Fourth Estate And Real Estate, Editorial, The Island.
Santa won’t have to carry presents for journalists next December. He can bring a smaller sack when he is on the Sri Lanka leg of his world tour this year. The yahapalana government has already started showering goodies on the media personnel. It has apparently taken a leaf out of its predecessor’s book. Arrangements are also being made to launch a mega housing scheme for journalists, we are told. They are also being given special loans and motorcycles at subsidised prices.
Politicians in power do a Santa to please journalists at the expense of taxpayers when elections are round the corner. A few years ago the then Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe took a swipe at the journalists who had received laptop computers from President Mahinda Rajapaksa. He was under attack and his consternation was understandable. “They are now sitting on Rajapaksa’s lap and attacking my top,” he said. Most of those who got free computers have switched their allegiance to the new government and, today, former President Rajapaksa is getting hit on his balding top! It is said that in politics there are neither permanent friends nor permanent enemies. The same goes for the media as well.
Housing and transport are basic human needs and state interventions to make them available at affordable prices need to be appreciated. In fact, governments are duty bound to do so. But, the question is why journalists are being given special treatment. Are they more equal than other citizens? If politicians get their act together and do their damnedest to develop the country most of the problems the public is faced with today due to pecuniary difficulties will cease to be and all Sri Lankans including journalists will benefit. This is what needs to be done.
Journalists, no doubt, have their problems which need to be solved. Nothing explains their woes better than this Fleet Street yarn. Puzzled by a complaint from a patient that his bowels hadn’t moved for days a London-based doctor, so goes the story, asked him what he did for a living. On being told that he was a scribe the good doc nodded commiseratively, took out a few quid and gave them to him, saying he had to eat something for his digestive system to work. This is true of most Sri Lankan workers who scrape a living including many journalists.
Successive governments have employed the so-called carrot and stick method to control the media. They do not resort to coercion or violence as the first resort. They dispense largesse to media personnel first in a bid to win them over. This practice of pampering the media is fraught with the danger of creating a situation where, as Graham Greene has said, journalists write fiction and novelists the truth.
Meanwhile, the Right to Information Act is also being flaunted as a gift for the media. Such constitutional safeguards are certainly welcome and the RIA is a progressive move. Let the government be given the credit for that. However, what journalists need most is the freedom to publish the information they obtain.
One may argue that it is no use pontificating on ethics to anyone, be it a journalist or any other person, who is desperately looking for a roof over his or her head or struggling to repay his or her loans. True, survival takes precedence over lofty ideals for most humans. But, let the media personnel be urged to beware of politicians carrying gifts. There is nothing called a free lunch, as they say.