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Thursday, May 23, 2024

The state of State media

THE media is a beleaguered industry in Sri Lanka, but freedom of expression is perhaps more strangled in State-owned institutions. Therefore, it was refreshing to hear MP Namal Rajapaksa asking the State media to be more impartial in their reporting and not concentrate so much on his family.

Yet, having said that, one is forced to point out that since his family holds most of the main portfolios of the Government and are responsible for many of the developments that take place, few media would be able to ignore the impact being made by them. Moreover, the structure of State and private media has been schooled to concentrate so much on politics and politicians that the idea of public journalism has become a dying art.

 Old habits die hard and the cornering by successive governments to use media for their benefit, whether they are ruling or in the opposition, has left Sri Lanka’s media industry bereft of true independence and freedom. Long association with political parties has brainwashed journalists and media heads alike to promote the Government and the First Family as they are directly or indirectly encouraged to do so.

Most of the State media outlets as well as those controlled by the hangers-on of the Government in technically speaking private media have ensured that the long tradition of blindly promoting those in power continues. There is little concentration on investigative reporting or true public service journalism that delves deeper into issues and uncovers the negative aspects for the sake of the people.

 It is also no secret that the top posts of these institutions go to the politically aligned and therefore continue to use resources to curry favour with the establishment. The usage of free airtime by politicians during the 2010 elections cost Rupavahini Rs. 42 million, according to the Committee on Public Enterprise (COPE) report presented to Parliament earlier this month, but no attempt has been made to collect this money. This is just one example of the gross wastage and mismanagement that goes on within these institutions.

 Parliament was told on Tuesday that State media had made record incomes, but there is little clear information given about the individual amounts and their loan responsibilities. It is essential that appointments to these companies are made without political interference and allowed to work at least impartially without engaging in selective reporting and mudslinging.

Strict regulations by the Government, such as the latest demand for websites to register, also mar the freedom of media and create a disturbing element of control.

It is true that professionalism should be encouraged in media. But for that to happen, the right environment to empower and facilitate good journalism or broadcasting must exist. Having opportunities to obtain recognised professional qualifications, an accepted and transparent salary structure, good working conditions and better resources, laws enabling transparency and right to information, better recognition and legal safeguards and independent and swift investigations into threats, attacks and disappearances are a few of the aspects that are needed to genuinely develop media in this country.

As a service that, technically speaking, provides a public service, being open to public censure is a possibility. However, before media is judged, it is essential to evaluate in as comprehensive and impartial a manner why it has evolved to its present state. Otherwise statements will remain empty words.


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