8 August, 2020

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Fighting For FOI: Have We Realized What An Ugly Being A Dictator Is?

By Shyamon Jayasinghe –

Shyamon Jayasinghe

Shyamon Jayasinghe

There’s Nothing Like Free Flow Of Information; Let’s Fight For It

Yes, unhindered free flow of information is an absolute necessity for good governance and peaceful living.  I realize we must be aware of the dangers of media dominance itself. We are in a world of relativities. Our hopes must work out within the limitations of this wider reality.

By definition information has to be carried. Carriers of information constitute the media. This is why the civilized world demands media freedom and unrestricted access to information. Those who attack this right to freedom of information do so simply because they have a lot to hide. Those who have come to believe that they have the right to decide on behalf of a whole population of people are known as ‘dictators.’

Have we realized what an ugly being a dictator is? Whoever, he or she may be? Wherever they may reign? A guy who has grown megalomaniac, egocentric, greedy and wants to control everyone around him?  Who imagines he knows the answers and that others are less intelligent beings who must simply follow him; who derives personal pleasure when others fall at his feet, worship him or praise him; who thrives on an immediate comfort zone of sycophants around him; who is protected by a ring of heavies-both official and unofficial? Isn’t such a monster simply ugly?

Mahinda Rajapaksa - colombo telegraphIn lesser or bigger degrees we come across such control freaks even in ordinary non-political life. In a family setting, a husband or a wife or even a grown- up sibling may show these control-centric qualities. Outside the family, we observe such gone-wrong personalities in open society. Observe a common social discussion at a common neighborhood gathering and one can spot such characters. They hardly realize that they are loathsome and that they are let to survive as a result of the civility of others.

Such personalities are material that is transformable into politicians. They enter politics just in order to seek power over others. Let’s leave aside the material benefits that may accrue as byproducts and accompaniments of power. Let’s focus on the power drive itself.  David McClelland proposed that mankind is motivated to action by three needs and one of these is the need for power, over others. McClelland used the shorthand ‘ nPow ‘ for this. This signifies a need to make others behave in a way that they would not have behaved otherwise. The need for power (nPow) is the desire to have impact, to be influential and to control others. People high in nPow enjoy being ‘in charge,’ strive for influence over others, than for effective performance.  This theory accords very well with our observation of human life and is a valuable correction to Abraham Maslow’s more famous theory of needs wherein the drive for power was not acknowledged.

Given a personality structured in the above manner, a dictator will find e free flow of information anathema to his journey. Media thus becomes the first casualty. President Rajapaksa who already had incorporated under his control the intricate and vast subject -portfolio of finance found it very important to take media also under his control even though he had a pusillanimous Minister doing that job for him loyally before the take-over.  In steps, Sri Lankans have observed how, one by one, all media-both public and private- have since been strangled into shadow imitations of the real thing. Publicly –owned institutions like the Lake House, Rupavahini and ITN offered a walk- over. The private media operators had other pressures brought to bear on them and a carrot and stick strategy has been successfully employed for the latter. Free Laptops are just a small set of carrots. The ‘morning breakfast’ meet with media is part of the pressure component. President R Premadasa had a more blatant approach when he planted media men at media offices to suggest headlines. Rajapakse does it with a smile (the smile that chuckles babies in public) and that appears innocuous and easy to suck to.

An Opposition- proposed Act for Freedom of Information (FOI) was blocked by government. In a classic statement, President Rajapaksa stated that if anyone wants information he can come to him! The Freedom of Information legislation has proven effectiveness in countries like where I live-Australia. We observe how individuals and agencies resort to that mechanism and how careful therefore the government is to be accountable.

