So what's your idea of a free press?
Recently W. B. Ganegala was to say at a media workshop in Gampaha that the government has allocated Rs. 75 million to improve the quality of media to meet the interests of a progressive......
> Listlessly waiting at the lines (....Thelma)
Political Islam and freedom of speech (....World
Embracing the 'untouchables' (....Serendipity)
So what's your idea
of a free press?
Recently W. B. Ganegala was to say at a media workshop in Gampaha that the government has allocated Rs. 75 million to improve the quality of media to meet the interests of a progressive world.
Ganegala is the secretary, Ministry of Information and Mass Media. He also was to remind his audience that President Mahinda Rajapakse was well aware of the importance of the role played by journalists. Steps therefore are to be taken to provide media personnel with tax-free media equipment and to conduct media educational
Journalists at a press briefing - Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa
In the provinces where life is tough, a laptop computer or indeed a clapped out typewriter may seem a godsend. But this clamour for laptops is certainly not confined to the peripheries. Earlier this year a number of media men and women counting among them those from some established media institutions in
Colombo, queued up eagerly to receive a lightweight computer from Mahinda Rajapakse under his buttering up the press programme.
Will it work? Among the lackeys and the mindless pen pushers, possibly.
I recall the words of a veteran journalist, the late R. L. Michael who once long ago, said to a group of young advanced level students aspiring to be reporters: 'Never prostitute your pen,' he warned. 'And don't dip it in the ink of servitude and bondage.'
As the Mahinda Chinthana attempts to palavar individual journalists with promises of duty free vehicles, motorcycles, and tax free media equipment what does a free media really need to thrive as a free and vibrant force?
What is a free press if it is not the one you are likely to experience in an overcrowded CTB bus?
Is it freedom, characterised negatively, in Isaiah Berlin's (1969) famous distinction, as the absence of impediment? Or is it freedom under a liberal democratic model for instance? Here it is defined as a medium that
allows for a diversity of ideas and opinions. It is not an agent of a single view or of state propaganda. So the media is free because it is not subjected to centralised control. And it follows that any control of content is a loss of freedom.
The obsession with freedom of expression however, was not a recent phenomenon. John Milton was as obsessed with freedom of expression and what he viewed as the tyrannous effects of religious bigotry as much as he was concerned with the loss of paradise. Even in his early years at Cambridge in 1625 Milton was to come into conflict with
His tutor, William Chappell who was later to become Bishop of Cork, the liberal Milton felt, was trying to drive him along too precise and formal lines. He first contemplated a clerical career but during his time at Cambridge discovered that his temperament was unsuited to holy
orders. Instead he became a critic of religious censorship.
Later John Stuart Mill in the 19th century was like Milton obsessed with freedom of thought and was irritated by any shackles to complete freedom. In his On Liberty he was to write of the way people live 'under the eye of a hostile and dreaded censorship.' He says not without some exasperation 'the mind itself is bowed to the yoke.'
But as much as one might see the basis of media freedom as the freedom of conscience and thought, there are those who base it on individual rights. Here the journalist as an individual, has rights that must be respected by a legitimate government. A right to hold dissenting views, a right to hold an opinion and a right to engage
legitimately in his chosen profession without any impediment by the state subject only to the accepted laws of defamation and libel. And mind you a state that has pledged under a democratic system to uphold the constitution - a constitution under which the freedom of thought and expression is entrenched and inviolable.
Free media - free market
James Curran in Mass Media And Society (2000) interestingly notes that this idea of a free media is one inextricably linked to a free market. "Only by anchoring the media to the free market, in his view, is it possible to ensure the media's complete independence from
government." John Street in an excellent discourse, Mass Media, Politics And Democracy (2001) analyses this firstly as freedom being defined as the absence of interference; and secondly that this freedom is dependent on market competition between media outlets.
Ideology of free press
But the ideology of a free press is constantly modified by several factors. While by and large the biggest impediment to freedom of the media would be state interference, several factors may influence complete freedom; from political inclination of the media institution,
publishing constraints, ownership views, personal interests and last but not least, economics.
