For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
Thanks to Weerawansas farce unto death on a saline drip, major media Ustaads have been exposed even without a fig leaf to hide their professional nudity. Unfortunately, the media is not judged on their performance and taken to task for their lapses.
The Weerawansa fiasco is one incident that gathered major media coverage and thus provides ample space for an assessment of media professionalism and independence. Daily Mirror (DM), generally talked of as impartial and professional than most Sinhala news papers therefore would be best for this purpose. To talk on journalistic independence and media professionalism.
DM went online breaking news and providing explanations on their broken news, clearly showing the slip that was intentionally anti Ban Ki-moon. Being anti Ban Ki-moon at that point of time in Sri Lanka, was (01) consciously getting in step with the government instigated Weerawansa comedy (02) openly accepting the editorial policy as bias and not independent and (03) letting down the Readers by publishing wholly twisted reports.
This is a case in point, on such DM reportage. Bias to the core and intentionally nuanced and malicious in reporting.
On 09 July at 11.50 am, DM told its readers that Ban Ki-moon had issued a statement misleading every one. Captioned Ban statement misleading it said, [quote] UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has misled the media and the public by giving the impression that the UNDP Regional Center situated in Sri Lanka had been closed as a result of the protest being carried out by Minister Wimal Weerawansa outside the UN country office in Colombo [unquote] The tone of the DM language without nuances, is loudly accusing.
Now, whom is DM using to accuse UN Secretary General as wrong and misleading ? An unnamed UN Colombo official. The man who took the decision to close down the UN regional centre in Colombo and says why he closed it down, is not right and true for DM. Why ? That does not fit the pre determined stand of DM on this whole Weerawansa fiasco. So they went to an unnamed local source to report what they had already decided, they would publish. That the UN regional office in Colombo was not closed due to Weerawansas crude patriotism. How professional is that journalism ?
The DM did not stop at that. They wanted to prove their position with this unnamed, unidentified source in Colombo is right and carried the next news post the same day (09 July) at 23.00 hours with a caption, UN contradicts UN again. The report says,
[quote] Just hours after the UN office in Colombo said that the closing down of the UNDP Regional Center in Sri Lanka was not linked to the protests outside the UN in Colombo, UN Associate spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters in New York a short while ago that both were linked.[unquote]
Who is this UN office in Colombo source that DM keeps insisting is more authoritative than even the UN Secretary General and the Associate Spokesperson ? Its the same unnamed, unidentified UN Colombo official. If at this point, the DM was so certain about its Colombo office source they should have clearly said who it is, instead of continuing to quote this unnamed, unidentified local source to contradict the UN Secretary General and the UN Associate Spokesperson Farhan Haq, for such is not professionalism.
In fact with such stress laid down by both the UN Secretary General and the Associate spokesperson at UN head quarters on why the UN regional office in Colombo was closed, the right caption and the right news should have been that the Colombo office and the unnamed unidentified person has not been in line with the official UN position and has thus been giving out wrong information, misleading the media and the public. That was, IF the DM was independent and free of political bias.
DM did not want it that way. The DM news report thus says, [quote] When contacted by Daily Mirror online today, a UN Colombo official clarified that preparations were underway for several months now to close down the UNDP Regional Center in Sri Lanka and it was not linked with Weerawansas protest. [unquote]
Why did the DM contact an unnamed local source, when two top UN positions had officially stated the reason for the closure of the Colombo regional office ? If they still did not believe the two official UN statements from NY, why did not the DM contest that with their source named and with facts and figures ?
The UN regional office in Colombo did not allow DM to stay put with its pun on the news and sent in a clearly worded statement the next day. Therefore, on 10 July at 11.26 am, DM had to publish this UN Colombo regional office statement, on line. The DM once again tried a twist on it by giving that post the caption, UN Lanka clarifies stand. That in fact was not a clarification of the UN position, but a correction to DMs previous day Gobels reporting on the closure.
