Interview by the NGO Shipbreaking Platform
Why is the shipbreaking issue so important for Bangladeshi journalists?
Ship breaking is a massive operation actually hidden behind all sorts of shady deals. We did not know much about it until large number of poor workers started to die and sustain horrendous injuries. The actual operation, beginning from procuring the ship in the international market, beaching, dismantling and recycling, is simply too hazardous. In a country like Bangladesh where governance is a far cry, safety for workers and environment issues are negotiated under the tables. Industrialists claim that ship breaking industry provides direct or indirect employments for up to a quarter of a million people and meets 20 percent of the country’s need for steel. Rights of workers and environmental issue are the two most important factors we journalists are concerned about. With the world facing serious climatic changes, recycling is not a bad idea at all but we have to make sure that it is done rightly with due respect to man and environment.
Do you get a lot of reaction from your readers on these articles?
We journalists face two kinds of problems here. Firstly, lack of awareness among people about human and environmental rights and secondly indifference of the authorities concerned or in other word : corruption. We nonetheless receive lot of reaction and the good news is it is on the rise.
How difficult is it to find information, or get it confirmed?
Information is very, very tough to receive in the ship breaking sector despite the existence of a new law called Right to Information. About five different government offices deal with ship breaking in Chittagong and lack of coordination among those makes things even worse for us. We mainly depend on tip offs from local and international sources and then work on the lead with the authorities. Information on accidents inside the ship breaking yards used to be suppressed but now with NGOs and rights groups working in the ship breaking slums, the news is instantly leaked out to the press. To get the information confirmed is also a tough call. Strong ties between the authorities and the defiant ship breakers often make the authorities protect their interests by suppressing facts. We have to make sure we, in no way, divert from the ethics of journalism.
Can you easily do your job as a journalist when you cover shipbreaking? Is it different from covering other issues?