Ironically even though it was initially commercial and economic change that helped promote the idea of a free press, it has also become a source of impediment. Newspaper publishing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries moved from being merely a matter of political indulgence to become instead viable commercial ventures.
It followed that advertising became a major source of revenue and was a vital factor in contributing to a free press as was technological improvements and the ability to mass produce and increase circulation through technologically advanced infrastructure.
Advertising has today become an extremely important factor in sustaining a media institution and keeping it as free from political, economic and social pressures as possible.
As someone said the story of broadcasting is in part the story of emerging technologies. But while press freedom is as much technologically driven as it is commerce driven it is also politically driven.
Screws of freedom
And the state as we have so often seen in this country, has the power to tighten the screws on freedom through misuse of the court system, through denial of access, through subtle harassment, that could range from veiled threats on election platforms or public gatherings to lewd telephone calls to parliamentary statements under
privilege and through economic censorship. For instance if one newspaper is denied state advertising while another is constantly fed by it that would tantamount to a form of state censorship of the media. Thus state patronage could come in many forms not least of which are economic patronage through advertising.
Therefore if the Media Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa and his President Mahinda Rajapakse and the formulators of their bible, the Mahinda Chinthana, really care about improving the quality of the media, they should first not try to be Santa Claus.
As much as the government views proselytisation and conversion to another faith of poverty-stricken villagers through the promise of materialistic gain, a foul act, so is the attempted control of sections of the media especially the state media and the vernacular press through the promise of material goodies a foul act, whether it be
couched in flowery language as per the Mahinda Chinthana, or not.
Meanwhile the bolder sections of the private media may brush aside as a mere annoying mosquito buzz, the vapid gibberings of the state as they attempt in many ways to control and constrain the fourth estate, but the fear of a loss of a job, the fear of loss of perks, the eagerness to have a motorcycle or a laptop computer will regulate
the state owned media as it has always done. And it follows that the media will lay boundaries for itself in order to stay well within the parameters of political approval.
One is again reminded of the words of a veteran politician who was to tell an editor: 'The problem with our media is that even if they are handed freedom on a platter they wouldn't know how to use it.'
He never said a truer word.
Political Islam and
freedom of speech
Capitals of Muslim countries from Senegal in Africa to Sumatra in Indonesia erupted with tens of thousands of angry Muslims taking to the streets protesting against the publication of cartoons derogatory of Prophet Mohammed in Danish newspaper, Jylands Posten and thereafter
being reproduced in many European journals.
Western embassies in Syria, Iran, Lebanon and Indonesia were attacked and Saudi Arabia, Syria, Libya and Iran all did withdraw their ambassadors from Denmark. Iran banned all imports from Denmark while an effective boycott was launched across the Middle East super- markets on Danish products.
Considering angry and violent protests made by Muslims before when their faith of the Prophet was brought into question, this outburst of violence is not surprising.
But the cartoons, most political analysts have pointed out, could be considered a spark that lit the conflagration of an extremely tense atmosphere that has been building up since the bombing of the Twin Towers in New York followed by the declaration of a War Against Terrorism by President George Bush which is backed by most Western
The War Against Terrorism is being considered by the great majority of Muslims around the globe, including moderate Muslims, as being a war against Islam. Denials made by President Bush and Prime Minister Blair have not
had an impact in the light of the invasion of Afghanistan and throwing out the fundamentalist Islamic regime of the Taliban and the invasion of Iraq.
President Bush locking horns with Iran on its nuclear programme, although it has nothing to do with Islamic fundamentalism, is considered as being directed against Islam. Objections to Iran's nuclear programme as compared with the blind eye turned towards Israel's nuclear arsenal are considered one of the double standards adopted
Muslims, particularly the Arabs being considered as terrorist suspects, the recent raids conducted on mosques in the West in addition to the inhuman treatment of Iraqi prisoners as exposed in videos have all contributed to this pent up anger.
Denmark's Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen commenting on the widespread violence has said: "We are now facing a global crisis that has the potential to escalate beyond the control of governments."
While President Bush and British Foreign Minister Jack Straw have condemned the publication of the cartoons, European leaders have been guarded in their condemnations while others have openly come out in favour of the publication of the cartoons on the grounds of freedom of expression.
