MEDIA FREEDOM IN SRI LANKA
Posted on February 10th, 2019

BY EDWARD THEOPHILUS

Media freedom considers as a significant attribute in a democratic society which respects the human rights including the right to express independent views on various matters and protecting people who expresses independent perspectives, from litigating and punishing at the court.  Before political independence, although there were news papers in Sri Lanka, no real freedom was enjoyed by people as the colonial rule did not recognise the freedom of expression. News media was in the country at that time, but they behaved like tamed wild animals and it also appeared that owners of the media were acting like agents of the colonial government.

After the independence, the ownership of media was with rich people, who attempted to protect own political philosophy and practice.  Late in 1960s, media ownership attempted to control the freedom of expression and indirectly influence the elections and change the governments in the name of media freedom and some governments attempted to control media using various strategies.  The concept of media freedom has been a dominating issue in the country. Democratic activists or NGO agents while demanding the freedom of express directed journalists to go out of the limit with a view to succussing a hidden agenda.  One example I can point out is in 1990s, many newspapers commenced publishing business supplements with a view to attracting the business community and certain journalists attempted to irresponsibly criticise the economy and the stock market, which were openly growing in the market economic system. Free journalists did not understand that they harmed to the country and the purpose of them was to write something to make money.

Under the media freedom in Western countries, journalists would not irresponsibly criticise or make negative comments on the stock market or the economy as they consider that the economy and the stock market is the heart of the countries. This responsibility hasn’t reflected with journalists in Sri Lanka, who used media freedom in Sri Lankan term a freedom of wild ass.  The most significant issue of the wild ass behaviour of journalists was that they attempted to mislead people publishing bogus information in media.  People of Sri Lanka is highly sensitive to published information in media as such published information quickly convert to gossips among ordinary people and many foreign agencies working in Sri Lanka clearly know about this situation and use this background to spread views of them with a view to misleading people.  Therefore, during the elections in 2015, the use of media freedom accelerated to make fabrications against the Rajapaksa regime and many people determined to vote against the Rajapaksa regime believing that what were published in media was truth and what were manipulated gossips in the society were truth.  However, during the past four years, accusers against the Rajapaksa regime have failed to prove their cases and gossips at the court of law and people have now feeling that media freedom in the country is a gimmick or opening the way media people to insult other or to fabricate lie.

What is the meaning of media freedom? Is fabricating bogus information to make money misleading people a media freedom?  Sri Lanka needs to allow for media freedom, but it is not for fabricating news for public with an intention to make money disregarding the rights of others.  Many journalists in Sri Lanka talk about investigative journalism and they are happy introduce themselves as investigative journalists.  The practical experience is they don’t investigate whether the information they publish is true or fabricated. The best recent example is that many information published about the arrest of Makadure Madush were not true and most of they were mere fabrications.  I found that not a single journalist read the news report of Khalij Times and published bogus information.

Many NGO people talk about right to access information from the government.  As the government is represented by people, it has right to secretly keep various type of information for the interest of people.  Many journalists wrongfully consider that they can access to any information disregarding the government right to protect such information.  Academics of Sri Lanka have an idea that the country needs re-educate media people and develop right policies to protect the democratic rights of people considering the accountability of media people. Many civil society activists don’t openly talk about the accountability part of media.

There is an intense competition between media organizations especially the competition among TV channels, which need to attract more viewers to obtain advertisements. The commercial purposes of media organization would not warrant to publish fabricated lies to the community and make profit out of such lies misleading people.  In this environment Sri Lanka needs reconsidering media freedom and develop policies that will support to litigate media firms.

The use of social media in Sri Lanka has become a serious sickness to insult others and there is no responsibility of users. Many use Sinhala language for posting ideas and views and the language used by many are wild language that should not be used in public. As a result of irresponsible behaviour of the users of social media, which has become a highly untrusted media.  It is really going against the expectation of inventors of social media.

How can change this situation?

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