BBC Bangladesh Sanglap: powered by people's questions

Watch highlights from the latest series of Sanglap

I didn't know that people like me can ask questions to politicians in this way.A woman from Bheramara, western Bangladesh

Pioneering debate programme Sanglap (Dialogue) enabled Bangladeshis from all walks of life to question their leaders on the issues that matter to them.

Along with its sister programme, This Week In Parliament, the question-and-answer TV and radio show reached 25 million people in its first two series. They were broadcast from 2005 to 2010 on private TV station Channel i and BBC Bangla radio and online.

Its third season – on air from 2012 until 2015 – saw studio audiences asking tough questions of panellists about issues such as; food security, corruption, education and factory safety.

After the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory which killed more than 1,100 people in Dhaka in April 2013, Sanglap enabled people to air their anger and demand justice.

"Who will take responsibility - the government, the BGMEA (Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association) or the building's owner?" asked one member of the studio audience, who came from the district where the factory stood.

Another Dhaka resident asked, "How long will the interest of poor workers be overlooked to provide cheap clothing for consumers in rich countries?"

Accountability and interactivity

Sanglap aimed to initiate constructive public debate and encourage greater accountability from government and authority figures.

The response from both the audience and the authorities has been positive. "I didn't know that people like me can ask questions to politicians in this way,” said a woman from Bheramara in western Bangladesh after the show’s initial episodes.

In June 2012, Member of Parliament and Sanglap panellist Asaduzzaman Noor said, "This kind of programme creates a healthy environment in the media and can make policy makers accountable. At last there is a platform where people can share their opinions."

An accompanying radio phone-in programme on BBC Bangla enables more people to have their say and on the show's popular Facebook page, people can express their views on the questions and discuss panellists' responses. An online archive of questions asked during the programme is also now available on the BBC Bangla website.

Mayoral debates

In June 2013, the Sanglap team travelled to three cities – Sylhet, Rajshahi and Khulna – to broadcast live debates featuring mayoral candidates ahead of the City Corporation Elections.

Initiated by Bangladesh's Election Commission and broadcast live on Bangladesh Television and radio station Bangladesh Betar, the mayoral debates allowed voters to question the candidates face to face. People grilled the candidates on what they would do to improve life for their voters.

In Sylhet for example, one questioner asked the candidates, "If you are elected as mayor, what steps would you take to solve the traffic jams and the footpaths occupied by hawkers?" In Khulna, another asked, "Many of the important areas of Khulna city are under water after 10 minutes of rainfall. How would you solve this problem if you're elected?"

The mayoral debates build on Sanglap’s tradition of travelling the country to hold debates in both urban centres and remote locations.

While the programme was touring the country by river to produce episodes in rural locations only accessible by boat in November 2007, Cyclone Sidr struck. The production headed to where the cyclone had landed and recorded a special edition on the day after the storm. 

Changing lives

Research carried out in 2009 found that people believed Sanglap had provided a platform to challenge governments in ways that they had never experienced before.

Of those surveyed, 62% reported that they believed the programme had made politicians more accountable. In addition, 86% thought that the show had helped to improve political debate in Bangladesh.

Often the feelings expressed by the audience appear to have been decisive in prompting officials to alter their course.

During one of the shows in Dhaka in March 2007, panellists and audience members questioned the eviction of street sellers from the streets of the capital city. Following the programme, the situation was covered by other media and the evictions put on hold. The authorities went on to establish 25 new markets in which sellers could operate.

Sanglap has also helped develop and diversify the political and media landscape of Bangladesh. Since 2010, the number of political talk shows on Bangladeshi TV has more than tripled.

Project information
Project name BBC Bangladesh Sanglap
Funder The UK Government's Department for International Development
Dates 2005-2015
Themes Governance
Outputs Sanglap (Dialogue)
Broadcast partners Channel I, Bangladesh Television, Bangladesh Betar , BBC Bangla Radio