The French Minister of the Interior Nicola Sarkozy has said that he preferred "an excess of caricature to an excess of censorship" while President Chirac had attempted to douse the flames saying: "The freedom of expression was one of the foundations of the republic" but condemned the cartoons as "a manifest
Freedom of expression
What most protestors against these cartoons do not seem to understand is that the freedom of expression is very much valued and cherished by Westerners and they strongly object to stifle it, although they too have placed curbs under peculiar circumstances.
The Voltairean tradition: "I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to death your right to say it," is cherished very much by Western liberals.
The reason why many European newspapers of repute did reproduce the cartoons even as mobs set fire to embassies in many capitals is that they want to point out their right to publish their views and not be intimidated.
The French press saw this issue of the cartoons as "a test case of the ability of French democracy to withstand the demands of political Islam," a commentator has said.
Reputed French newspapers such as the Le Monde and Liberation re-published some of the cartoons to assert the right to do so.
However, this freedom of speech or expression is subject to limitations even in European countries. It is pointed out that some European countries forbid the questioning of the Holocaust - extermination of the Jews by the Nazis and in Germany it is an offence to deny the Holocaust. Iranian President Ahmadinejad recently called the
Holocaust a myth and challenged British Prime Minister Blair for a debate on it.
Quite recently (February 7) an Egyptian-born Muslim cleric, Abu Hamza was sentenced to seven years imprisonment for inciting racial hatred and soliciting murder at the North London Finsbury mosque. Earlier British authorities had turned a deaf ear to inflammatory speeches promoting racial hatred and Hamza himself had during his trial
said that the British Security Service had told him that he could say what he wanted as long as he was not responsible for shedding blood in Britain.
British mosques had become centres for inflammatory propaganda. Abu Hamza is reported to have made statements such as: Killing a kafir (non believer) for any reason is OK even if you have no reason for it.
The jailing of Abu Hamza, the strict control of inciting speeches particularly by clerics and the new laws on terrorism have made Islamist critics accuse British of double standards.
However in the recent 'Cartoon Wars' both the British government as well as the media exercised much restraint and so did President Bush and the American media. Such restraint should be viewed in the context that this intense clash of Islamic and Western civilisations in recent times was brought about by Messrs Bush and Blair.
Their intentions may have been otherwise such as interests on oil, democracy or fear of Weapons of Mass Destruction but the net effect of it all has been the impression created in Muslim minds that this War on Terrorism is a War Against Islam.
All preachers of Islam are however not fire and brimstone against the kafirs. For example Egypt's Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa has advised that Muslims should understand that others will attack their faith and although they
should reject this perverted behaviour, they should protest peacefully with wisdom and fair exhortation.
As against this there is the recent quotation from the sermon of Saleh bin Humaid, a Saudi preacher at the Grand Mosque of Mecca: "A great new spirit is flowing through the body of the Islamic nation. The world can no longer ignore the nation and its feelings."
Whatever political Islamists and warriors of the war against terrorism may want, Western liberalism would no doubt resist attempts to stifle religious criticism.
If not essays like that of Bertrand Russell on Why I Am Not A Christian would not have seen the light of day.
Embracing the 'untouchables'
Politics is the art of the possible but its criminalisation should never be considered a political art.
All politicians will say that bringing in criminals into politics is unthinkable. But what politicians say is one thing and what happens is quite another. In the post-independence decades we've had Bandaranaike policies of the Bandaranaikes, dharmishta principles of J.R. Jayewardene, bheeshana yugayaeradication (ending the reign of
terror) policies of Chandrika Kumaratunga and now the Mahinda Chinthana. However, despite all the well intentioned objectives of these political doctrines, criminalisation of politics has gone on at a rapid pace and is continuing.
Last week there was a news report that one Kudu Nihal will be a contestant in the forthcoming local government elections. We do not know whether a Kudu Nihal exists or not or whether he is a budding politician, but the honorific title of 'Kudu' as we Sri Lankans know it , implies that one with such an appellation is a drug dealer. The
fact that a newspaper quite casually reported that he will be a contestant implies that kudu karayas ( drug dealers) coming into public life is today a fact of Sri Lankan life and we need not be much concerned about it.
