For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
For a government and a system that is riddled with flaws, and that enjoys excessive wiggle room for carrying out certain undemocratic actions — the most effective antidote would be a credible robust and responsible media. But while we have many facets of the former (i.e.: rampant bad governance), we have very little of the latter. There is media – and then there is media. There is a thick gruel of corruption, nepotism and haywire governance that the mainstream media cannot possibly wade through partly due to the inroads that have been made into the private media regime by successive potentates in power. Where the mainstream press cannot handle this impossible morass, web-based media no doubt could play the crucial role of the regular muckraking watchdog.
(Nothing wrong with muckraking as long as it is ‘muck’ that’s accumulated at the public’s expense – ‘good muckraking’ is on the lines of the legal admonion in administrative law that holds that ‘busybodies’ are essential in keeping public servants on their toes…)
But what we have as web-based media in this country in the main – exceptions being applauded – is neither credible, robust or responsible.
The modus operandi of these operators which is muckraking for vengeance and mudslinging for pure purposes of demolition, is such a total disservice to the credibility of media as a whole, that you could say they play right into the hands of the regime by undermining the Fourth Estate.
The partisan would be livid as they usually are when the truth is told about the fringe media culture of Sri Lankan websites, but there is no special need to underscore the dysfunctional and pathetically yellow form of Sri Lanka website reportage – because these sites often do a good job of discrediting themselves all on their own.
While a fraction of what these collective sites are saying may be right, the larger percentage of their output is innuendo, fabrication or outright lie.
A recent op-ed piece challenged Ruwan Ferdinands who is the czar of the recently raided websites, claiming that his entire operation is to carry out fabricated attacks on notables, in order that he could then go onto to blackmail them. Suffice to say that this claim was never denied by the said shadowy operator.
There is absolutely no need to labour the point; this newspaper and its enlightened readership knows beyond a shadow of doubt that most of the news websites operating out of Sri Lanka do not practice journalism – they exist almost entirely for character assassination and calumny, because they do it in furtherance of a certain driven agenda, and do it just because they can.
At the risk of repetition, this by and large yellow colour media exists because the new cyber news sphere is wholly unregulated.
It is utterly shocking therefore to see the European Union for instance lamenting about the right to free expression for these sites, without adding a single word about any concomitant responsibility on the part of their operators to be ethical, responsible and fair. Suffice to say that such an error in opinion could not have been accidental considering the resources at the disposal of the EU upon which to base a reasonable conclusion.
In other words, the EU prefers to present just one side about these sites because it appears that the EU is also driven by an agenda similar to that of the sites themselves.
Why Sri Lankan websites have by and large decided to go yellow is incomprehensible as to be comical – there is so much to be exposed and talked about in terms of corruption and bad governance, such as this newspaper has tackled today, without having to fabricate stories or pillory political opponents.
Take the entire Julampitiye, and the Tangalle-thug tendency that we have highlighted today on page 3, and in different ways in previous editions.
This is how the social dregs operate in the dark underbelly of our society due to political patronage, and these are issues crying to be exposed and tackled-down.
But, the web denizens operating from their spooky undercover territories instead insist on a larger dose of innuendo, fabrication and defamation – to go with much smaller doses of truthful revelation.
This is so pathetic that as stated before, there is no need to labour the point – though there is a need to question the sincerity, ethics and sanity of the people who say that the tug o’ war between the regime and web-based media is purely a ‘freedom of expression’ issue.
While the EU plays gallant knight to the distressed, there are still others who say that if these sites truly did wrong, they should be dealt with according to regular laws of libel and defamation.
Though there is some merit to this argument compared to the EU’s hopeless case of breast-beating and tilting at windmills, those who take this latter line of reasoning about filing libel suits are either incredibly naive, or cunningly disingenuous. Anybody knows that with the technology available and the opportunity for anonymous scurrilous attack that the Internet offers, there would be ten new spooky and libelous websites for each one successfully sued in the courts of law.
Not even governments have the time or the capacity to fight such a wanton, hydra headed monster.
It may be almost cliche like but is certainly not cliche in the context of the above – that the EU people here do not understand that media freedom is not the freedom of the wild ass. Wild ass freedom it must also be remembered, gives a bad name to diligent but scrupulously investigative, and therefore useful media.