The Sunday Leader

Media Freedom: To What Extent?

by Ashanthi Warunasuriya

The media has always been subjected to various opinions and criticisms. The criticism that the Prime Minister made against certain media institutions and media personnel is much talked about these days in the country. He criticized the conduct of certain media channels both in public and in parliament on several occasions in the past few months. However, the Prime Minister’s move has met both positive and negative comments by various parties. Following are some of the comments that representatives of political parties and journalists made on Prime Ministerial criticism against certain media institutions and journalists.

C. DodawattaSecretary, Free Media Movement

Everyone has the right to criticize the media. However, they need to realize how far that is fair. If someone uses that right to attack media reporters or the media institutions, we cannot accept it.

The Premier in several instances made such criticisms. There is some merit. But some expressions are directed to attack and scare the media. We do not think such criticisms will benefit the media in anyway.

Any organisation may have its own agendas. Such criticisms suggest that institutions that go against the policies of the government are under attack. We cannot accept such a stance. If it’s going to continue in this way, relevant steps must be taken.

Let’s solve this problem by implementing an efficient mechanism to develop the media industry.

Before this problem came to light, we spoke with the Media Minister.

We suggested at those meeting to study the current system and bring about an efficient common mechanism.

We also suggested that a committee and a discussion committee be launched. The Media Minister made a positive response at that time.

We are going to study the area more and bring in developments.

The media also has drawbacks. Civil organisations must also get involved to resolve them.

 

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Lakshman GunasekaraEditor, Sunday Observer

The Prime Minister or any other citizen in Sri Lanka has the right to criticize matters of public importance. The Prime Minister has criticised the media on a particular subject. That is perfectly justifiable and that kind of public criticism is very important to society and for the benefit of news media itself. It is most welcome. However, as a media rights activist, I have memories of many decades of harassment and intimidation of the news media by politicians in government and outside. As long as the criticism of the media does not include any threats, both legal and otherwise, the criticism is most welcome. In this context, I welcome the Prime Minister’s criticisms. In fact, I think he should take a lead in criticising the news media as the Prime Minister of this country. However, criticism must end at that, and it cannot include any threats to the media, either to news media institutions or to individuals therein.
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Victor IvanVeteran Journalist

Just as newspapers and other media have a right to criticise, others also have an equal right to criticise the media conduct. However, when a person in high status makes a criticism, it may cause problems. The Prime Minister’s view caused some controversy because of the way he made them. However, the issues he raised have some value. We cannot justify the conduct of Sri Lankan media in many occasions in the past. Our media has no frame of ethics. For many unfortunate incidents happened in the past, the first person who should be blamed is a politician while the second is the media. Of course, we cannot place the entire blame on the media.

The country has been in a terrible mess for many years. The judiciary was seen acting irrationally. Parliament turned to a mad house. The politicians were on a rampage. In such a situation, journalists cannot behave as saints. My personal view is that both government and private media institutions must engage in a proper dialogue regarding the role and function of the media. A special commission must be appointed for the task. The aim is to establish a media trend that works in a responsible manner. This is not the first time such things happened in the world history. Prior to the World War II, media institutions were engaged in ‘yellow journalism’, where the public mindset was heavily manipulated for personal agendas. But finally there was a massive objection from the general public against these media institutions. That resulted in the media including the Time magazine to appoint ‘Hutchin’ commission. That was not a government commission. But it heavily regularised the conduct of the media. The people were allowed to testify before this commission. At present, Sri Lanka has a stray media culture. It has been corrupted by business and political agendas. Most of the media institutions are not maintained by their own earning. They are run by cash pumped in by their sponsors. So finally, such media institutions have to dance to the sponsors’ tune.  When it comes to electronic media, the situation is worse. Mostly political stooges are given licences to start electronic media institutions. Sometimes even funds from the treasury are diverted to start such institutions. Today society does not respect politicians, judges, or doctors. They themselves have gained disrespect instead. Today the media suffers the same fate. Everyone has a right to criticize. However, by hearing the comments made by a certain journalist on the song ‘Danno Budunge’, I was surprised. A journalist is a teacher who guides society. So he must act responsibly.

 

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Lasantha RuhunageChairman, Working Journalists’ Association

We as reporters must realize that everyone has a right to criticise the media. But the manner that the Prime Minister and second citizen of the country made his criticisms is questionable. It is not suitable for his status. It was a politically motivated statement.

A week ago, our organisation had sent a letter requesting a discussion on this matter with the Prime Minister. Some of his criticisms have some grounds. We accept them. But the way he made them, we cannot agree with. Therefore, we have to have a discussion, but so far we have not been given a chance.

We accept that media institutions may be also corrupt like other government institutions. We knew certain media personnel who enjoy various bonus and increments by supporting politicians. Independence of the media industry dilutes because of such persons. In the past, media personnel had memberships in various governmental director boards.

We accept these allegations. That is why we request the Prime Minister to give us a discussion to talk about these issues and formulate credible mechanisms for the media industry so we can carry out our duties independently. However, if responsible politicians get on stages and criticise media institutions in this way, it will not help achieving the media freedom.

 

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N. M. AmeenChairman, Muslim Media Forum

The media should be independent. We, media personnel, should be careful when carrying out our work. If we act responsibly, such allegations will not come. I believe that all media institutions must work together towards one goal. Our country has ethnic conflicts. Therefore, the media must be responsible when reporting certain events. In future, we will take steps to rectify our drawbacks.
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Sampath DeshapriyaEditor, Lakbima Daily

The Prime Minister has the right to criticise the media. That we accept. Even any person can do so. But the way the Prime Minister made certain criticisms had caused a problem. We cannot accept the way he acted at that instance. It requires clarification because that criticism goes against the objectives of the yahapalanaya.

He expressed his own interpretation of the media freedom. We get a clue of the directions they are going by the Prime Minister’s comments. That is not a new approach; same similar comments were made in the past too. His comments suggest that the media freedom would be in jeopardy.

These comments also suggest that the media has been brought under their control. But it is too early to make such allegations. However, we can see that in some situations, the media had been controlled. I can see the media institutions are silently suffering these threats. They have been non functional with the current regime. Therefore, they may believe that they need a specific time period to speak out, but such time period is unnecessary. So for the sake of media freedom, we will have to do whatever Ranil or Mahinda tells us to do. I cannot see any editor who is ready to make a statement in this regard. Therefore, we have to work on towards having our independence. However, we are working independently even now.

 

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