In many countries drug dealers and smugglers, bootleggers, currency racketeers , gun runners, human traffickers and the like attempt to influence the politics of the country. But should this country blessed with all the
'policies' and 'chinthana' sink to such levels when 50 years ago we were free of these criminals? Are we to surrender to our karmic fate and do nothing about it?
The public is aware of the many kudu karayas who have hit the headlines with the brazen crimes they have committed. They live in newly built, gaudy and palatial homes in Cinnamon Gardens and its environs. The old rich
having busted their wealth have moved out. The dirty rich have replaced them. They hob-nob with politicians that matter. One such criminal named an MP notorious for his unparliamentary conduct as one of his 'friends' to the police in an interrogation.
Without political patronage they wouldn't have risen to such dizzy heights and it has to be patronage at the highest of levels. Nominations for elections from the lowest level of local government bodies to provincial councils and parliament are done with the concurrence of the party leader. This is a practice in all political parties.
Thus if kudu karayas are nominated to contest on the party ticket - for any election - the party leader cannot shrug off responsibility.
In this respect , party leaders have to take responsibility for all the rabble that have entered legislative bodies, including parliament. In choosing such riff-raffparty leaders should have been well aware of their conduct and character. That apparently has not been the criteria but to win by hook or by crook.
Such politicians latch on to the dope dealers and smugglers, moonshine kings, arms dealers and racketeers of various assortments. With these unfortunate developments in mind do we have to ask reasons for the pathetic state the country is in today?
A better question to ask is: what are we doing about it? Where oh where are the do-gooders - save the children organisations, human rights organisations, religious reformers, pious moralists, etc., in challenging these politicians backing criminals? Stopping schoolboys from
smoking or sipping a beer and adults getting drunk is fine, but the criminals are at large.
The police and the anti-narcotic squads appear to be doing some work but where is the public agitation against politicians and other big wigs entertaining and tolerating heroin and drug smugglers and living off them?
Often the newspapers publish pictures of policemen after a 'successful' raid, with barrels of kassipu - the inspector with one foot on a barrel and a gun in hand - and his men around him. It makes a macho picture but the kassipu menace has by no means abated. The obvious reason
is that the kassipu kings are untouched. So is it with other social menaces such as heroin. The drug barons are forever.
Last Wednesday, Ven. Ellawalla Medhananda of the JHU at a press conference, was quoted saying, drug dealers, crooks and robbers rule most of the cities in Sri Lanka and even honest police officers are not in a position to take action against them. It was up to the people to
give the JHU a strong mandate to counter nefarious activities in society, he had added.
The JHU though not in the government has one of its key members former DIG H.M.G.B. Kotakadeniya as defence advisor to the President on police. Kotakadeniya has the reputation of being an honest and tough cop although his outspoken ways have got him into hot water. Is it that he is once again in difficulty for trying to do his duty?
Meanwhile, what of the JVP whose leaders too were all pious moralists threatening to clean up the country once in power? Kassipu dens, ganja dens and casinos continue. Are they too succumbing to the view of politics being the art of the possible and criminalisation is part and parcel of that art?
Underworld criminal gangs are flourishing. Is the famed Wambotta Gang well known in the south to JVP politicians and Mahinda Rajapakse still operating?
In Colombo notorious underworld characters have now gone in for real estate. It is reported that legal owners are being threatened to sell off their properties for a song or face the consequences?
And life in Sri Lanka goes on.
Drug dealers and criminals are considered to be untouchables in a democratic society. They should not be embraced.
Listlessly waiting at the lines
My darling Ma-hinder,
Odds bodkins you lucky old son of a thingamabob...if you haven't gone and done it again! Last November it was a list that got you flying high, and now it seems the list has come to your rescue once again. If not for the bally list you would not be rubbing shapely shoulders with Indian diplomutts and issuing rather watered down
presidential directives to ministers of justice to let out political jailbirds.
My dear, the way the greens are going in and out of Rumy's prisons these days, like it was their bally backyard, they should rethink their party colour and settle with orange. That way the likes of S.B. could walk out in prison garb and go straight to the election platform..oops. no he won't be able to skip along singing a gay tra la
over there will he?
