28 January, 2021

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Ethics Is A Traditional Homeland Without Claimants

By Malinda Seneviratne

Malinda Seneviratne

The self-immolation of Ven Bowatte Indraratnana Thero raised many questions.  Whatever the late Thero’s intentions may have been, it is unlikely that ‘media ethics’ or lack thereof was something that prompted the horrifying act.  That, however, is what we are left with.

The action or rather inaction of those who may have been able to prevent the tragedy, especially the journalist who was ‘in the know’ has spurred much debate on what really constitutes ‘responsibility’ for people in the media industry.

At panel discussion on the subject organized by the Sri Lanka Press Institute, a young journalist Tharaka Basnayake, had asked the following question: ‘How does citizen journalism fits into codes of ethics since almost all the mainstream media outlets encourage citizens to capture whatever they desire and with regard to Indrarathana Thero’s self-immolation, most of the ordinary citizens were busy capturing the action with their mobile phones (against their conscience)?’

The question is simple: ‘Is the journalist’s duty to capture spectacle or whatever is newsworthy as per the dictates of professionalism or react humanely to a situation where choice of action/inaction can make a different between life and death?’  Put another way, ‘Can there ever be guidelines to inform a professional when to drop professional garb and when to put on larger humane clothing?’

It is something we can talk about forever.

The Government has found it fit, under these circumstances, to come up with ‘ethical guidelines’ for journalists.  The Government has been fittingly lampooned in the press for the presumptuousness of the exercise, given the fact that politicians and state media personal have hardly covered themselves in glory on account of ethical behavior.

The humor, however, should not stop with the Government or the State Media or even journalists in general.  ‘Ethics’ is a rare commodity, so rare that rather than rarity resulting in high value it has reverted to the other extreme in valuation: nothing.   Ethics is talked about.  It is scripted into professional oaths.  It is tossed into advertising copy.  It is almost as though the word would make palatable any excrement as such is dished out by the corporate world or by professional entities.  All it takes is to say, ‘we are ethical’.  But are we?

This is the age of the spectacle.  This is the era of instant gratification. By omission or commission this world has either embraced or resolved to submit to Mr. Spectacle.  All that glitters may not be gold, but glitter fetches a better price than ethics in the market, let us acknowledge.  Even crap that is glitter-clothed or worse, glitter-labeled, let us add!

Is he who demands honor, himself honorable?  Is she who demands ethical behavior herself ethical in her behavior?  Who are the saints here?  The truth is that ‘ethics’ cannot be legislated.  They cannot be advertised.  In short there’s no market for ethics.  That’s the brutal fact that is being ignored in the debate.

Today’s market is full of goods and services deliberately marked with planned obsolescence; things are made to break (sooner rather than later) with adequate caveats in the small print regarding warranties to insure the vendor.  And what’s good for refrigerators, laptops, mobile phones and iPods is good for the media too.  It works.  Stories are re-invented.  A women jumps into a well with a baby and the media shares the savory details in a way that prompts another depressed individual to execute a copy-cat jump that will continue to keep the media in business.  One story is crafted in a way that a follow-up story will result.  So what’s new?  What’s ‘unethical’ about it?  It’s just business as usual in the 21st Century, isn’t it?

The question can be asked, ‘isn’t this how it always was?’  Yes, there were always neethi (laws) and there were always reethi (customs).  The difference is that in times gone by, the latter prevailed over the former.  The latter drew from an ethical template.

The incident resulted in an interrogation of the media on the subject of ethics, interestingly by those who really don’t have the right to talk about ethics.  There cannot be ethics in isolation.  There cannot be ethics for some but not for others.  But laws, we know, are selective and prejudiced in favor of the powerful, i.e. those who have money or power or both.

Still, that fact alone is not enough to settle for ‘business as usual’.  Self-regulation begins with self, it goes without saying.  We, the media, as a tribe, are but one part of society and can claim rightful share to its glories and resolve to own up to its shame.  We could play safe and say ‘let’s see you go first!’ but that’s cop-out option.

We cannot get anyone to pay for even a tiny advertisement pleading ‘Let’s be ethical’.  We can but be ethical, as per our sense of right and wrong, regardless of professional dictates (which too, let us not forget, are for the most part ‘owned’ by corporate prerogatives).

*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at www.malindawords.blogspot.com

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Latest comments

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    Malinda please encourage these Buddhist rascals, follow this Sinhala Buddhist mongrel monk. even if u follow them encourage more people like u (journos) srilanka will be a heaven on earth…I can give u a list of like this womanising, thief, rapist Buddhist mongrels. don’t be shy contact me…

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      Have you forgotten 28 Tamils self immolated in May 2009? Why not all Tamils follow them to Tamil Elam soon?

      • 0
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        Mulliwaikol,
        WOrld needs hard working people, not brainless freeloaders…

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          Yes. That is why the world allowed the Nanthikandal “genocide”.

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    “The question is simple: ‘Is the journalist’s duty to capture spectacle or whatever is newsworthy as per the dictates of professionalism or react humanely to a situation where choice of action/inaction can make a different between life and death”

    First the Journalist should have some standards in his life. that is there should be a limit in his life that he GOES LOW in order to EARN HIS LIVING and HIS VALUES AS A HUMAN BEING.

