By Chandra Jayaratne –
Business Leaders, it is essential that you urgently review, the recently circulated “Code of Media Ethics” of the Ministry of Mass Media and Information. This review must be undertaken discarding a shortsighted perspective. It is sincerely urged that you enter the public debate of the draft ‘Code’ with open eyes, without fear or prejudice, but with the past history etched clearly in memory and articulate the ‘voice of business’ clearly and loudly in effective advocacy.
Your review should address the under noted questions;
Should codes of ethics and conduct applying to the private sector businesses, professionals and individual citizens, be promulgated by the Government? Or should it be left for the respective business chambers/associations, professions and associations of individuals, to adopt on their own volition?
If so promulgated by government, what form and standing in law and regulatory framework should these codes be empowered with? Or should it be left for voluntary adoption and enforcement by the business chambers/associations, professions and associations of individuals?
What mechanisms of enforcement of the code are anticipated and by whom, appointed by whom and with what qualifications and what arbitrative and legislative entitlements of challenge?
Should the government first bench mark and evaluate the due compliance with the proposed code by all state media institutions and state employed media personnel before even developing the code as a public discussion draft?
If all Electronic and Print Media institutions, including Websites and Journalists are to be bound by this code will it require their prior registration? And if so what other controls, restrictive practices and pressure tactics could emerge as a consequence?
How widely and who will interpret the meaning of “ by improper pressure or by narrow self interest which are against the bare norms of media freedom”
How and who will interpret and enforce the code in relation to the following restrictions envisaged under clause 1 and what appeal provisions are there to protect the institutions and persons covered;
* Sub Clause (b) – Contains criticism affecting foreign relations
* Sub clause (d) – obscene, defamatory, deliberate falsehood and suggestive innuendos and half truths
* Sub clause (e) – information which could mislead the public
* Sub clause (h) – contains material against the integrity of the Executive, Judiciary and Legislative
* Sub clause (i) – criticizes, maligns, or slander any individual or groups of persons ….
* Sub clause (j) – …… unless it has direct relevance to the public interest
Should the Media code incorporate an Advertising code, when its application restricted to cover media institutions, editors and journalists only and does not include business houses, advertisers, advertising and PR agencies marketing professionals? Should this not be left to the specific stakeholders of advertising, distribution and marketing?
The key sectors of business, advertising, distribution and marketing relating to banking and financial services and other services are not covered by the code in any event?
How will the code effectively and equitably deal with instances, where the publications classified as restricted and provisions as stated are violated by the Executive itself or by state institutions under their control and direction?
The Chamber and Business Association review of the ‘Code’ as circulated must be made in the back drop of
The track record of governance, transparency, integrity, opaqueness of systems, processes and empowered personnel, effectiveness and fair enforcement of the rule of law and justice systems as observed over the last 10 years
The code as now published lacks details of the framework for compliance assurance, implementation and penal provisions for violation ,if such follow up processes are envisaged and any decision made on the code without these critical issues being subjected to open transparent and intellectual debate will be an futile exercise against all acceptable democratic norms of governance?
Key government ministers and representatives, including powerful politicians with overall monitoring powers
Classifying Heads media organizations as ‘underworld thugs’
Calling for the re-introduction of the draconian Criminal Defamation Law and the enforcement of Press Council and associated Press Control mechanisms, a sword of Damocles in the hands of an unjust and revengeful Executive
Waving couple of decade old media licenses and stressing that it is of a very temporary nature and available to be terminated at any time at will.
The unchecked thuggery and pressure on media institutions by powerful goons, who effectively escape the eye view of the law enforcement authorities
Purported direct and proxy take take-over and attempted take over of private media institutions
Pressure and control mechanisms directly and indirectly applied in the control of media institutions and make them subject to self censorship
The physical and other attacks on journalists and media personnel resulting in their death, missing or leaving the country
The absence of the Right to Information legislation denying the public of essential information for good governance. Should not the priority be for the enactment of an effective and enforceable right to information law
It will be most appropriate, if the Business Leaders appoint an independent Committee comprising of Eminent Persons, who acting as a “Peoples Commission” should evaluate and bench mark the performance and compliance of selected State Media Institutions;
Independent Television Network ( ITN) News and Political, News Analysis, Interviews and feature programmes
Daily News especially front pages, Headlines, Editorials and Features linked to Political, Policy and News Analysis programmes
Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation new segment ‘Peoples Power’ Programme presented by the Editor in Chief of the Daily News
In relation to the circulated Media Code and present the findings publicly for intellectual debate.
The future of business, international relations, freedom, equity, equality, rule of law, social justice and democracy itself may depend on the steps you take now in regard to protecting the interests of the forth estate now.
In conclusion kindly recollect the following four famous quotes;
“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” ― George Orwell
“If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” ― George Washington
“To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.” ― Theodore Roosevelt
“Dissent is the highest form of patriotism. [Misattributed]” ― Thomas Jefferson