From the point of view of the citizenry this manhandling of communication is a tragedy as it keeps them ignorant most of the time of the other side of events. In  today’s context,  the Sri Lankan citizen knows only that Western Imperialists are at their door in the nature of the Geneva meeting; these ‘big powers’  are against us because we had destroyed terrorists; they are indulging in double-dealing. That’s how the information is set to flow.  Look what’s there is in today’s (10 March) editorial of the private or ‘independent newspaper, The Island:

“The Geneva circus is on with the worst violators of human rights in the world masquerading as champions of democracy. Perhaps, there is no bigger farce than this summit. The UNHRC is dominated by the West and, therefore, it could not be expected to act independently. It has become a kangaroo court in all but name………..What really prevails at every level of the UN is the law of the jungle and small nations are in the same predicament as rabbits and deer in a forest infested with predators.”

This is not the style of Prabath Sahabandu; maybe someone else trying to collect merit points. Dear reader don’t be misled, as the last few lines are not meant to describe what goes on in Sri Lanka. Look at the caption that reveals it all: “The Rape of Sovereignty.” Surely, the writer knows that even sovereign nations are not sovereign as far as having to abide by international law? National sovereignty is sovereignty for people and not for a ruling cabal.  If a ruler in an African sovereign nation was to engage in genocide can the international order ignore that ruler? No. Ambassador Ariyasinha, who is also quoted here (and to whom I once taught debating skills when he was at school), also talks in the same way but I can excuse him as he has a job and family to keep.

It is only the free flow of information that can keep rulers and public figures in check and prevent the latter from duping the public. Of course the media must be structured in a competitive environment and such competitiveness alone could act as an internal check on the potential for abuse by the media moghuls themselves. Also there must be a legal process in place to bring media abusers to book. Furthermore, government must not be allowed to release information pertaining to national security. In all these ways adequate controls can be brought to bear on the possible abuse by media. Fair enough.

Subject to such controls that are reasonable, media must flow freely if nations are to be free and really sovereign. This will help to keep government high -ups and the lower executive accountable to the community. An intelligent government should encourage a free media as this would drive its drivers to be better and more competent persons and would help the exit of the incompetent and corrupt. President R Premadasa, with whom I worked during my later times in the Public Service, was someone I knew who tried to use the media to get information about the performance of his far flung officials. Premadasa knew the art of management. He had the habit of starting the day by reading newspapers. There were no emails and Facebook those days. If something major has gone wrong somewhere he then telephones the supervising Head. Col. Wisidagama, Works Engineer in the Colombo Municipal Council, died of heart strain due to Premadasa’s wake-up calls.

The present President will have none of media criticism. He prefers to attack the messenger. A number of online websites, even mild ones like Colombo Telegraph, have been blocked by his government. There is talk that the President is having his eyes on the Facebook, too; but that’s going to be no cake- walk. President Rajapakse recently utilized the opportunity of a recent episode where a school teenage girl had committed suicide due to a love relationship of her’s having been flagged on Facebook. President warned parents about the Facebook. What can Facebook do here? Facebook is only a tool and, like a knife, it can be utilized benignly or badly. The problem with this unfortunate girl was the culture of shame with regard to sexual matters that she is surrounded with. Her Principal called her “wesi,” (prostitute). President should have tackled this root of the problem had he being concerned with the welfare of our future generations. But, then his concern was elsewhere.

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Latest comments

  • 2
    0

    The public must know the value of having a FOI act. Unless there is awareness nothing will happen.

    FOI is part of LLRC. Hopefully Geneva will ensure its implemented. Its sad but whiteman is still teaching the Sri Lankan whats good for them.

    • 6
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      Dear Sir, Mr Shyamon Jayasinghe.

      Here You mentioned that your student Ambassador Ariyasinha,

      “I can excuse him as he has a job and family to keep”.

      We also have Jobs and Families to keep.

      But Ambassador Ariyasinha with other Ambaruwoos [ Water Buffalos], he gets a 5 figure Salary and more perks from the sri lanka Tax payers money.
      He has forgotten that he is a Servant of Sri lanka’s people.
      Not a servant of Jarapassa Kabarayas, who eats Garbage.
      That is the money not paid from Jarapassa Kabaraya’s Dowry.
      But Innocent Women’s Toil from Middle east and some doing unofficial prostituting,
      [ most of Our Earning comes from Maids working on Gulf countries] to feed a Moronic looting Family and Their Shit eating PIGS of goons and Political Heroin dealing clan.
      Dear Sir, With much respect to you,
      I hope you may be ashamed of that Ambassador Ariyasinha became one of your student??.
      And Much Happy about That No any one from Jarapassa Kabarayas clan of Your Students.

