Abolish all press restrictions and codes in Buddhist Sri Lanka
Posted on February 1st, 2015

By Professor Shelton A. Gunaratne

The recent presidential elections showed that the majority of Sri Lankans are well versed in distinguishing between propaganda and unbiased news. They paid little attention to the Goebbelsian propaganda spewed out by the Lake House press and the state-owned broadcasting and television networks and toppled an arrogant regime that was heading toward authoritarianism instead of ruling by the principles of dasa raja dharma.

However, the politicians in power tend to believe that a manipulated press will enable them to cling on to power in spite of the plain fact that in this digital era people can actively participate as both consumers and publishers of news by turning to alternative media like laptops and smartphones.

Laozi, the legendary Chinese sage, who lived in the sixth century BCE and was a contemporary of the Buddha, described the characteristics of the rulers thus (quoted from the Daoist text Dao de jing” as translated by Peter A. Merel) :

The best rulers are scarcely known by their subjects;
The next best are loved and praised;
The next are feared;
The next despised:
They have no faith in their subjects,
So their subjects become unfaithful to them.
When the best rulers achieve their purpose
Their subjects claim the achievement as their own.

This quote aptly describes the transformation of the Rajapakse clan from the next best” to the feared” or the despised.” The reason was their failure to understand the Four Noble Truths though they professed to be Buddhists. They simply disregarded the ti-lakkhana of existence—dukkha (suffering), anatta (no self) and anicca (impermanence) and in their greed (tanha) for power and wealth mistakenly thought the ruling clan had a static self or soul. They misused public property to do propaganda for the clan claiming to serve the public good.

In Laozi’s view, the best rulers do not need cutouts and propaganda to do their job. They need not muzzle the press—a useless endeavor in the era of citizens’ journalism. They will not impose unnecessary laws and will use their mind consciousness to resist the temptations offered by the Five Aggregates, which are in a constant state of flux. Citizens’ journalism cannot be controlled through  professional” codes of ethics. but they are most likely to abide by a bottom-up voluntary code of ethics.

I suggest that Lake House should cease to be the propaganda factory of the government in power because it has completely lost credibility. An alternative would be to transform it to a training institute for mindful journalism—a truly Buddhist approach to produce news as a social good, not as a commodity as practiced in the West.

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The first thing to do is to transform its cadre of professional” journalists from propagandists to kalyana-mitta (spiritual friends) who can teach mindful journalism based on the Middle Path (or magga), which contain principles approved by almost all religious and ethnic groups. If everyone can become a journalist in the digital era, this training should be available to anyone irrespective of caste, creed or education level. They could be the passing parade of reporters, writers, subeditors, cartoonists and photographers constituting the voluntary labor force that runs all the publications.

These citizens could practice a variety of journalisms—including developmental, peace, and civic/public—on the explicit understanding that they adhere to the three dimensions of the magga—discernment (panna), virtue (sila) and concentration (samadhi).

The magga (also called the Noble Eightfold Path) provides a universally applicable normative code of ethics. Therefore, I urge Karu Jayasuriya, the minister for Buddha Sasana, to persuade the government to declare it as the prerequisite for good governance. Mr. Jayasuriya should first convince the minorities that the magga is a phenomenological roadmap to alleviate dukkha, which is coterminous with cyclic existence (samsara).

In fact, the magga reinforces the Ten Commandments of the Abrahamic religions and the Hindu dharma. No one can attain perfection in the magga until s/he leaves samsara. But the joy is in the journey toward that end—the progressive alleviation of unsatisfactoriness. Mindful journalism can lead the hoi polloi toward reaching the specified norms.

Mindful journalism will emerge if citizen and professional” journalists would apply panna (right view, right resolve), sila (right speech, right action, right livelihood), and samadhi (right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration) in their daily work routine. In my latest book Mindful journalism and News Ethics in the Digital Era: A Buddhist Approach (which I wrote in collaboration with Mark Pearson and Sugath Senarath), my colleagues and I describe the operational dynamics of this genre of journalism with an Eastern touch.

Routledge (London and New York) will release the book on March 13, 2015.

I commend the book to Gayantha Karunathilake, minister for mass media, and call on him to collaborate with Mr. Jayasuriya to make the magga Sri Lanka’s normative code of ethics.

The magga complies with Laozi’s criterion of the best ruler—the least intrusion into the affairs of an interdependent and interconnected community that can exist in relative harmony by respecting one another’s rights and responsibilities.

(Dr. Gunaratne is professor of communication/journalism studies emeritus at Minnesota State University Moorhead.)

14 Responses to “Abolish all press restrictions and codes in Buddhist Sri Lanka”

  1. Christie Says:

    Namaste:There were journos in the old Sinhala villages. They were called ‘Opadupa’ persons. When they were arriving the people used to hide their kids. They were evil people who went from hose to house telling of news. The writer bannot understand journalism had nothing to do with the last election. It is the Indian block vote of the country. Jai Hind

  2. Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha Says:

    I disagree:
    There is a reason why a nation has press censorship

    There is even a more pressing reason why a nation

    WHO HAS FOUGHT A WAR AGAINST SEPERATISM FOR 30 YEARS
    WHO CONTINUES TO FACE PRO LITE ORGANIZATIONS IN TAMIL NADU SUCH AS TESO, TELO, PLOT ETC
    WHO HAS SEEN THE MOST POWERFUL FORCE AGAINST THE RE EMERGENCE OF ELAM REMOVED
    WHO NOW FACES A GOVERNMENT MORE THAN WILLING TO WORK WITH PRO ELAM ASPECTS LIKE TNA, INDIA, USA

    MUST CONTROL THE PRESS. COMPLETE FREEDOM OF THE PRESS ALSO MEANS

    COMPLETE FREEDOM OF VOICES FROM JAFFNA TO CHENNAI TO NEW DELHI SCREAMING OUT “ELAM”

  3. Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha Says:

    Seondly
    Sri Lanka DOES NOT HAVE A “BUDDHIST SRI LANKA”. SHE HAS A PRO INDIA COALITION PARTY

    BUDDHISM, SINHALESE VALUES AND THE SINHALESE BUDDHIST IS THE LAST ISSUE OF COLOMBO TODAY.

