An Independent media sounds sooooo good

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I love the aftermath of elections in our country. It is all about upholding our rights and dignity. Those lovable leaders we elect just can’t seem to wait till they can give us all these goodies.

The just concluded presidential election was a little more entertaining than usual because of the entire cross over drama and the drama kings and queens involved in the process. There was something in it for everyone.

One of the promises by the winning candidate was that he will ensure the independence and the freedom of the media and there was also a bit of a murmur about investigating the killings and disappearances of journalists during the Rajapaksa rule. Good to hear. The only thing is that we have heard similar promises before and after elections and then its business as usual. And just in case someone in Sri Lanka is not aware, since independence in 1948 all of Sri Lanka’s governments have been formed by either the United National Party (UNP) or the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP); on their own or as a coalition with other smaller parties. So, by extension any curtailment of media independence has been done by one of these parties.

Coincidentally, the new cabinet of President Sirisena is mainly made up of (you guessed it); members of the UNP and the SLFP. That’s right; the same tow parties who have done all the killings, intimidation and the involuntary exiling of journalists since 1948. While the Rajapakse regime may have been the most obnoxious in terms of suppression of the media and committing violent acts against the media, the 1980’s were also quite harrowing for media personnel. President Ranasinghe Premadasa was not a great fan of the non-President Premadasa adoring media. Many non-President loving journalists lost their lives, livelihoods and were hounded out of the country during both these presidencies.

The killings and the intimidation were swept under the carpet and the murderers and the intimidators lived happily ever after. Some might even have had their careers enhanced by their deeds.  That sadly is where we are at this present moment in time.

But hope springs eternal, especially if you have lost a loved one or had to make a hasty retreat out of your own country to save your life. A new President elected mainly on the promise of stopping the abuse and bringing about a just and fair society naturally brings fresh hope. 

Unfortunately, hope can be fleeting; a mirage in an uncaring environment. That is the down side. There is an upside to this whole sorry mess as well, but it will require some intestinal fortitude and solidarity from the brotherhood of journalists.  Positive change can be brought about by a few simple acts
Let’s start by asking our government, no let’s tell  our government that we don’t need a Minister to handle us. Let’s tell them we are not going to recognize the legitimacy of such a ministry because the government’s track record on media freedom is abysmal and to expect the media to believe that the government will guarantee them the freedom to act freely regardless of political affiliation or beliefs is imbecilic. Let’s also tell the government that if they are serious about ensuring the freedom of the press, state owned media institutions must be relinquished to the private sector or handed over to independent entities as suggested by Uvindu Kurukulasuriya of the Colombo Telegraph.

We must also stop being so deferential to public servants like the President, the Cabinet and members of Parliament. These folks are OUR servants and not the other way around.

I say we call the President, Mr. President. No more HE stuff.

Ministers will be addressed as Mr. Minister and MP’s will be MP so and so. How many of these guys can even spell honorable, let alone act honorable?
Regardless of financial hardships, if we are to be truly independent we must shun any and all state patronage of the media. We need to make it clear that we will not accept any government handouts. 

Also, let’s start supporting each other regardless of political ideology and stop seeking the approval of foreign media organizations. We cannot be independent if we have to appeal to foreigners every time there is a crisis at home.

Let them enjoy their organic, Rain Forest saving, fair trade chocolate lattes in those chic cafés in Oslo, New York, London, Paris and Toronto. I am sure they earned it by covering the suffering of the proletariat in places like the Vanni.

They need us to justify their existence; we want to make a difference.
Here’s to the full Monty.

BY Sudat Pasqual

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