For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
New Mass Media and Communication Minister Keheliya Rambukwella, in one of his first interviews after assuming duties in his new office, on Friday says he wants to be open and free with all sections of the media. “I believe in a relationship where we could disagree, argue and completely ignore each other, but no one has the right to insult each other.”
Minister Rambukwella says he is concerned with improving the conditions for journalists and their welfare and will aim at shifting the overall approach of the local media to fulfill the needs of a post-conflict nation, primarily peace and development.
By Manjula FERNANDO
Q: The Ministry of Mass Media and Communication is considered a difficult, unpopular and hard-to-perform portfolio. What is your view on this?
A: There is nothing entirely black and white. There is good and bad in everything. That is how I look at it. I have been in charge of three ministries up to now. I have been quite content with the outcome and their performance during my tenure.
Having said that, I must also say that media and information is something which needs an altogether different approach. It has to be acceptable, the truth has to be disseminated, people should be fed with the truth so that they know what is going on around them.
I have handled the media for four years. We have an extremely healthy rapport and sound understanding. I believe in a relationship where we could disagree, argue, completely ignore, but no one has the right to insult each other.
Q: What will be your priority areas? Will you consider journalists’ welfare, improving working conditions and their training as areas needing priority?
A: These will be among the priorities. But there will be an overall new approach.
This is the post-conflict era, the society is now beginning to think differently. You need to look at it in that context. Then you realise that we have a strong platform for national development, development which we never saw during the last three decades.
The outlook of the people, the mentality of the people and the temperament are all different now. We must understand this and poise ourselves to cater to their different media needs. We have to get on with our democratic processes and of course post-conflict peace and development should be a priority.
The current attitudes of sections of the media need to change and I believe this could be done with consultation and understanding.
Q: What will be your policy towards the private and international media?
A: They have been in existence for decades. I believe they need to understand their responsibilities clearly and the definite role expected of them by society.
As for the relationship between the authorities and the private media, we should be able to sit around tables and discuss matters like decent human beings and iron out differences that may crop up from time to time.
It’s a continuous process. The media is not going to be static. Issues of the media, the competition between the private media, etc. will give rise to fresh challenges everyday.
So you need to work with them with an open mind. You cannot start your day with conclusions and pre-determinations and bank your decisions on those convictions.
Q: What have you got to say about the accusation, particularly directed from the Western bloc, that media freedom in Sri Lanka is suppressed?
A: I have been fighting against this allegation for the past four years as a media spokesman. We need to improve certain areas, but at the same time the people who point their fingers at us must illustrate a cleaner record, which is not the case in most instances. I can pinpoint some clear cases, but I don’t want to do it at this point since I have just assumed duties. I certainly don’t want to dwell on those past issues. I would like to start with an open mind and not take into consideration what happened during the conflict. I was handling the media during the most difficult period as the Government Media Spokesman. We were accused of many things and I had to put the record straight while maintaining a healthy relationship with the international and private media. That relationship still continues.
Q: The pension scheme for media personnel had been a promise of many of your predecessors. But this promise still remains a distant dream?
A: Making dreams a reality makes you a ‘doer’. I would like to think that way. Of course there can be financial constraints that we have to overcome first.
I believe in the senior citizens charter as well. Not just media personnel, but basically all senior citizens who were the driving force behind the country’s development should be looked after during their retirement age. The Senior Citizens Charter is very prevalent in developed countries.
Q: Dr. Mervyn Silva resigned from the post of Deputy Media Minister on Friday, the day you assumed duties in your new office. Who will be your new deputy minister?
A: That is the prerogative of the President.