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6 September, 2008. India.
Media can play important role in up building a nation, while the same media, being influenced by evil forces or vested interest, could turn into devastating element for any nation. Take the example of Bangladesh’s leading media group named Transcom Media, which owns a vernacular daily newspaper named Prothom Alo, an English language daily named The Daily Star, two periodicals named Shaptahik 2000 and Anandadhara. Recently the group has acquired ownership of an FM radio station named ‘Aina Broadcasting Corporation’ (ABC). The group is rather known as ‘Daily Star Group’ in Bangladesh, because of tremendous influence of its English language daily as well as its top most position amongst all competitor dailies.
Before going into notoriety of Daily Star group, let me first put focus at the back ground of the emergence of this business-media group. During early nineties, present owners of ‘Star Group’ turned financially bankrupt when its main figure Latifur Rahman’s paternal property W Rahman Jute Mills at country’s Chandpur district had to declare lay-off thus leaving thousands of workers and labors unemployed. Numerous cases were filed with the Chandpur district labor and criminal courts against Latifur Rahman and other members of the factory, as they defaulted payment of worker’s wages. On the other hand, W Rahman Jute Mills was listed as one of the top defaulting enterprises with Bangladesh Bank (Central Bank) for long standing loans.
But, luck started moving in positive direction, when Latifur Rahman’s wife’s cousin Anup Chetia (leader of ULFA separatist group) came forward with hidden help of finance in businesses in Bangladesh through Rahman. It is learnt that a few million dollars were placed with Latifur Rahman in re-organizing his collapsed business and ULFA kept a secret stake of shares in all businesses initiated by Latifur Rahman after receipt of this secret fund.
Latifur Rahman understanding his failure in running industrial enterprise profitably launched a company named Transcom, which began businesses as the sole distributor of Nestle brand milk products in Bangladesh. Initial response although was very poor from the local market, due to solid financial back up from ULFA, Latifur Rahman managed to ultimately penetrate in the business and in few years, Transcom emerged as one of the mightiest enterprises in Bangladesh. Meanwhile, when Dhaka’s well respected journalist S M Ali took the initiative of launching an English language newspaper, Latifur was suggested by ULFA to buy shares, as such investment would buy media influence for the separatist group, which fights against Indian government in separating seven North-Eastern states within India.
S M Ali was successful in placing Daily Star at the forefront of Dhaka’s English press, because of his extra-ordinary qualities and courage. Just in few years, this newly launched newspaper sub sided most of the competitor dailies such as Bangladesh Observer, Bangladesh Times (now defunct), New Nation, Morning Sun (now defunct) and Financial Express. But sudden demise of S M Ali opened the opportunity for Latifur Rahman to swallow the newspaper. He brought Mahfuz Anam as the editor of the newspaper, who subsequently ousted ancestors of S M Ali and grabbed his shares. This was the beginning of notorious journey of Daily Star group.
Later, when Anup Chetia was arrested by Bangladeshi law enforcing agencies, Latifur Rahman stopped paying any share to ULFA. This was the first beginning of feud between notorious ULFA separatists and Latifur Rahman. It is widely rumored in Dhaka that, ULFA had hidden hands behind murder of Latifur’s daughter Shazneed Rahman, who was brutally raped and murdered right inside her residence at Dhaka’s posh Gulshan area.
But, the handsome investment from ULFA, gave Transcom an excellent opportunity to grow. Latifur decided to launch a vernacular daily newspaper with the initial capital of 10 million Taka in 1997. Prothom Alo recruited large number of top newsmen from Dhaka’s press community. It also had dynamic Matiur Rahman as its editor, which helped the newspaper to rapidly turn into one of the leading dailies in the country. Later two vernacular periodicals were also launched by this group, one with celebrated journalist Shahadat Chowdhury as its editor.
In some years, Transcom group acquired ownership of Pepsi, Phillips and several large industrial enterprises. Luck always clicked in favor of this business group, as far as its investments in media was concerned. None of the newspapers, belonging to Transcom group had ever faced any financial adversity.
Due to such influential ownership of media projects, Latifur Rahman got the excellent opportunity of continuing various illegal businesses including import of goods from abroad under false declaration. Several consignments imported by Transcom were stopped by customs officials in Bangladesh and evidence of revenue evasion of millions of Taka was unearthed. But, everything was managed, by using the influence of Prothom Alo and Daily Star. Even after the political changes in Bangladesh on January 11, 2007, Daily Star group managed to send its Executive Editor Syed Fahim Munayem as the Press Secretary to the Chief Executive of the interim government. Even at later stage, when Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) issued notice on Latifur Rahman asking declaration of his wealth and assets, the entire issue was some how put into suppression with the help of Daily Star-Prothom Alo group.
Everyone knows the news about cracks in Jamuna Multi-purpose Bridge in Bangladesh. But, possibly no one knows the fact that the main reason behind such cracks was due to use of a particular brand of cement, which in the name of Portland Grey Cement is in fact fly ash mixed lowest grade cement. And, this inferior quality of cement went into various high cost projects in Bangladesh just because; chairman of the company producing and marketing this brand is none but Transcom’s Latifur Rahman. No one in the government dares to utter even a single word about Holcim, which supplied such cement to various projects, as they are afraid of wrath of Daily Star and Prothom Alo. Despite the fact that, both the newspapers are largest in circulation in Bangladesh, main purpose of these publications is serving the interests of Corporate Crime.
Prime intention of Daily Star group is to stand against various business groups, whenever there is any business rivalry with that specific company or individual. This group went into heinous propaganda against Beximco Group, Bashundhara Group and many others in past. There is even clean track record of dubious behavior of this group is sabotaging various projects in Bangladesh, with the ulterior motive of either supporting businesses of Latifur Rahman, Transcom or members of this syndicate.
