By Malinda Seneviratne –
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe ruffled some media feathers the other day when he said that journalists were up for purchase. He was careful enough to add, ‘like politicians,’ the humility of the latte compensating for the brashness of the former. If humility begets humility then yes, we need to acknowledge that whether or not journalists choose to be bought they certainly are up for sale.
It happens in many ways. Journalists have ideological preferences. They have favorites. Even if they do their utmost to be neutral and fair, the subconscious can produce slant, slight or heavy. Then there’s also a tendency to ‘go easy’ on friends, especially entities that bring in advertising revenue. There is that kind of ‘look askance’ certainly. Media houses and editors deal with these things to the best of their ability but they can slip and there are no foolproof screens.
What Ranil refers to is more serious. We all know that there are things called ‘plugs’ and that there’s payment in cash or kind. There’s also mutual back-scratching. People ‘help one another’.
Ok. So the problem has been identified. What’s the solution? Ranil Wickremesinghe can go with ‘charity begins at home’. We could too. The difference is that Wickremesinghe is better positioned to bring in rules and regulations, back these with enforcing mechanisms. His playground is the entire country, ours is our relatively tiny media outfits.
The notion of ‘purchase’ here clearly implies corruption. It is a widespread disease, but it is not impossible to combat. This is why there are laws, law enforcement mechanisms etc. In the case of politicians purchase involves money. Money can be traced. The Prime Minister must have heard about asset declaration, disclosure and audits. Not all those who stand for election declare assets. Very few, if at all, declare assets when their terms end. Simple rules can be enacted. Simple and affordable mechanisms can be put in place to ensure compliance.
Let’s begin Mr Prime Minister!