This is how the DM says it in their clarifying news. [quote] Daily Mirror online had earlier quoted a UN Colombo official as saying that preparations were underway for several months now to close down the UNDP Regional Center in Sri Lanka and it was not linked to the protest outside the UN compound.[unquote]
Contradicting this unnamed UN Colombo official that DM wished to quote previously, the UN regional office in Colombo in an official e-mail sent to DM online, said that there was no doubt a down sizing of its regional office in Colombo and also said very clearly they had in fact discussed it with the External Affairs ministry. But the statement clearly said this time the closure was the result of Weerawansa protests.
This is how the Colombo regional office statement which confirms Ban Ki-moons New York statement 02 days before and Farhan Haqs brief to reporters, contradicts the DMs unnamed Colombo UN official. [quote] However in light of the UN Secretary Generals decision announced two days ago the UN is now closing the regional center outright and it is a direct response to the situation in Colombo and the inability for the UN staff to do their work without hindrance.[unquote]
That was simple, clear and loud enough for any fifth grader to understand the reason for the closure of the Colombo office. Yet not for DM and its editorial. For they had their ulterior motive(s) in making the UN a comedy of contradictions and save their comedy hero Weerawansa.
Who is this unnamed, unidentified Colombo office spokesman who played it out with the DM that DM refrains from naming ?
He is, most definitely Mohan Samaranayake, the Communication Officer with the Colombo UN office. This person who has broken all ethical and moral standards of decent professional behaviour and perhaps UN conditions of employment too, sitting in the Public Performance Board (PPB), a statutory board appointed by the government minister in charge, was the person who went round saying the closure of the UN facility in Colombo had nothing to do with the protests and that was pre determined. Being a privileged person of this Rajapaksa government, Samaranayake has been faithful to the regime here rather than to his employer, the UN. He was quoted by the AP and also by the Nation news paper on the same issue, although the DM kept him unnamed and undisclosed.
This also brings out the issue, what the UN would do, or should do with such local employees who not only contradicts UN interests in pledging their loyalty with the country government, but also helps ridicule and insult the UN, publicly.
Conniving with such devalued persons who are not even identified, such is the vested interest in DMs professional media culture. Twist, turn and toast the news to suit its own petty agenda, never mind the responsibility to the reader public.
The Sri Lankan media in general has been this over the past half decade. It had tried to project itself as nationalistic and patriotic. In the process, they had given up their professionalism and their independence.
Therefore, there is no logic in asking the government to allow media freedom, when Editors and journalists themselves dont act independent and ethically. They have to first establish their independence within the framework of the Code of Professional Practice known as the Code of Ethics drafted, agreed and accepted by the Editors Guild itself.
The editors who drafted this Code of Ethics for all journalists, agreed foremost in its preamble that [quote] This code of practice which is binding on all Press institutions and journalists, aims to ensure that the print medium in Sri Lanka is free and responsible and sensitive to the needs and expectations of its readers, while maintaining the highest international standard of journalism. [unquote]
The preamble goes on to say, those standards require newspapers to strive for accuracy and professional integrity, and to uphold the best traditions of investigative journalism in the public interest, unfettered by distorting commercialism or by improper pressure or by narrow self-interest which conspires against press freedom.
We are yet to see editors sticking by this Code of Ethics. There is no talk of journalists being told and advised by editors to work according to their own Code of Ethics.
One may also take refuge by saying that this Code of Ethics is only for the print media and not for others. But, an irresponsible editor handling a web based online news portal as an extension of the print media, can not be a responsible editor in the print media. That apart, this code of ethics should be discussed for all media now, for it is not print media alone that fashion the mindset of this society. True, this would not be taken as a responsibility by the publishers or their association(s). For they are all in this Sri Lanka, where businesses are almost always State sponsored and politically patronised. It is therefore, once again the Editors and journalists who would have to work towards an independent media and for their own self respect.
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