    • 2
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      Dear Shyamon Jayasinghe –

      “There’s Nothing Like Free Flow Of Information; Let’s Fight For It ”

      “Yes, unhindered free flow of information is an absolute necessity for good governance and peaceful living. I realize we must be aware of the dangers of media dominance itself. We are in a world of relativities. Our hopes must work out within the limitations of this wider reality.”

      Yes. Thank you for bringing this to the forefront.

      Throughout history, dictators and myth following dictators, have tried to restrict the free flow of information and reason.The US constitution guarantees the freedom of the Press. There is a State in the US, New Hampshire, their motto is Live Free or Die.

      So we all need to fight for Free Flow of Information. Otherwise the dictators and Inquisitors will control you, and you become sheep or cattle to be milked and slaughtered at will.

    • 4
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      Island editorial: ”UNHRC is dominated by the West”
      All countries have one vote each and the number of countries in the West is less than the rest.
      Island is making the people fools.

  • 2
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    FOI is a MUST. No civilized country can progress without it. We denounce whoever is responsiblw for the blocking of Colombo Telegraph. Obviously, only a blockhead would want to go such a stupid thing. As Shyamon infers, our card-board dictators are really stupid.

  • 1
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    (This is why the civilized world demands media freedom and unrestricted access to information. Those who attack this right to freedom of information do so simply because they have a lot to hide. Those who have come to believe that they have the right to decide on behalf of a whole population of people are known as ‘dictators.’)

    PS; there is no free media in this world. every media institute is been controlled by upper hand. recent news (09th March) on Ukrain at BBC,, “the protesters are pro & anti Russians”. at a glance many will think by looking at such message on the BBC that the protesters are anti Russians.. this is how the media manipulates the reality. no wonder that many countries still suppress media freedom. no media can be free from being bias. at the end it has to pay the salaries for the staff and ROI. you may have seen how Russian finance minister made Jon sopel the BBC presenter speechless on the last live interview.

  • 3
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    Halt is right. The concept of free flow of information is a myth.

    It was a concept that philosophers like Milton put forth. Their belief was that the interplay of ideas would ultimately reveal the truth, which they never defined. All we can say is that truth can be either absolute or conventional.

    FOI is an American ideal–an extension of the First Amendment. But look what happened-when terrorism became a problem, US clamped down on freedom with a Patriots Act!

    US and the West used to clamor for world press freedom when they dominated the global mass media network. People like Jayasinghe, a materialist athiest, have been brainwashed by imperial propaganda of these unctuous hypocrites to believe that unrestricted freedom will solve all our dukkha.

    The fact is that freedom without corresponding responsibility will not take us to utopia. Jayasinghe blabbers without realizing whether he deals with facts. He has not even checked the correct name of Prabath Sahabandu, the editor of the Island. He implies that the Island editorial was the work of a Rajapakse crony but adduces no proof.

    True, Rajapakse has become corrupt over time. Power corrupts. He falsely believes that he is indispensable to the nation thereby vitiating the principles of dasarajadharma. But despite Rajapakse’s attempts to curtail media freedom, he has not escaped the withering global scrutiny.

    My point is this: Media freedom without concomitant responsibilities will not enlighten us any better. Buddhists believe in “no self” for that reason.

  • 0
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    ” …. The problem with this unfortunate girl was the culture of shame with regard to sexual matters that she is surrounded with. Her Principal called her “wesi,” (prostitute)…”.

    What do you mean SJ? Is that the girls fault? What do you expect? A 17-yr old teenager to remain unmoved, like Lord Buddha with a balanced head, unshaken by the horrible abuse she was getting from someone who should act like a father figure? How would you like it if the principal called your daughter with the same name? How would you react to such words?

