For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
Sri Lanka needs a National Media Commission to steer Journalistic Ethics by Shenali Waduge
In the absence of self-regulation by mass media and communication channels there is a need for content analysis by a competent and unbiased team. The scale of lies, fabrication and distortion is not a local experience only. We have come to a stage where people cannot trust international media. Much of the current state of media is as a result of the influence that comes from foreign sources and the negative manner in which media have joined hands to partner political campaigns.
Sri Lanka’s situation is a sensitive one. On the one hand we have a country that was burdened with a problem created from colonial occupation which transpired into a terrorist movement that was finally defeated after 3 decades. Those associated with that terror still continue to destabilize as well as to continue the conversion campaigns camouflaged by humanitarian assistance. The media has become a perfect vehicle to run every campaign possible to dislodge nations and upset cultures.
In the present scenario we are well aware that local journalists are now being funded and sponsored to write against their own country from foreign locations ridiculing every effort the country makes to stand on its feet. These overseas located local journalists are paid to use their local knowledge to fabricate lies, create mischief and promote a general feeling of mistrust amongst communities through well-funded websites and email campaigns. This type of journalism is gutter type however well written their articles are. Their only problem is that they have to continue to spin lies to continue to be paid – once a soul is sold to the devil there is little escape.
Is there no better way to change Governments without ridiculing an entire nation and using one’s pen to portray a nation that is unjust, that discriminates and is undemocratic – whatever democracy is supposed to mean!
From the religious point of view it is evident that the majority religion practiced by over 70% of the Sri Lankan population has been unfairly targeted. Continuous attempts have singularly targeted Buddhists through the English press. A good example is the manner English newspapers in Sri Lanka have been guilty of accepting and carrying anti-Buddhist related articles while articles by Buddhists questioning other faiths have not been entertained. Sunday Times has published an article questioning the gender of Lord Buddha (2 Dec 2012) while another daily had a column under a Muslim pseudonym created by its former editor attacking Buddhists for the crimes in Sri Lanka. What was alarming was that the author was a Sinhalese Buddhist writing under a Muslim pseudonym – what was the objective of this editor and author! Both the editor and author have breached the code of journalistic ethics and this same editor is guilty of forcing Buddhists to follow Bible classes after office hours! The new editor was ethical enough to apologize and discontinue the column. There was another instance of the authenticity of the Sacred Tooth relic being questioned.
It is alarming to have Buddhism ridiculed over the English press – a publication policy is much in need. It is not journalism to laugh at a heritage! Though obviously people do welcome debate and opportunity to question facets of religion and former practices. In such a situation a newspaper should dedicate an entire page and call for people from all religions to contribute their views which can be featured without bias instead of one single religion becoming target – it is not done for only one religion which happens to be the majority religion to be bashed and ridiculed over standards and practices through history while none of the other religious practices are questioned. While on the subject not a single editorial in Sri Lanka spared a sentiment towards the destruction of the Buddhist temples and ancient artifacts in Bangladesh except the Bodu Bala Senawa while so much publicity was given to the incident in Dambulla where the Muslims did not have any right to put up a mosque! The Buddha Sasana Ministry issues a statement over the violence spread through the Middle East as a result of the video but it forgets to issue a statement on Bangladesh or even the treatment of Burma Buddhists!
There should be no argument over the fact that Sri Lanka is a Buddhist country and it is nothing past, present or future leaders should feel shy to openly declare for Sri Lanka remains one of few nations that has given ample freedom for the practice of other minority religions and associated cultures. None of the minorities can deny this freedom which Buddhists would not enjoy had they been in the minority.
A cartoon appearing in the Sunday Leader of 29 April 2012 is another ample evidence of the manner Buddhism is being degenerated. Cartoonists too can sway public opinion!
