It was the Prime Minister, at first, who was critical of Sri Lankan Media, calling it a “disruptive threat”, referring to the Social Media in particular, and “such threats must be countered.” This was followed by a full-page interview by the Minister of Home Affairs on 5 October 2018 (Ceylon Today) by W.K. Prasad Manju, where the Minister emphasized that “Media don’t talk about the problems in the country, and Media should change completely – with this new freedom, the Media should move forward for the betterment of the country.
With due respect, it has to be pointed out that the Minister may not have grasped that Media (Press) is identified as the Fourth Estate (or fourth power) in any society; first being the ‘Government’, second – the ‘Legislature’, and third – the ‘Judiciary’. The Fourth Estate, TV and the News Media, has the explicit capacity of public support.
People in this land expected much hope when they entertained a new set of representatives after the 2015 Parliamentary Elections. However, with the passage of time, when some of the newly appointed Ministers and State Ministers started to cross the line completely, Media had a duty to report on such wrongdoings for public awareness, at which point even some of the powerful bigwigs of the Yahapalanaya Regime began to be repugnant towards Media exposures, which has proven without any doubt that many in the Yahapalanaya had been wearing saintly masks during the election campaign, when they came out solemnly to eradicate sleaze, corruption, and exploitation.
The shameless and recurring immorality that has been taking vigorously, once the new Administration came to power, has given the Media adequate ammunition to expose such dishonesty and scandals for the benefit of the public. In such circumstances, how could a sensible Minister in the Government point a finger at journalists who have exposed such wrongdoings? The Media, being the Fourth Estate, has the responsibility to throw a light on the public of what exactly is happening, or what has happened. Should the respectable Minister expect the Media and journalists not to drag skeletons out of any Parliamentarian’s closet when there is evidence of ‘daylight robberies’ out of tax payers’ money?
Whatever said and done, ‘there is no smoke without fire’. By the same token, if any peoples’ representative feels that such exposures are baseless, then the door is open, under the Yahapalanaya Regime, to seek legal assistance for defamation. As far as the Media is concerned, journalists have a conscience however, tough to bring any misadventure towards public knowledge. For it are needed, among other qualities, humility, charity, honesty, and fearlessness.
Human beings always like their identity to be appreciated, either institutionally or politically. The most sensible method of understanding what ‘Mass Media’ means would be to analyze and see whether the paths the Media use fulfil individual needs of a society. As per Harold Lasses, Media could act as a “surveillance of the environment and transmission of the social heritage from one generation to the next.” Sociologist Charles Wright treated social function of the Media as entertainment. However, Dennis McQuail added a fifth category by stating, “Mass Media should have the ability to bring particular process of change and development’.
Constructive criticism by Media can easily be taken for by Rulers, Authorities or Parliamentarians, as being intolerable and odious. In reality, of course, independent voice of the people need to be heard whether it is bared through the Media or by an independent journalist’s scoop or even coming out from the odd person in society, which boils down to the fact that impartial views need to be heeded. Comment on the other hand can also be subjected to self-imposed limitation, yet it is always better to be frank rather than being fair.
In the text answers during the Press interview, the Minister mentioned that “journalists should be sent to foreign countries to experience how the Media report on issues on those countries”. He further said that foreign newspapers should be brought to Sri Lanka so that local journalists could study the foreign style of reporting. In this context, it would be prudent for the Minister to guide towards the London Guardian newspaper, which proudly exposes their view, viz: “Guardian is editorially independent; our journalism is free from the influence of billionaire owner or politicians. No one edits our editor, no one steers our opinion. We have not put up a pay wall as we want to keep our journalism open and accessible”.
To explain further how the Foreign Media behave, it is pertinent to mention here how the Guardian newspaper once wrote about the then British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher’s son, Sir Mark Thatcher, who joined his mother (PM) on a trade mission to India, Dubai, and Oman in 1981. Later that year, the Oman Government offered him a construction contract to a company Sir Mark was working for as a consultant. Three years later, the London Observer newspaper exposed the alleged connection.
Thatcher’s principal private secretary from 1979 to 1982, was quoted as saying in a biography, authored by Charles Moore and serialized in the Daily Telegraph, which says “Mark was driven by greed and reluctant to pass up any opportunity”. Ultimately when senior civil servants became concerned about Sir Mark’s attempt ‘to exploit his mother’s name,’ his father, Dennis Thatcher, advised Sir Mark to go to the USA to avoid any suggestions that Mark was using his mother’s name and position to make money. This is only a small dose for the Minister to learn how the British Media is at its best in following the dictum “facts are sacred, comment is free”.
In Western complex societies, constructive criticism is appreciated as sound advice, which even the Heads of Governments respect, and adapt themselves. The majority decides and acts in a gentlemanly manner, whereas in Sri Lanka, with a civilization spanning over centuries, many seem to harbour petty and narrow-minded ideologies, suffering either from acute persecution or delusions.
The problem, with Sri Lankan politicians and administrators, is that they are extremely sensitive to constructive criticism. Rather than learning out of such analysis, and hints, they seem to interpret criticism as personal attacks! The basic logic deduces to what extent a criticism or compliment arises out of an individual or a Government’s activities. Politicians in this scenario will be more prone to public scrutiny depending on how they perform. However, once they come to power, and if they begin to exhibit bouts of Alzheimer’s disease, naturally the public become disappointed and frustrated, and then it becomes the responsibility of the Media to expose and criticize such flops, objectively. Depending on the level of democracy that prevails in the country, people naturally tend to react to failed promises and performances of the Authorities.
When a newspaper comes up with a scoop, which may embarrass a Government or a Minister, should sealing off the offices of the particular newspaper be the answer to the problem? Or, if a particular TV station comes out with an exclusive exposé supported and cemented with factual evidence, does burning down of the whole television studio be the answer for such exposed ills, rather than trying to put the house in order? Unfortunately, this is what has been happening in the past
When there is a climate of frustration, disappointment, and fear, the voters who elected Parliamentarians and helped them to be upgraded to Ministers, Prime Minister or even as the President, Media, as the Fourth Estate, has a right towards the truth and the country with a conscience to throw light on injustices or broken promises by those elected rulers when they begin to go off the rails.
To display an example in connection with the introduction of the latest import regulations of banning luxury cars, while the value of the rupee declines on a daily basis, should the Media be blamed for revealing that all tax-free import permits for luxury cars for Parliamentarians have already been used, which is equivalent to closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.
pic credit: google photos – Ceylon Today