    When you write, have some sensitivity and don’t write about the poor girl as if she is like an inanimate object. You may be having a go at MR, but don’t abuse the memory of the 17 year old.

  • 0
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    Hey Bo YOU have misunderstood SJ. He has taken the side of the girl and put the blame on a stupid and backward culture

  • 1
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    Fine article and how Rajapaksa use the Maslow theory to control the needs to be in power. Rajapaksa from his young days (I knew him when he was a teenager in Tangalle) was a very dominating man wanted every one to follow him. Now as the President he got the Razor into his hand and with all his LIES he has mesmerise the poor people in Sri Lanka to believe him. All media outlets ware now under Rajapaksa regime other than the Times group belong to Wijewardenas. Rajapaksa will not allow free flow of any information as the opposition to his dictatorship is coming very strong.
    Rajapaksa due to his greediness for power and money try to use people like Gon Wansa and. The BBS and JHU to keep the poor Sinhala Buddhist on his side by uttering false information.
    The day is very close for Rajapaksa brothers to allow people of Sri Lanka to know the actual truth.

  • 0
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    SJ, do you think articles like this help betterment of society? Is this information or propaganda? Colombo Telegraph should be banned!

  • 0
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    The Rajapakses have subjugated the country. Controlling information is essential to keep people in the dark. I cannot agree with Village Green Guy when he says FOI is a Western concept. The concept is ingrained in Buddhism. It is essential for human liberty.Then how come it is ‘Western?’ Important consideration is that regardless from where the concept originates it is very valid for all countries and people as the bulwark of freedom. Got it right, Village Green Guy?

  • 1
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    Dear Reerie Yakka;

    There is a difference between libertarian press freedom and responsible press freedom. I am advocating the latter.

    I am writing a book (with a few other international scholars) to initiate what is called mindful journalism that aptly fits the philosophical ethos of Asia. It is a responsible genre of journalism based on adherence to the moral and ethical dimension of the Noble Eightfold Path–right speech, right livelihood and right action; the dharma and ahimsa dimensions of Hinduism; and the eight basic Confucian moral principles.

    The implementation of these ethical principles is the responsibility of the individual journalist–professional or citizen. The state need not impose codes of ethics to foster good journalism.

    My kind of journalism does not support the kind of “free” journalism promoted by the Colombo Telegraph, which publishes one-sided opinions of selected writers, and then get other participants to hide behind nicknames and insult each other using gutter language.

    The intention of mindful journalism is not the extinction of libertarian journalism but to show that journalism can be moral and ethical rather than be vicious.

    • 0
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      V G G;
      YOU SAY;
      “My kind of journalism does not support the kind of “free” journalism promoted by the Colombo Telegraph, which publishes one-sided opinions of selected writers, and then get other participants to hide behind nicknames and insult each other using gutter language”.

      If you do not love , then leave.

      No body asked, C T did not ask your type of your kind of journalism support.
      So why you worry so much????.
      V G G say
      “I am writing a book (with a few other international scholars) to initiate what is called mindful journalism that aptly fits the philosophical ethos of Asia”.
      Maybe With JARAPAL, OZ BANDU, MHALINDA???????
      May be you can offer it to Kehelgdi Rabuuka Walla Or [ Hiwal Modawangasa]
      He may need it when he jumps over Parapet walls and the other guy needs a stool to do Sitting STYAGRAHA.

  • 1
    1

    For Village Green Guy and others interested.
    Journalistic ethics comprise two main requirements: report facts correctly and be free in interpretation. Journalists are human beings and they share the same potential for bias that any individual may have in performing these functions. You may put down any ethical code but will that be of any use? This is why I have already suggested in my piece that one of the major ways we can bring journos under control is by ensuring that media operates in a competitive environment so that an excess/abuse by one journo could be checked by another’s response. There are many ways legislative and otherwise that this can be done.
    I think your comment about Colombo Telegraph is not fair. The very fact CT has given you space to attack it unfairly is inconsistent with your charge.

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