  4. Raj Says:

    Professor, this is a little better than your travel diary. You are using Lankaweb for self publicity and plugging your book. I have a feeling you are one of those communication guys who attacked the former president left right and centre from abroad. You are one of those people who is blind not to see all the good things the previous government did over the last ten years. It was all well and good for people like you living in the USA who did not have the wrath of terrorism which killed tens of thousands of people here in SL. You can now come back to Sri Lanka and there will be a chairmanship of a corporation waiting for you, before they sell it out, that is. I agree with Bernard Wijeyasinghe.

  5. AnuD Says:

    Good article. MEdia should be allowed to report freely.

    there should be a code of ethics as well as rules to punish who reports lies and aberrant and falsified reports. they should be given hefty fines and/or jail sentences.

    that happens in Sri lanka, even the last election time is an example

  6. Nanda Says:

    Your statements about State Controlled journalism is absolutely correct. Candidates should be allowed to post their propaganda with a big “ADVERTICEMENT” written as a water mark.
    If there is Law and order properly established, Media can be sued until bankruptcy and offenders can be prosecuted for malicious propaganda but need not be censored.
    I completely disagree with the two commentators, who follow the cult Namami Maha Raj

  7. Arcadius Says:

    Raj should desist shooting from the hip to make wild allegations against the author of the book.

    How can he prove that professor Gunaratne is “one of those communication guys who attacked the former president left right and centre from abroad.” I know of no such writing by Gunaratne, who is now engaged in promoting the practice of mindful journalism befitting the teachings of Buddha.

    Gunaratne, who was born in the Southern Province, has not written a single column attacking the contribution of the Rajapakse regime for the development of the country. All the hoopla that the Patriot is now projecting in articles published in the post-election issues of the Lankaweb was relentlessly spewed out trhough the publicly owned Lake House, SLBC and Rupavahini. Yet the good citizens of Sri Lanka rejected the Rajapakse regime’s pretense to be the savior of Buddhism as a ruse to hold on to power for another generation.

    Only the diehard loyalists of the Rajapakses could not see the corruption and greed for power that had become all too evident during the last couple of years. These crybabies should understand the paramasatta encapsulated in the Four Noble Tuths–that existence is dukkha, anatta and anicca. Change is inevitable when circumstances become unbearable.

    Don’t blame professor Gunaratne for telling the truth as he sees it. Wijeyesinghe and Raj can rest asssured that Gunaratne is not likely to accept a chairmanship or any other perk for his writing.

  8. anurab Says:

    This professor is clueless about the current state of affairs as far as media in Sri Lanka is concerned.
    As of today, what kind of media freedom do we have in Sri Lanka ?Today there is no place for opposition opinion or for any news that is not favorable to “yahapalanaya” in State or private TV stations.
    At least, during MR’s government private TV stations had a free hand to criticize and to give a different point of view against the government.
    Newspaper editors have been coerced to stop publishing columns that are critical of the current regime. Weekly Defense Column by Keerthi Warnakulasuriya in the Divaina is one of the cases in point.
    In reality, what we see today in Sri Lanka is more akin to Goebbelsian kind of propaganda not only in media under state control, but also in privately owned media as well.

  9. Nanda Says:

    anrab,
    Just the opposite of what you say is the truth. What happened after the election was those websites running from overseas because of fear of getting killed by the Goebbel Rajapaksa have nothing much to publish, the carry on with anti Goebbelsian programs, but they are still critical of certain malpractices by the new government

  10. Lorenzo Says:

    AGREE with Shelton/Arcadius.

    At least now we need MEDIA FREEDOM. Why fear it?

    Our soldiers died for a free country. Let us have it.

    But I also AGREE there is LESSER media freedom today than during MR’s time. Now ALL the media praise the govt. and bash the Rajapakshas. That is NOT media freedom.

    Media freedom belongs to the PEOPLE, not to journalists or media outlets. Just give it to them.

  11. Independent Says:

    Good and well written article. Thank you professor.

    As usual this Raj is attacking whoever against his previous master.

  12. nilwala Says:

    BUDDHIST Communication would involve above all, Right Understanding, Right Action and Right Speech.
    Unfortunately, there is not much of that around when it comes to Politics where anything goes when it comes to winning an election.

  13. Raj Says:

    Yes I have a moral obligation to protect my ‘former master’ because he saved the country. Country doesn’t mean anything to kalusuddos, living in luxury in foreign lands. I am not shy to tell what I feel. My ‘former master’ has done million times good work in MY country than any of the previous janadhipathis.

  14. callistus Says:

    This author knows advertising (himself). Also like some others here may have been ‘one of those communication guys’ under a pseudonym or even running a whole blog like infolanka. Any how he is clueless about media freedom then and now. Ungrateful people. Minisunta (samahara) amathakai.

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