16 July, 2024


How Can We Check The Validity Of PM’s Accusations On Print Media?

By Ranga Kalansooriya

Dr Ranga Kalansooriya

Dr Ranga Kalansooriya

With several celebrations taking place to mark the international world press freedom day, media issues dominated the socio-political platforms this week. Added to this was the controversies surrounded the Secretary to Media Ministry.

Looking at the main topics that echoed in many platforms, two issues that dominated these deliberations were media regulation and professionalism. The well-known media critique Prime Minister himself repeated his strong sentiments at two platforms this week – firstly at the twentieth anniversary celebrations of the Muslim Media Forum and then the launch of the report “Rebuilding Public Trust” published by Secretariat for Media Reforms at Kadirgamar Center on the Press Freedom Day.

His basic criticism was on the subject of news reporting by some newspapers. He accused those reports of being biased and challenged their accuracy. In one occasion he said that the journalist in question has not contacted the main subject of the story – in that case it was no other than the leader of the opposition.

These accusations, if carefully analysed are directly relating to the subject of basic ethics in journalism. Hundred percent accuracy and impartiality are among the four main pillars of ethical journalism. The other two are accountability and minimizing harm. If the accusations are true, those news reports have violated all those four norms – the fourth one minimizing harm is being the biggest concern as those news reports directly linked to ethnic harmony in the country.

At the Muslim Media Forum function, the Prime Minister challenged Press Complaints Commission (PCCSL) to take necessary action on those news reports where the CEO of the PCCSL Sukumar Rockwood was also present. Out of curiosity I asked Sukumar yesterday as to what action has been taken with regard this issue as there was an open requests to PCCSL by the Prime Minister of the country at a public speech. “We will be writing to him (Prime Minister) explaining the complaint procedure,” said Sukumar explaining the fact that according to the PCCSL procedures there exists a process that any complainant should adhere to. Either the PM’s office on behalf of the government or the Leader of Opposition could lodge a complaint following the procedure and then the inquiry will begin he added.

Absence of a proactive mechanism and not entertaining third party complaints have been major loopholes of the PCCSL since its inception. It awaits the aggrieved party to come to its door step (even in a digital form) and lodge an official complain. Thus, the print media could be unethical as much as it can and PCCSL will turn a blind eye on such practices until a complaint is received through the proper procedure. In other words, PCCSL is not the ethical watchdog of the print media, but a body of redress for the aggrieved reader. Is it a fully-fledged self- regulation?

In contrast, a head of state did complained to PCCSL during its early days following proper procedures – non-other than President Chandrika Kumaratunga herself against her archrival Sunday Leader. What was the prompt response from PCCSL? Sorry – The Sunday Leader is not a signatory to the PCCSL procedure, thus, we cannot proceed with this complaint. This particular incident drew disappointment from the then regime and it continued until President Rajapakse re-establishing the press council.

And on top of that what could be the maximum remedy or redress that a complainant could receive from the PCCSL procedure? A correction or an apology by the publication which is the usual practice of many such self-regulatory systems in the world.

On the other hand we have Press Council that was established over four hand a half decades ago with draconian laws that could even jail journalists. The then government of Ranil Wickremesinghe in 2002 decided to ‘silence’ the Press Council and pave the way for a more democratic print regulating system through PCCSL. But subsequent political developments in the country pushed the Press Council back into the scene while PCCSL does also exist. However, President Maithreepala Sirisena as the common candidate during his campaign gave a pledge to abolish the outdated Press Council but turned aback and revitalized it within a few months into his office by appointing members to the Council. This shocked the entire media fraternity.
Nevertheless, the media associations continue to refuse nominating their representatives to the council which makes it incomplete and impotent, though it continues to entertain public complaints and mitigate them. However, this fact has to be clarified through a judicial procedure, but no one has so far dared to seek a judicial verdict on the operation of an incomplete Press Council. Only a few journalists and publications have questioned its operations – that included Sunday Times and Ravaya. Journalist Sajeewa Wijeweera has openly challenged its existence, according to Ravaya story last week. Yet, the common understanding of the media fraternity and associations as well expert recommendations is to abolish the stone-aged Press Council and get into more latest and democratic systems of print regulation.

When referring to the so called errant news stories, the Prime Minister, too, avoided naming the Press Council, but he did mentioned the Press Complaint Commission. In that context we can assume that the PM, too, does not believe in this ‘Jurassic Park’ system of regulation but would be more towards to a self-regulatory mechanism which he himself paved the way some fifteen years ago.

But in the context of abolishing the Press Council, PCCSL does not provide a better alternative in its current formation and mandate. As far as I am aware, there had been several reviews on this excellent concept of self-regulation but a little has progressed. It requires more legal teeth and broad expansion of its operational mandate. Better to look at the Indonesian model to get fresh ideas. When compared to the media landscapes in our neighboring countries, the PCCSL and Sri Lanka Press Institute systems provide a classic case study of unity among the industry players, which has not been fully utilized. Though it is united and in a unique position to sit in one room and discuss the industry challenges, the decision making is still within a few individuals. It requires broader representation, pluralistic views and new ideas as well. Youth and gender dynamisms are missing in the system.