That's right the system has taken away something that once belonged to him. What is it now. Oh yes, his civility or something. Can one take away something that one does not have?..No matter. Ah well civil, civic, what's the bally difference in this glorious era of kunuharapa and nelli rasakinda or whatever you chaps drink for fun these
What must that poor chappie assbee be feeling, I venture to wonder as I sit lounging on my easy, sipping at my gin and chewing on my cigar. And then it hits me. Exactly like a bally eunuch at a particularly bawdy bordello during happy hour on Saturday. That must be how the
fellow is feeling. And are you sympathetic to the poor man's woes, I doubt it. Or to translate into your own pedestrian idiom dearie, the chap must be feeling like a pus vedilla.
But all you must care about is the bally list. And I will tell you sweetie that from time immemorial it has been the concept of the list that has gotten many a dignified chappie into no end of trouble. Clearly it was the carefully prepared list by Madame Defarge that got a fair
number of counts and countesses a rocky ride in the tumbril in gay Pari in the 18th century.
And many a hubby will bear testament to the fact that they've had a cold night of it following a goof up at the supermarket over the grocery list prepared so meticulously by the bitter half. There she is telling you to buy half a dozen apples and you go back grinning like a
jackass swinging a sili sili bag bursting to the brim with a baker's dozen of oranges. Enough to make any woman cringe I can tell you that.
Many a time and oft I have imagined your own domestic conversations with the missus. Darlo, now remember a bunch of karapincha and a gotukola mitiya from the...if you please quoths she. Imagine then the horror written on her face when you come back clutching a bunch of kohila and a hammer. She is likely to take it as a subtle hint or
even a blatant insult to her equanimity and what not.
Anyway darling Daya Dee has done it again also. I mean screwed up the polls in style and managed to remain pure. If ever there was a man who could fall into a bally bowl of guano and come up smelling like roses, then that man is this man. Recall what happened last November.
Five hundred thousand disenfranchised because the bally bald headed bird brain couldn't care a jot, another seven hundred thousand prevented from voting and the fellow declares the polls free and fair. He could have described you when lying about in a sarong in your easy chair of a Sunday morning reading a vernacular paper somewhat free. He could describe your dearly beloved and helpmeet as fair if not lovely but the chap is three sheets to the
wind if he describes the November polls as free and fair.
Thellie herself could not vote I shall have you know. It has been my constant delight to every few years, toddle along to the local temple premises and put a cross where it hurts most. It gives me immense pleasure to mingle with the masses at these public places if only so I
could look down my aristocratic nose at them and flap my eyelids disdainfully- especially if one of the red brigade is present - as I may as well tell you now they usually are trying to do some last minute cajoling.
And the upshot of you striking my name off your precious 2004 list? Me having to look down my bally long nose at my own self and flap disdainfully at my own reflection. Do you even know how painful that must be to a sensitive woman of the upper classes as myself? Pah and I even
go so far as to say Bah, to you and your bally lists.
Now with local government polls in the offing, there you are on your hobbyhorse getting malfunctioning lists ready and using 2004 lists to knock people out. Poor Cooray darling. There he was I mean to say. An ageing
come back kid, waiting like Destiny to ride again. But destiny is a coquettish bally thing isn't she? Fickle and vain. And again the greens seem to be foiled by the list.
I don't know whether you happened to read the Comedy Of Errors at your alma mater during those salad days when you sported a osariya or whatever it is you chaps wore to these vernacular schools but if you did you would recall the words of Dromio who said to Antipholus of
Syracuse (not in anyway to be confused with Antipholus of Ephesus), 'Marry Sir, for this something that you gave me for nothing..' and Antipholus of S. replies 'I'll make you amends next to give you nothing for something.'
The greens bless their načve souls have been exemplary opponents and a rather colourless but responsible opposition dearie. Giving you as much support and cheering as they can in what some chaps like to term the national interest. With this latest slap in the face dearie I'm
not surprised if Rakneel is to utter under his dignified breath, 'wretched fellow always trying to get something for nothing.' Here's a thought, may be your next vibrant poster should read 'A true prez for the masses, always intent on giving you nothing for something.'
Ta ra for now