For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
Every Sunday you buy the lie. You buy the lie that this is a functioning media. They sell the lie that this is a functioning democracy. A week later they wrap your lunch in it, which is about all it’s really good for.
Most papers today are just lies to keep the rice from falling out. As long as the economy keeps us fed, we don’t really care. We’re pumped full of stories via print, SMS, TV and radio but there’s precious little meat. It’s only bland press releases with the occasional chili like Mervyn Silva, enough to keep you consuming more.
In order to pack political rallies, they give you a lunch packet and maybe a shot of arrack. It keeps people in their seats, listening to people they might otherwise overthrow. Long ago we all made that deal with Mahinda. We would listen to whatever he said as long as he kept us safe and kept us fed. So this is the media we get.
Pick up The Sunday Observer. What is at its core? Jobs, marriage proposals and houses. They’re just wrapping bread and butter issues in mounds of wasted print. Even The Sunday Times, does it tell you anything you don’t know? Yet the Times is an advertising machine. Unwrap their packet and what do you find at its center? HitAds. The classifieds. This is pure sustenance. It’s just the material items we need to live. It’s rice.
Then every day you get news alerts from The Daily Mirror or Ada Derana. It’s papadam. Crunchy bites, but mostly air. They tell you what’s going on, but never why. They tell you when a protest causes a traffic jam, but not what the protest is about. They tell you when someone goes to trial, but never that the trial is a sham. They tell you that the price of bread has risen, but never who’s to blame.
The media doesn’t point out what’s wrong anymore. It just tells you what is. It doesn’t give you what you need to live better, it gives you just enough to live. This Minister said this and that. The police made some mistakes but ‘investigations are ongoing’. By the way, did you hear who’s fasting today? Did you see what Mervyn Silva’s been up to? They throw you a chili now and then, just to cover the fact that there’s no meat. What do these words mean? President, Parliament, Court Martial, Commission, Election?
What is a President that can serve indefinitely and control the elections? What is a Parliament where many government MPs were elected to serve in the Opposition? What is a Court Martial conducted against a civilian? What is a Commission that is appointed by the people it would need to investigate? What is an election where one side controls the media, the money, and Election Commission and the troops to surround it all just in case?
The media serves you these words without question and you don’t know that all this peace and prosperity is wrapped in a thousand white lies. This is not a President, he’s a king. This is not a Parliament, it’s a bunch of feudal lords. This is not a Court Martial, it’s personal vengeance. This is not a Reconciliation Commission, it’s a rubber stamp on the war. These are not elections, they’re the rituals of dynastic succession. By publishing these words, the media is accepting and perpetuating the ruling family’s carefully crafted language. This language frames the way we see our world. These words do not describe the world as it is, it describes what they want us to see. The war was a ‘humanitarian operation’. Strong opposition is ‘treason’. What they should say is that we have a new ruling family, they’ve taken most of the power, and we should quieten down cause they’re doing this for our own good. Instead, the newspapers publish decisions by the TRC or the UDA or LLRC when the only initials that matter are MR. The media publishes ‘what’ is happening, but rarely ‘why’. The ‘why’ behind the story wouldn’t fit in 160 characters. It might scare off advertisers. It might get you thrown in court, jail or an early grave. It’s best not to ask these questions at all. Just wrap the lunch and live to write another day.
This is the deal you have made Sri Lanka. You have chosen to live full rather than live free. The people of Sri Lanka will gladly take roads, cricket stadiums, ports and power plants to look the other way. The media will gladly take advertising and not being shut down to give the people something pretty to look at. The Opposition Leader will take the perks of a minister for the chores of a whipping boy. Everyone will pretend, as long as they can make ends meet. General Sarath Fonseka tried to tell the truth and he has ended up in jail. His ranks have been stripped, his family hounded, his name dragged through the mud. He takes his meals in jail, he sleeps in his cell, he has rests his war-wracked body on a one inch mat. That is the deal. You either accept the lies that wrap your daily meal or you eat that meal in jail.
That is justice today. It’s a deal. Not a deal between a government and the people, but between the people and a man. Accept his rule and eat. Reject it and starve. KP (the former LTTE leader) was offered that deal. He chose to eat. Even today Sarath Fonseka could enter the prison hospital and sleep on a bed or beg for a pardon and sleep at home. He refuses. The Sri Lankan media has been offered this deal as well. Report what we show and survive. Sell advertising, sell classifieds, protect your employees and your wealth. Just end your defence reporting, use the words we provide and reproduce our occasional circuses for the masses. You can have who, what, where, when and how, but not why. Not that people are interested anyway.
The Sunday Leader has not taken this deal, and this is why you see The Sunday Leader in court. This is why the founding Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge was killed. This is why the other newspapers slander the current Editor when she is in court. The Sunday Leader is not the best looking paper, it’s not the best funded and it’s certainly not the most liked. It’s not even the best journalism possible.
But it is what it is. We’re not wrapping anything for the government or the opposition, and we’re not easy to digest. This is The Leader. We are not selling you a free lunch.