For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
Sutirtho Patranobis, Hindustan Times
Colombo, July 20, 2010
The Sri Lankan government seems to be worried sick about the state of journalism here. What else could have prompted its sudden longing to introduce a new set of media ethics guidelines to promote professionalism and skills among journalists? The guidelines are to be bunched under the
soon-to-be-formed ‘media development authority’ (MDA), which might sound wholly like a civic body where babus hunch over ageing type-writers, but which could at least partly be inspired by the Media Development Authority of Singapore.
And, which critics said is often used to sue journalists for defamation and help the Singapore government to regulate free speech.
But the media authority here will do no such thing, a minister promised.
“What we intend is to give a professional recognition to journalists in line with other professional bodies in the country. Journalists are the unofficial agents of the masses,” media minister K Rambukwella said.
I am happily sure that the first journalists to be given any kind of recognition, official or otherwise, would certainly be the critical ones.
It’s also heartening to know how one government can easily emulate another if an aspect of governance suits the first one’s definition of best practices in a field.
For example, if the Lankan government was looking at the Singapore MDA model to vigorously promote journalistic ethics, Pakistan in June talked about setting up the ‘media coordination committee on defence planning’ – which sounded coincidentally like the Media Centre for National Security (MCNS) here.
The MCNS, in short, has the job of keeping journalists always embedded psychologically with the government even if not in the flesh every time,” he said.
In between these guidelines, some journalists – who need to be most urgently taught the virtues of professionalism – slip, fall and disappear.
Some, like Prageeth Eknaligoda, cartoonist and analyst for a pro-opposition website, seems to have disappeared for ever. Eknaligoda went missing on January 24, 2010; some said he is hiding for publicity, others pointed out that he’s seeking asylum abroad.
But the government, for nearly six months, hasn’t said anything about him.
In May, well-wishers put together an exhibition of his acerbic political illustrations titled ‘Cave Art of the 21st Century’. The ethics symbolised in his works were not from this century but certainly from the cave man’s era.