Rajapaksa Gets Astounding 98% Of Time On State Media
Detailed monitoring by the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has revealed that the state media, which have been turned into presidential propaganda outlets, have allocated an astounding 98.5 per cent of news and current affairs air-time to President Mahinda Rajapaksa whilst the main opposition presidential candidate General Sarath Fonseka was given a meager 1.6 per cent of air time on state-owned TV stations Rupavahini and ITN.
RSF noted that this was a direct flouting of the January 15 Supreme Court ruling and also violates the constitution, above all its Seventh Amendment and Article 104 (b) empowering the electoral commission.
“Alarmed by Gen. Sarath Fonseka’s candidacy, President Rajapaksa and his followers are using and abusing all of the state’s resources to get the President reelected,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The TV propaganda is deafening and the figures we are releasing today are worthy of the Burmese or North Korean regimes.”
The Reporters Without Borders monitoring on January 18 and 19 found that, of a total of 472 minutes and 5 seconds of news and current affairs air-time on Rupavahini and ITN, Gen. Fonseka and the other opposition candidates were granted only 7 minutes and 50 seconds, or 1.6 per cent, while the President, his government and his party were granted 465 minutes and 25 seconds.
According to RSF, on ITN one had to wait until the 7 p.m. Sinhalese-language news programme for coverage of opposition activity (Gen. Fonseka for 30 seconds, the UNP for 40 seconds and the JVP for 45 seconds), while President Rajapaksa got 3 minutes on the 9 a.m. programme, 2 minutes on the 10 a.m. programme, 4 minutes 45 seconds on the noon programme and 4 minutes 20 seconds on the Tamil-language programme at 6 p.m.
Rupavahini is giving the government an overwhelming air-time advantage. In the 8 p.m. Sinhalese-language news programme on January 18, for example, the government got 8 minutes and 30 seconds and the President got 7 minutes and 10 seconds, while Gen. Fonseka, the UNP and the JVP got a combined total of just one minute. The 20 or so other candidates are totally ignored by the state media.
Granting so much time to propaganda on behalf of the incumbent is not new. On January 11, for example, Rupavahini carried a live broadcast of President Rajapaksa’s election programme launch that lasted one hour and 15 minutes.
“The President and his allies have abused other state resources in the course of the campaign. The Telecommunications Regulatory Commission, for example, forced all mobile phone operators to send SMS messages signed by President Rajapaksa to all their clients, while soldiers have been seen putting up the President’s election posters,” RSF added.