Journalism a Stewardship

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2017-12-07

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" -Voltaire Freedom of expression is one of the pillars of democracy and media freedom is vital to defend this right.

But this freedom was trampled during the previous regimes of Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and Mahinda Rajapaksa, reaching a crescendo in particular, during the latter's regime.

Media institutions were attacked and burnt, journalists threatened, assaulted and killed and to muzzle press freedom, media institutions were bought through proxies of Rajapaksa's.

Sri Lanka truly hit the bottom with regard to press freedom and we competed to become the most dangerous place for journalists with countries such as those in sub-Saharan Africa and some Latin American States.

However, the 8 January, 2015 Presidential Election which saw the end of Rajapaksa's near 10-year-old dictatorial rule, changed it all.

The democratic freedom which the masses had lost for a near 10 years was once more restored.

The press, the champion of people's rights, got a second lease of life.

The net result was the 'Yahapalana' Government's Premier and UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, in a short span of under three years in power, having been brought to dock in respect of a Treasury (T) Bonds scandal. One of those investigated, his former Central Bank Governor Arjuna Mahendran had to step down over this scandal and one of Wickremesinghe's MP's, Ravi Karunanayake, was stripped of all of his Cabinet portfolios, firstly 'Finance' and lastly 'Foreign,' also over the same issue.

The T-Bond scandal was first highlighted by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna before the press took it over, resulting in a Presidential Commission being appointed and which culminated its sittings by questioning Wickremesinghe last month.

This is in contrast to what a bigwig of the Rajapaksa regime did at the height of Rajapaksa's power, who was summoned to Court over an alleged defence stores procurement scandal which had been highlighted by a particular media organization, then.

This bigwig, who now apparently has political aspirations, had the audacity to tell Court then, that he's wasting his time in Court.A lesser man, if he had uttered those same words in Court would have been jailed for Contempt of Court. But not this man, after allegedly making this statement before the judge in Court, was allowed to go scot free!

Further, a Chief Justice (CJ), appointed by Rajapaksa was subsequently removed for allegedly not toeing the Rajapaksa line. On the other hand, a Court presided over by the CJ appointed by the present regime, twice overturned the Yahapalana regime's request for a VAT hike due to procedural anomalies last year. This CJ was not removed by either President Maithripala Sirisena or Wickremesinghe, but went on to serve his full term before retiring.

The current Yahapalana Government and its agents have also been at the receiving end of the law not necessarily due to media expose, but due to the law now being allowed to take its course, which, allegedly was not the case hardly three years ago.

Take for instance the case of Deputy Internal Affairs Minister and UNP MP Palitha Thavarapperuma who was remanded last year for unlawful assembly by the Matugama Magistrate?

It's in this context that Wickremesinghe's outburst against the media on Monday has to be looked at. He accused the media of being silent over the media attacks that took place during the Rajapaksa regime and asked two questions from the media?

They were, is this 'silence' due to the fact that journalists/media institutions were in the pay of the Rajapaksas? And/or, whether this was because they wanted the Rajapaksas back?

In the context of Wickremesinghe's first accusation it may be good if journalists declare their assets to clear the air. In the case of his second accusation, if that be so, that, in any case is a democratic right and Wickremesinghe has no right to tell journalists or for that matter any other person, who should or should not be in power?

After all the masses get the Governments they deserve?

But the overarching theme of Wickremesinghe's message was that journalists like Caesar's wife should be above board and should not sacrifice their 'birthright' for a mess of pottage. In that point, the Premier is spot on, because Journalism is a stewardship.

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