    High way robbers, thieves, killers also live. So, one need to question HOW LOW I AM GOING IN ORDER TO LIVE MY LIFE.

    THOSE WHO TOOK PHOTOGRAPHED OR VIDEOED IT WITHOUT STOPPING IT simply are animals low quality human beings. They just showed how low they could go in order to earn money.

    The question you Malinda Senevirathne, as a journalist should ask is, whether those who photographed it and videoed it will live a life with a happy conscience with respect to that incidence ?

    Because, except sociopaths or mental patients, other killers suffer mentally what they did in their life times. (that is in addition to the jail term they get from the law enforcement.) Because of that, some killers hand over themselves to the law enforcement authorities because they can not get over the feeling that they killed a human being.

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      @JimSofty

      You say, “Because, except sociopaths or mental patients, other killers suffer mentally what they did in their life times.” Does this mean that sections of the Silly Lankan armed forces are sociopaths and mental patients? Because none of them seem to have lost any sleep over the thousands of Tamil civilians who were humanitarianly killed in the ‘No Fire Zone?’

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    Mr. Malinda Seneviratne,

    “The self-immolation of Ven Bowatte Indraratnana Thero raised many questions. Whatever the late Thero’s intentions may have been, it is unlikely that ‘media ethics’ or lack thereof was something that prompted the horrifying act. That, however, is what we are left with.”

    Q1. Why are are you hung upon this Haraka, Cattle? Because he was wearing yellow robes, and claimed to be Buddhist monk?

    Well Somarama Thero, was a Buddhist monk too and he shot and killed a prime minister SWRD Bandaranaike, because of Monk Mahanama MYTHS.

    Just move on. If more JHU monks want to burn themselves, let us open a Petrol Dansala.

    They are the curse of Lanka.

    They do not know Buddhism. They are the Sinhala Buddhist Nazis like, Christian German Nazis,

  • 0
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    Mr. Malinda Seneviratne,

    “The self-immolation of Ven Bowatte Indraratnana Thero raised many questions. Whatever the late Thero’s intentions may have been, it is unlikely that ‘media ethics’ or lack thereof was something that prompted the horrifying act. That, however, is what we are left with.”

    Q1. Why are are you hung upon this Haraka, Cattle? Because he was wearing yellow robes, and claimed to be Buddhist monk?

    Well Somarama Thero, was a Buddhist monk too and he shot and killed a prime minister SWRD Bandaranaike, because of Monk Mahanama MYTHS.

    Just move on. If more JHU monks want to burn themselves, let us open a Petrol Dansala.

    They are the curse of Lanka.

    They do not know Buddhism. They are the

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    Firstly we are human beings and then we are whatever we profess to be. However as human beings what are our ethics. Does it change with our religion, race, education etc. Hence ethics may change. That is why there are the various conventions on human rights promulgated at an international level.

    You can’t have separate ethics for media and another for politicians and yet another for the monks. Everyone expresses their opinion and is free to do so as long as it does not transgress on the fundamental rights of another. In that sense the monk who immolated himself is solely responsible for his act although the media man should have advised him against doing so and even informed the police of his impending act. His failure to do so makes him less of a human being and more of a media man.

  • 0
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    MS

    When was the media ever ethical?

    Are you, were you or will you ever be?

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    The homilies of a humbug. The questions he should ask himself are-
    1. Was i ethical when I reported by citing inappropriate statistics that there were only 70000 people being held as human shields instead of the actual 350000?
    2. Was I ethical when i didn’t have the decency to acknowledge this colossal failure even after the fact?
    3. Was i ethical when I tried to influence the outcome odd a presidential election by evoking fear and referred to my own two daughters in an attempt to paint a picture that general Fonseka was a rapist, despite there being no evidence or conviction?
    The list is endless…

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    …what right have you to talk about ‘media ethics’ when you yourself wash the dirty linen of the government? :)

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      washing the dirty linen bsiness.

      IT WAS Forgotten and LAPTOP ALREADY TAKEN.

      So,NOW for him;

      ” What is this bloody ethical bussiness, I WILL WRITE SOMETHING TO PLEASE MY SELF”.

      That was Malinda’s idea

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    I encourage Milinda to visit “the religion of peace” website and learn the truth about violence. It is not SL government propaganda (the worst of all propaganda).

    It is independent and run by academics.

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      Journalism like Democracy has been Hijacked by the Capitalists.Journalist can be bought and sold like Football Players.They are all in it for the money.That is why people all over the world are losing faith in Democracy and Germalism I mean Journalism that spread,exaggerate,modify like germs.The N G O’s use these Journalists to destabilize countries with their Dollars.China was lucky to escape this Tirade (Chinamans Square) protests are a good example.It could have easily brought down the Regime and today China would have been at the mercy of the crooked and corrupt systems that thwart the progress of many countries.

  • 0
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    Malinda,

    This is the best detergent you have produced so far – “ethics” . Best to reserve a bottle for personal use.

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