Many projects were already sabotaged by this group, thus causing tremendous loss to Bangladesh’s economy. The latest episode of such rivalry of Daily Star group was with Bangladesh’s lone hard rock mining project at country’s Dinazpur district. Maddhyapara Hard Rock Mining Project (MHMP) became a pray of Daily Star for past several years. It is learnt that, some vested interest groups, including importers of stones and stone-chips from India, Myanmar and Malaysia are patronizing such media terror by Star, thus attempting to sabotage country’s most prospective project, which not only is already saving millions of dollars, but, also is set to turn into a huge prospect of earning millions of dollars from export of world-class Granite Tiles.
First rivalry with the MHMP began when Bangladesh government appointed Polish consulting firm Kopex SA, defying the fact that this firm had no experience of hard rock mining. It is learnt that, appointment of this Polish firm was a result of heavy persuasion from some high level corrupt bureaucrats in the Energy Ministry and Petrobangla. From the very appointment, the Polish consultant had been frantically trying to sabotage the project for reason unknown.
In June 2006, Kopex SA submitted a paper with the Energy and Mineral Resources Division saying, “Maddhyapara Hard Rock Mining project has become ‘virtually sick’ and the employer (the government) has suffered huge financial loss.”
It said Petrobangla and the project authorities, Madhyapara Granite Mining Company Limited, should ask Nam-Nam for final commissioning and test production immediately to ascertain the actual status of mine development.
“The Petrobangla and MGMCL should take over the mine after ascertaining its actual state and on documentation to establish the legal ownership of the mine,” it said.
Kopex said, “The Nam-Nam has complemented major installation of the mine in over 12 years but they have not yet done the final commissioning and test run although the original development period of the mine was 6.5 years since the signing of the agreement between Petrobangla and the company in 1994.”
Sources in Petrobangla, however, ditched the Kopex report, saying that the consultant should also be held responsible for the delay as it failed to come up with proper plan.
“Kopex also wants to be involved more with the mine for which it came up with such a report,” Petrobangla source added.
Meanwhile, on October 15, 2005, The Daily Star published a front page news item titled ‘North Korean company looks for legal coverage to finish task’. In this report, Daily Star said, “When completed, the Maddyapara hard rock mine will commercially sell 1.65 million tonnes of granite a year. The country annually imports 3.4 million tonnes of granite. Local production will save between $38 million to $58 million US dollars. The project has a life span of 45 years. However, the price of Maddhyapara granite will not be cheaper than the rocks that are commonly imported from India because of the increased project cost.”
It was clearly understood that the report was published with the very intention of killing the project to protect the interest of importers-exporters syndicate, which enjoys business of millions of dollars every year by continuing to import stone from India and other countries. In this report, Daily Star claimed that the cost of production of MHMP hark rock was higher than imported one, which is nothing but a clean deviation from truth. It is learnt from dependable sources that, production cost for each tons of hard rock from Maddhyapara project stands at US$ 10 while the minimum import cost is US$ 22.
On May 18, 2006, Daily Star once again published a front page report titled “Petrobangla to take it over from DPRK firm”, where it repeated the same lie on the price of the locally extorted hard rock. It said, “Maddhyapara granite will however not be cheaper than the rocks that are commonly imported from India because of the increased project cost.”
Nam-Nam Corporation successfully completed and handed over the project in May last year and meanwhile; commercial production in the project is already going on. Due to timely steps taken by the present government in Dhaka, locally produced stones are purchased and used in various domestic projects on priority basis, while the cost of local stones are more than half the cost of imported ones. Being totally frustrated at the completion of the project, vested interest groups once again managed to published another front page report in The daily Star on May 16, 2008 titled “Miner now wants return of non-existent loans”.
In this report, Daily Star wrote, “Nam-nam is now operating the mine with 65 South Koreans under a one-year service contract due to expire on May 27. As it did not fully transfer the South Korean technology to the MGMCL, it will get yet another year’s service contract, the sources said.”
This part of the news shows two things. One, the reporter knows nothing of the project but was writing thing being dictated by vested interest groups. In the same news, while the reporter said Nam-Nam is a North Korean company, how he could discover 65 South Koreans in the project (does he lack the minimum knowledge that North and South Korea do not have any diplomatic relations as yet?). The reporter also said that, Nam-Nam is not fully transferring South Korean technology to MGMCL. Ridiculous, who edits and passes such rubbish news in Daily Star? Being Dhaka’s leading dailies, it should be ashamed of such poor journalistic quality. The entire report as well as all previous reports is part of propaganda and conspiracy to kill the entire project, which stands as the most prospective one for Bangladesh. Anyone can easily understand that, vested interest groups, including enemies of North Korea are patronizing such dangerous campaign not only to sabotage the project, but, also to give a good lesson to the North Korean company for being dedicated and helpful to Bangladesh is saving millions of dollars from import of hard rock.
Bangladesh government not only needs to patronize this extremely profitable and viable project, but even needs to go into fresh negotiations with Nam-Nam or the North Korean government in signing fresh agreements for exploration of more mining projects in the country. According to mining experts several more hard rock mines are already existing in the Northern region of Bangladesh, which will be able to help the country in stopping import of stones from abroad, thus saving billions of dollars each year. At the same time, government needs to identify vested interest groups within Energy Ministry and Petrobangla in order to not only protect the national interest but also to punish the culprits for their notorious roles.
Further harassment of the North Korean company will earn bad reputation for Bangladesh from the potential foreign investors. Nam-Nam deserves to be appreciated for completion of the MHMP despite series of harassment and non-cooperation from the Energy Ministry and Petrobangla.
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