PATHSHALA?S RESPONSE TO BDNEWS24.COM?S REPORT

Pathshala Campus
Pathshala Campus

A report on Pathshala South Asian Media Institute, published by the online news portal bdnews24.com, has come to our attention (“Shahidul Alam’s Pathshala operates without affiliation,” bdnews24.com, 6 August 2016). Unsubstantiated allegations, backbiting and innuendo and the absence of cross checking characterise the “report.” It is a shoddy piece of journalism.
The only correct allegation in the report is that Pathshala has not yet received government accreditation. Pathshala’s principal has repeatedly expressed dissatisfaction over the matter; this has been regarded by bdnews24.com itself as being newsworthy. A 2009 news item mentions Dr. Alam’s displeasure at Pathshala graduates not being recognised by Bangladeshi universities, especially the University of Dhaka, even though its photography programme [is] run by Pathshala teachers. (‘Pathshala graduates get certificates, chief airs anger,’ bdnews24.com, 7 August 2009).
Pathshala believes in quality journalism. It is the sloppiness of bdnews24.com’s attempts to slander, which distresses us the most. The report alleges that Pathshala, and more particularly, its principal, has not pursued the matter of accreditation seriously as he is afraid of “losing control.” To make such a fanciful allegation stick, Dr. Alam is reported as having said that Pathshala had sought accreditation with the “Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, Dhaka University.” This claim is quickly exposed as being “false,” by putting the question to the Department’s chairperson, who denies it. And rightly so, for Pathshala has never sought accreditation with the said Department but with the University of Dhaka.
The report further alleges that the principal sacks the Institute’s teachers before a year is over, for “mysterious” reasons. Evidence speaks otherwise; the average tenure of 49 tutors at Pathshala is over 5 years.
But sloppiness and slander persists. The report alleges that “foreign donations worth millions” have been siphoned off by Dr. Alam to other organisations founded by him. It cites the Nuffic grant, worth Tk 8.5 crore, which had been awarded to ?Pathshala?s Cinema Department? but was diverted elsewhere by Dr. Alam on ?fake expense heads.? The Nuffic grant was actually bid for, and won by Mott MacDonald, a multidisciplinary consultancy firm, which was entrusted to oversee and execute the capacity building of broadcast journalism in Pathshala. Of the 8.5 crore taka allocated, about 20% went to Pathshala (largely spent on the purchase of technical equipment which is still in use at Pathshala), about 50% went to Mott MacDonald (course design, training, audit fees etc.), and about 30% was unspent and returned. All expenses have been verified by certified auditors. Simple fact checking, basic to good journalism, is perhaps not so basic at bdnews24.
We, at Pathshala, have long been critical of the fact that although Bangladesh has a large number of media houses, newspapers, magazines and news agencies, all of which use photography, neither the media, nor institutes of higher education, have invested in developing credible academic and vocational training in this field. For instance, there is no department of photography in any Bangladeshi university, whether public or private. Where all have abdicated, it is Pathshala’s faculty (including Dr. Alam) and alumni, who have selflessly devoted themselves to training university students, photographers, journalists and government officials, often pro bono, or for minimal fees. Instances abound: Masters Students at Dhaka University, other students at ULAB, Stamford University Bangladesh, BRAC University and IUB; government officials at the National Institute of Mass Communication, the Ministry of Information’s training institute; journalists at the Press Information Department (PID); rural journalists in 43 districts.
Training has also been provided to private media outlets, for instance, the Daily Star. We have also provided training to photographers of bdnews24.com. We will continue to do so, despite slander.
Academic Council; Pathshala South Asian Media Institute
**Pathshala sets high standards for itself. We felt, sending a rejoinder to such poor reporting would bring us down to the same level. We felt we should rather present a verifiable response that takes on board the major allegations, without any reference to the muckraking that the “report” resorts to.
Originally published in Pathshala website

Author: Shahidul Alam

Time Magazine Person of the Year 2018. A photographer, writer, curator and activist, Shahidul Alam obtained a PhD in chemistry before switching to photography. His seminal work “The Struggle for Democracy” contributed to the removal of General Ershad. Former president of the Bangladesh Photographic Society, Alam set up the Drik agency, Chobi Mela festival and Pathshala, South Asian Media Institute, considered one of the finest schools of photography in the world. Shown in MOMA New York, Centre Georges Pompidou, Royal Albert Hall and Tate Modern, Alam has been guest curator of Whitechapel Gallery, Winterthur Gallery and Musee de Quai Branly. His awards include Mother Jones, Shilpakala Award and Lifetime Achievement Award at the Dali International Festival of Photography. Speaker at Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, Oxford and Cambridge universities, TEDx, POPTech and National Geographic, Alam chaired the international jury of the prestigious World Press Photo contest. Honorary Fellow of Royal Photographic Society, Alam is visiting professor of Sunderland University in UK and advisory board member of National Geographic Society. John Morris, the former picture editor of Life Magazine describes his book “My journey as a witness”, (listed in “Best Photo Books of 2011” by American Photo), as “The most important book ever written by a photographer.” His recent book “The Tide Will Turn” published by Steidl in 2020, is listed in New York Time’s ‘Best Art Books of 2020’. Alam received the “International Press Freedom Award” for 2020 from ‘The Committee to Protect Journalists’.

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