A National Press Commission along the lines of the Justice K D de Silva recommended Commission in 1964. When it is clear that despite the defeat of the LTTE, the separatist agenda remains alive as much as the destabilizing and regime change efforts a National Press Commission that will cover Content Analysis and expose the anti-national, anti-Buddhist, pro-LTTE bias of both newspaper and associated journalists and take appropriate action against them would definitely curtail the disregard for journalistic ethics that presently exist. If media cannot verify details – they should be magnanimous enough to claim so and refrain from publishing material or endorsing a view which is inaccurate. The BBC has a history or such controversies.
Ex: BBC Uses a 2003 Picture from Iraq to Incite War against Syria
Thus a national media commission would prevent media from publishing, broadcasting, and televising material which are unsuited to Sri Lankan society given that it is known as a Buddhist country. In a Buddhist country, policy makers are asked why it is reluctant to preserve life of an animal by implementing the animal sacrifice bill. Moreover, when the country and the entire Asian region is aware of the threats to their heritage as a result of foreign cultures taking over traditional cultures and the stigmas that arise with such, why are Sri Lankan policy makers reluctant to pass the anti-conversion bill?
Cultures that the Western-backed media through local media promotes is having a tremendous negative affect on the lives and thinking of the youth transcending to the behavioral patterns of even parents leading to a society going astray and much of these promotions carried out through media channels need to be monitored and controlled before greater damage is done to Sri Lankan society and Sri Lankan culture. There are said to be 45 obscene newspapers being sold through Sri Lanka and no authority is doing anything about it.
To make profit the crude ways used by print and electronic media is deplored. Do commercials need to be erotic and obscene to be sold and the same applies to movies and tv programs?
We have come to a stage where simply debating and pointing fingers will lead Sri Lanka’s future generations nowhere. Policy makers need to take stock of the situation. Both state and private media need to reflect on the ground situation and accept the prejudice and bias that has prevailed. The media stands guilty of hiding a lot from the public. Why did they not expose the Ceylinco Group – was it not because the Kotelawala’s took great care of the media’s “interests” and were part of what is called a “kept press”?
The media is a powerful tool – if used correctly. When misused its damage is phenomenal. The 1964 commissioned K D de Silva Press Commission report concluded that news was slanted, distorted or fabricated to serve the owners of the newspapers. Very little has changed since. The Commission also concluded that newspapers had been guilty of acting hostile towards the interests of the country and Buddhism, the religion of the majority. The status quo remains the same.
Quoting from page 56 of the Commission report : “If these English language newspapers were sufficiently patriotic they could have made a very useful contribution to bringing about unity among the various communities ……………….they should have advised minority groups to adapt themselves to the changing circumstances and extorted the majority to be generous towards the former…………..what they consistently did was to poison the minds of the minority groups and encourage them to fight to retain the unjust privileges they had received during the era of foreign domination”. How relevant are these lines in the present context!
The report quotes Dr. K N Jayatillake, Prof of Philosophy, University of Colombo “the English reading public…. Impression created that the communal and religious minorities must get together and oppose the Sinhalese Buddhist majority if they are to get any rights at all”. It would be interesting to see how in 2012 the English reading public actually thinks!
The 1964 Commission report on the Tamil press noted that “It is carrying on a continuous communal propaganda in issue after issue. Virakesari owned and run by Indian nationals, and as such their purpose is to spread the idea of Indian domination of this country and condition the people”. We can see how far Tamil people have actually been distanced over the years as a result of such brainwashing.
The K D de Silva Press Commission report could not be implemented as the Government that commissioned the report was defeated at election in 1965. Yet the relevance of the report is valid in the present and therefore without reinventing wheels it is perfect to launch a National Media Commission without further delays so that all media will be given proper guidelines and regulations on what to report and how to report. The Commission must be authorized to monitor and review editorials, articles and publications, radio broadcasts, television programs that have in the past particularly targeted Buddhism. The commission should be authorized to investigate campaigns hostile to the national interest and instances of campaigns being funded by foreign institutions even Governments and expose such. At the present regulatory bodies function in an ad hoc manner or in the interest of a few – the entire focus of the National Press Commission should be to safeguard the national interests of the Country.