it, he had worked it and he had absorbed it. That added a layer to his journalism that was hard for somebody his junior to match. He was everywhere. He had almost carte blanche to cover Bangladesh. I think he was unique in the sense that he kept his perspective so well and did not ever exaggerate what was taking place, but really let us knew why it was important. While working with Dainik Bangla, he earned repute for his famous column under pen name “Aniket”. He was a journalist incomparable in his field of activities.

His writing and insight on critical issues affecting Bangladesh’s people will surely be missed. With quality reporting, creativity, and skillful persuasion in writing columns, he influenced countless people, including many journalists, to think beyond their narrow experience and expand their understanding. He may be gone, but he will not be forgotten. Bangladesh’s journalist circle should pledge to keep the journalistic genius and spirit of Sen alive in all that they should do in the future to sustain the liberating and empowering voice of the country’s people. The legacy of freedom-fighter journalist like Nirmal Sen will never pass away, but will always be kept dear and present in our continued struggles to liberate all from injustice.

Integrity was central to a journalist like him, a torch that kept light endlessly. He was a remarkable journalist in Bangladesh. I hope the values that he instilled in our country’s newsroom — independence and fairness, aggressive reporting, compelling writing and individual initiative — will long outlive him. A grand, brave man in our journalism! The way in which I will really remember him is that he was kind and regardless of the circumstances or who was involved, he always acted with kindness and compassion toward others. I think it is safe to say that the world would be a better place if there were more people like Nirmal Sen in it. To finish-off today, I wish to remember the words of famed journalist David Carr, “Keep typing until it turns writing.”

-The End-

Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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