(In July this year, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had warned private media institutions who are critical of his government)
by Easwaran Rutnam @easwaranrutnam.
It came as a bit of a surprise last Friday when State Minister of Defence Ruwan Wijewardene accused a private newspaper of misreporting the facts over a document he tabled in parliament.
His accusation then led to more ministers rising from their seats saying even their image had been tarnished as a result of the contents of the report as reported by the media.
The media however defended what they had reported, and its stakeholders went and met Speaker Karu Jayasuriya after the matter was raised. Some journalists who met the Speaker told The Sunday Leader that they insisted what was reported was exactly what was said in the document. After going through the original document, Jayasuriya has also conceded that what the media reported was what the document said.
He told the journalists that a mistake made by officials of the Ministry was the cause of the whole issue and the media could not be blamed.
The Speaker also assured that the issue over the media reporting was not recoded as a privilege issue in parliament.
The journalists also spoke to Media Minister Gayantha Karunatillake, who said that the error by the Defence Ministry officials will be raised with the government.
The whole issue was over the use of Air Force helicopters by ministers.
The opposition had asked the government to make statement in parliament on the use of Air Force helicopters by ministers and if the trips were paid for.
State Minister of Defence Ruwan Wijewardene tabled his response on Thursday and the media obtained a copy of the response and reported on it the next day.
Media lambasted for Ministry error
The news item published by some of the English and Sinhalese newspapers however came as a shock.
It said that several ministers had not paid for the use of the Air Force helicopters and some of the ministers were also named.
During parliament proceedings on Friday when Wijewardene raised the issue, some ministers, including Rajitha Senaratne, Gayantha Karunatillake, and Wijeydasa Rajapaksha said that they had been wrongly accused of not paying for the use of Air Force helicopters.
Senaratne said that it seemed someone had given the wrong information to the media as it was not a mistake made by just one newspaper.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who also spoke here, said that the media should be advised on how to report parliamentary proceedings.
Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake however said it was unfair to blame the media for reporting what was in a document tabled in parliament.
Media vs Good Governance
This is not the first time the media has come under a verbal attack by the government, which came into to power assuring full media freedom.
In July this year, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had warned private media institutions who are critical of his government.
The Prime Minister said that he was not prepared to leave room for the media to attempt to overthrow the government.
“Do not try to play with us,” the Prime Minister warned while speaking at a public event in Kandy in July.
He said that one newspaper had called for the removal of Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera while another had attempted to destabilise the economy of the country.
The Prime Minister had said that the government will remain in power for five years and the newspapers which question the government can also remain only if the public want them to.
“Newspapers can be critical of a government but if they try to remove that government and replace it with crooks, that cannot happen,” he said.
Wickremesinghe had said that he will not allow any media to push former President Mahinda Rajapaksa to return to power.
Then in September President Maithripala Sirisena told media heads that the media should not mock or ridicule a noble concept like reconciliation as that would give a wrong interpretation about a positive concept to the younger generation.
“There is media freedom today and it is up to you to crticise anybody. However, the media should not ridicule noble concepts like reconciliation by stating that reconciliation is an international conspiracy to divide the country. Such misinterpretations will give a wrong twist to the real meaning of reconciliation and mislead the younger generation,” he said while addressing Media Heads and Newspaper Editors at the President’s House last month.
– Edited version from the Sunday Leader