Posted on May 23rd, 2016

By Dr. Tilak S. Fernando

Media, press freedom and journalists have become a pet topic currently in Sri Lanka. Of late various accusations have been levelled against newspapers and newspaper owners with particular emphasis on certain journalists and ‘rechristening’ them with indecorous names. In normal life the majority of humans tend to encourage what is sound in man and discourage, often by criticizing what is base.

To point out failings of a person or a regime is not always helpful or necessary but many accept it as readily granted and accepted. To pronounce a diagnosis to a patient is not the same thing as curing him, yet if certain investigative tests are satisfied then criticism becomes helpful and necessary. A journalist’s task is considered as not to warn the rulers about their mistakes but to help in the raising of a just society. By the same token, voluntary silence in the face of oppression would be spiritual suicide.


History repeats itself’ means that the same kind of events happen over and over again. There are many ways and means to express the past history. French historian Fernand Braudel interpreted a war situation in the form of an autocratic form of society taking Hitler and Stalin as two rulers, who made use of the media to create and remain in power.

Walter Ong, in 710 BC, invented the Greek alphabet. A written form acts as a certification of what a writer puts his ideas to an exact retention where his manuscript converts into something critical and answerable.

In journalism permanent rules of law develop where an author surfaces as an exclusive person distinct from the public, e.g. when a writer quotes as ‘Mr. X said or Mrs Y told me’, then the derivation generates originality.


 McLuhan invented the printing press, which enabled a written format to duplicate accurately without any alternation. In the Middle Ages what the religious dignitaries wrote were translated into printing format producing the literal identity of the original text exactly.

Walter Ong promoted a process how to eliminate inaccuracies and discrepancies within a written format, by scanning and revising a text. Seemingly what is called a dictionary was invented for the correct usage of language.

With such progress, blue-collar workers who were trained to read the Bible and industrial machinery manuals initially began to cause a political split between the working classes and manufacturers of the Industrial Revolution. This became the turning point of establishment of political parties and democratic governments.

Printing technology

 Subsequently, Marshall McLuhan came up with another declaration on the impact of printing technology, which altered the very structure of human consciousness and thought. He exposed the physical relationship between the reader’s eyes and the text to define a ‘linear mode of thinking’. ‘Just as eyes move across the page, line after line, in a rigorous way, one idea rationally connected to the next in similarly meticulous fashion. With the European colonization part of the world printing industry expanded mainly to spread their culture, politics and their religions across the globe.

Electronic media

 If the print medium changed the public oral culture initially, then the effects of the electronic media reinforced a sense of uniqueness and privacy creating what is called the ‘Global Village.’

Thanks to the electronic media, the vast majority of the world population is able to participate for the first time in history of mankind in a variety of films out of umpteen number of TV channels, popular cultural, religious and reality shows, sports such as cricket, soccer, rugby, athletics, heavy weight wresting and boxing and athletics.

However, there are two schools of thought on the advantages and disadvantages of the electronic media. One-section argues whether the electronic media requires literacy or has it introduced a new form of literacy to a society, while the others seem to think it creates an illiterate populace! However, as Walter Benjamin argued in the first half of the twentieth century, ‘The incorporation of the masses into the cultural arena is a revolution’ and the effects of this are to be understood.

Some contemporary experts throughout the world have come up with the notion that the electronic media are transforming basic modes of awareness and thinking where as the oral cultures are largely auditory, and the print cultures are largely visual.


Although there was a possibility of transmitting messages across time, yet it became severely restricted across-space. A head of a State for example was able to transmit a communiqué to a far out destination, ensuring its accuracy, but had to rely only on the physical despatch. However, with the advent of electronic processes of communication, instantaneous despatches around the globe became a reality, thus expanding a new form of an interaction empire across space.

Today electronic media have become personalized among individuals in the society with mobile phones, IPhones, Internet, Emails, Facebook, eBooks, Twitter, LinkedIn, Face Time, Vibor, Skype, and Youtube. It helps people not go to crowded theatres or confine to their living rooms to watch movies or television programmes but an electronic process of miniaturisation allows them to carry music (IPods) and TV networks in the palms of their hands!

What is more, the electronic media have developed a two prong direction simultaneously by creating larger audiences for specific messages out of highly selective audience segments catering for particular tastes from philosophical literature to home shopping networks connected to thousands of bulletin boards and user groups in cyberspace of the internet.

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