By Tirantha Walaliyadda PC
Governments that fear the free media are governments on the defensive and as such are vulnerable.
It is the media that keeps the public informed of current affairs and the public are entitled to be so informed. Stifling of the media gets the government nowhere except into serious trouble nationally as well as globally.
Raiding presses and taking computers with confidential information probably including sources of information into police custody is not in accordance with the democratic process.
Raiding presses and taking press computers with confidential information probably including sources of information into police custody is not in accordance with the democratic process which guarantees freedom of expression and speech.
When the press is silenced the nation becomes silent and such a one is a dangerous nation. It waits, it endures, and then it strikes. A nation needs to be governed and not indentured. When the freedom of a nation is threatened it coils like the cobra.
The freedom of expression of a people should be enhanced and not curtailed by governments. Conversely, the press must also realize that it does not have the freedom of the wild ass and bear responsibility for its disclosures.
Maybe it is time that the law of criminal defamation was brought back into play – which was short sightedly removed and abolished some time ago. Raiding presses and grabbing their personal computers is not the answer. It merely aggravates a volatile situations.
As a matter of comment and not criticism, a search warrant is an invasion into the privacy of the individual and should be issued with caution and circumspection and not as a matter of course on the application of the law enforcement authorities who may be motivated by external factors other than the law. If a false or defamatory article is published the persons responsible may be prosecuted according to law – if there is a law – in terms of the material contained in the article.
It does not entitle law enforcement to the sources of information which if allowed will amount to the murder of the press and the final annihilation of the freedom of expression and speech which are guaranteed by the Constitution and in the fundamental principles of the democratic system.
A nation governed by the forces sanctioned by the Executive comes to a standstill.
As I have said before, an absolute majority in Parliament does not spell a strong government but a weak Opposition.
An Opposition must get its act together and settle internal conflicts and start thinking about the country and its future instead of their own personal agendas while a government forges ahead trampling the people and making a mess of things.
These are people who are elected by the people to serve them and bring a balance to the system. An elected Opposition owes a duty to the people and to the nation to protect and safeguard the interests of the people and the nation instead of squabbling amongst themselves.
It is akin to the rage of Caliban seeing his tortured and distorted face in the mirror as in Shakespeare’s Tempest set out admirably by Oscar Wilde in the introduction to The Picture of Dorian Grey.
A free falling and audacious government is the most dangerous of all.
A free press depends on the reliability of its sources of information. It has no investigative police powers to find proof of the information unless it comes by way of informants. It can only verify the information through another source and once verified the news is published.
If the news is incorrect the right of reply need not necessarily be posted on the same website that published the article but in any of the national newspapers and the electronic media. Furthermore, in an environment where free thinking journalists are murdered, abducted, and threatened, one wonders whether any such free thinking journalist would register his identity.
In the wake of such a situation a demand for registration of identity appears to be a clamp down on the free press and a denial of information to the public which is entitled to information in the democratic process.
The truth or falsity of the information may be tested judicially in a civil court in the absence of the law relating to criminal defamation. But by the time the judicial process is over the character of the complainant is often tarnished beyond repair.
As such the press must also be careful about what they publish. At the same time, intimidation of the press by powers that be is not the answer to the question: the answer is the law in its purity. Judicial independence is the governing factor in these circumstances to balance the issues and bring stability to the democratic system.
If the Judiciary becomes subservient to the Executive the system will slide into anarchy in due course.
Shutting down the free press by threats of murder and abduction to journalists is an indication of an insecure government and is akin to the proverbial cat that did something on a rock and couldn’t cover it up.
The free press is the arterial blood of a democracy provided it acts with responsibility.
But governments that attempt to overawe the free press with coercion and violence have only themselves to blame if clandestine websites erupt all over the internet hurling allegations and accusations and slanders creating pandemonium internally as well as internationally, bringing disgrace and disrepute to the government and the nation.
Facing an interview with an experienced journalist on controversial matters is a work of art: once the paint is on the canvas and goes public it cannot be erased. In these interviews diplomacy is of the essence.
The more the power the more should be the diplomacy: one must indulge in one’s power without fornicating it by acts of indiscretion or malignance.
Power is an illusion. There have been brilliant politicians in the past who have excelled in the art of parrying, dodging, and fielding probing questions of a volatile nature without insulting the questioner and saying nothing about the issue. That is the art of politics. Then again –
Though on the sign it is written
Do not pluck these flowers,
It is useless against the wind,
Which cannot read.
– Chinese Proverb