Regulating print media is not a state functionality. It should be the responsibility of the industry players. We already have started it, but industry itself has forgotten the fact that we should not allow government to interfere into this sensitive area. Then what we need is the replacement of Press Council with a strong, proactive, dynamic new PCCSL with a broader mandate – without it too becoming another ‘Jurassic Park.’

If not it will only be limited to accusations and attacks on media with no remedy, and the society at large will suffer. And most importantly it will be the biggest attack to press freedom in this country.

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Latest comments

  • 8

    Ranga you are one of the most balanced and responsible journalist in your field.All kudos to you but there are certain others who who do not fall into your category.
    Journalists have a strong moral duty when reporting. I do agree with our PM Ranil Wickremasinghe when he accuses certain scribes of falsifying their reports and make it sound that it is factual.They use the “power of the pen” and poison the minds of people to meet their own agenda.As human beings we know that all communities in our fair island have to live together and this is the only way the country can progress, but there are certain writers who promote racism,communalism clearly showing out their prejudices and this type do plenty of damage to our society.Ranga you are above such rabble rousers.

    While giving credit to CT for entertaining various view points and also criticism there are instances where CT targets certain individuals and this continious barrage doesnt go unnoticed by discerning readers.Yes criticism but kindly dont go on a witch hunt.
    My late mum used to tell me “Dont think everyone will think the way you thinK” so I have revolved my life around this and it has helped me not to fall off with others as best as possible.
    One final word “Freedom of the Press yes, but not the freedom of the Wild Ass”

  • 2

    Batalanada Ranil’s main gripe against the Sinhala Journalists is they report facts.

    Since grabbing power after 20 years of struggle,Batalanada wants a free hand to fulfil his MOU with the Diaspora, UNP London and the Tamil Party TNA.

    So he has made certain items Haram..

    For example the words LTTE, Suicide Jackets, AK 47 , Tiger Cadres and Invasion of Military bases are prohibited for the Journos to write.

    This is the Yahapalana Media Law under its PM.

    Can the Journos ,specially the Sinhala Journs make a living writing hossanas to Batalanada , Bodhi Sira , and the Diaspora when the great majority are suffering immense hardships under them.

    Batalanda and Bodhi Sira pulled all stops to stop the great majority attending the May Day rally in Colombo.

    Still the inhabitants came in hundreds of thousands to fill Kirillopana and up to Nugegoda.

    Batalanda wasn’t happy.

    Neither the Yahapalana President who initially thought he had the biggest crowd of 15,000 which the Yahapalana UNP Police had counted for him.

    And they were from Killinichi, Medawachchi, Batti, Badulla and even Pollonnaruwa. broght down by the CTB and Yahapalana Rail Road.with free food , beer and even a free trip to Kataragamam with one thousand Ruppiah spending money , sorry Pocket Money..

    Now, how can the poor Yahapalana suckers learn about these facts, if the reporters don’ report them.

    I mean our Yahapalana inhabitants who don’t read English or Thamil.

    Why Batalanada picked Muslim Journos to tell the Truth?

    I have noticed that our new young Sinhala journos are sharper than the old guard.

    Perhaps the Internet , FB, Twitter , and Viber have helped them not only to sharpen their skills , but also they know how the Politics works, specially the Politics of the ” Haves” who always try to shaft the rest.

  • 2

    “How Can We Check The Validity Of PM’s Accusations On Print Media?”

    For setting high standards in journalistic ethics and impartial truthful reporting read “The Island” newspaper and “LankaeNews.”

    • 1

      And if you want to read the pro-Ranil stuff, then read Lankadeepa and Daily Mirror respectively. (Specially the online editions).

  • 5

    Nimal Fernando,
    After reading your comments I re-read two of the editorials of the Island News paper : one is” MPs go bersek ” ( 5th May ) & the other is ” Kadirgamar’s portrait” (6th May ). Hope you & many other readers would have read them too.

    I’ve many questions but listing only 3 sections here based on my priority :

    1. Why Kadirgamar was not made a PM or President by the SLFP ? I haven’t read any write up on this by the Island editor or others in the Island paper.

    2.During Chandrika’s time Chandrika – Kadirgamar & rest of the SLFPers had political solution plans and with that Kadirgamar was able to convince the International Community (East & West ) in declaring LTTE as a terrorist group.
    Why any of those political solutions were not implemented by SLFP led government even after defeating LTTE in 2009?. Why Island paper has been silent on this.

    3. If Maithiri-Ranil- Chandrika-JVP-TNA, Ranil- Fonseka or any other joint ventures are good for the country why some media supports the joint opposition with the aim of bringing back Mahinda who has already served 2 terms ? Party interests or country’ s interests are important ? Why SLFP is allowing Mahinda to use Buddhist temples and vi hares for joint opposition propaganda ?

    CAN YOU HEAR THE DRUMS FERNANDO ? or Don’t cry for me ‘ mother Lanka ‘ !

    • 5

      Non PhD,

      My comment was written tongue in cheek. “The Island” is partial to Mahinda and “LankaeNews” to Ranil. I suppose, these two would be good examples of biased SL media sites. But one would be hard pressed to pick an unbiased SL news establishment. Like someone recently correctly said, they reflect the views of the owners. Not just in SL but in many other places too. A good example is Rupert Murdoch.

      Newspapers should be there to just glace through to get an update on “happening events.” It’s a sad state of affairs if people use what is written in newspapers to form their opinions. Some of the smartest people I’ve met are an older group of illiterate non-newspaper-reading Lankans who had not been exposed to religion or education. They had no other option but to think for themselves.

      “aim of bringing back Mahinda who has already served 2 terms”

      Mahinda is a man-made phenomenon. In nature progress is silent; you plant a sapling and come back in a year or two, you would know if the tree has progressed. Only man uses propaganda to show “progress.” Throughout history these people have appeared all over the world. Mahinda is the greatest con-artist that SL has ever produced – the greatest among a sea of mediocrity; not that others haven’t tried. Gotta hand it to the man, he does it with great finesse. It’s good zany human-theatre, if one is not foolish enough to get swept away by it all.

    • 1

      Non PhD
      Kadirgamar was not made PM by CBK because MR rebelled, and even Sirisena faction backed MR as the “Sinhala Buddhist ” man as opposed to a “tamil christian” man. Sirisena was CBK’s loyal servant Secretary but decided to back MR against LK.

      The JVP which was part of the coalition, and a certain section of the SLFP wanted so badly to appoint Kadirgamar as PM but MR threatened action and CBK caved in. Facts from inside. End of opportunity to appoint a brilliant intellect and the best Foreign Minister SL ever had.

  • 2

    Bias in the media can be easily show by printing the Sinhala newspapers also in English and vice versa. Same for the Tamil newspapers. How can we be free of bias if different newspapers highight different things as they see fit for their agenda?

    Just leave them alone, the people will decide.

    (selected) Headlines: Divayina
    Mirihana million 3 1/2 gold robbery
    The government is silent about the cancer federal proposal?

    Headlines : Daily Mirror:
    Video: Thewarapperuma, Ranaweera suspended for one week
    12 SL asylum seekers deported from Australia

  • 2

    Press Complaint Commission of Sri Lanka is an ineffective inward looking face saving mechanism . It does not contribute any way to improve the quality of media reporting. The other mechanism, the Editors Guild is another useless old boys club. How could editors guild accept membership from the editors those who have become official advisers of the President. Does it care about conflict of interests?. This body should be called a Editors Guilt.

    Recently I read a news report I one Sinhala newspaper (Divaina) in which the reporter demand a release of prisoner (a former soldier) who was imprisoned by the courts after finding guilty for murdering innocent people who happened to be Tamils. The reporter argues that the guy was a Ranaviruva and if the president can release the person who has been kept under custody for the suspicion of plotting to kill him, why can’t he release this kind of Ranavirovo? How could an editor allow such biased reporters, who has no regards for those who were murderd, to manipulate his newspaper? Moreover this report tantamount to a contempt of court, as court has found the soldier guilty after a proper trial on the basis of evidence presented to it. Reporter does not mention any information concerning the appeal procedure and what happened. What does PCCl and the Editors Guild doing to prevent such unethical manipulations by people with vested interests?

    Instead of the PCCl and the Editors Guild we need an independent coregulatory mechanism in which, both the reputed media professionals and public intellectuals sit together to defend media freedom from all type of manipulators and ensure that news media adhere to professional conduct. Such a mechanism should have the legal authority to bring all news media under its purview.

  • 2

    Definitely biased, no wonder we read absolutely NOTHING on how banks are manipulating/expoliting people’s lives on print media. Only objective : will this article harm advertisements. Sad story of Sri Lankan media

  • 3

    Nimal Fernando,

    Thank you for enlightening me.
    I’m sure many other CT readers would have benefited from your reply to me.

    Please keep on exposing & enlighten the CT readers.

  • 0

    It is should be “well known media CRITIC” in reference to Ranil W; NOT media critique.

    A Critique is the ACT of criticizing something. A film critic critiques a film. A media critic critiques a newspaper etc. In your column in the second para you do the following. Your critique of Ranil’s actions does not make you an expert critic on media matters.

    a detailed analysis and assessment of something, especially a literary, philosophical, or political theory.
    synonyms: analysis, evaluation, assessment, appraisal, appreciation, criticism, review, study, commentary, exposition, exegesis
    “a critique of North American culture”
    evaluate (a theory or practice) in a detailed and analytical way.
    “the authors critique the methods and practices used in the research”

    ,b>The well-known media critique Prime Minister himself repeated his strong sentiments at two platforms this week –

    Because you claim to be a “DOCTOR” which I assume to be a PhD or a Doctor of Philosophy in something it might help us if you get it right. In whichh field of study did you obtain your PhD and do you write peer reviewed journal articles to remain an academic scholar? Or are you like Paikyasoththi? No peer reviewed A ranked journal articles at all?

    Thank you
    Batalanda, Sri Lanka

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