By Thushara D Wanniarachchi –
Allegations – the one common denominator in any government setting, more so in Sri Lanka in the ‘Mahinda Chinthanaya’ and ‘Yahapalanaya’ alike. The words ‘Central Bank Bond Scam’ and ‘COPE’ will be familiar to many. Indeed, the issue itself is over a year old, with details of varying positions being presented via a not-so-independent media, and political parties hell-bent on destabilizing the system of democracy for a 5-year term running the country to the ground, or having their faces on the TV., newspapers and social media.
What seems to be missing is one, comprehensive account which the people can refer to. Although, however independent or otherwise a news report tends to be, people will only believe what fits into their own perspectives. Proof that the sky is blue and someone believes it’s green? They will find detail, however insignificant or rejected, to prove their stance. This is cognitive dissonance, and it is something which is immensely difficult to change. Hence the importance of an independent media body which reports the facts as they are, with no ulterior motives behind it, allowing people the freedom to form their own opinions, instead of conditioning them.
The conclusions reached by the 26-member COPE committee appointed to investigate the matter are now in the public domain, and JVP MP Bimal Rathnayake has been quoted as saying that, “In our report, we have recommended action against all those involved in the bond scam. We have no issue with anyone. Legal action should be taken against Central Bank officials and the Perpetual Treasuries.”
For its part, the Yahapalanaya government displayed its commitment to good governance with appointing a member of the JVP as the Chairman of COPE. Now what has since transpired has everyone scrambling to unearth the actual facts of the entire scandal – which is, that former Central Bank Governor Arjuna Mahendran was directly responsible for the controversial transaction of treasury bonds allowing a primary dealer with ties to Mahendran’s son-in-law – Arjun Aloysius and Perpetual Treasuries – to turn abnormal profits, in what is referred to as Sri Lanka’s biggest financial scandal. However, the report has been presented to the Attorney General by the Prime Minister, and the country waits with baited breath till the decision is made. But this article is not about the scandal. What it will discuss follows the events which transpired in its wake.
Fast forward to the 13th of October; Perpetual Treasuries issues a letter of demand to MTV, accusing them of erroneous and biased reporting with no factual basis. MTV then later counter-sues for a claim of 25 billion.
What must be noted is that while this is not the first time an attack or claim has been made against the “free media”, MTV is no stranger to scandal, oftentimes being accused of biased reporting, which ultimately goes on to being influential in shaping the public’s opinions.
This situation is unique, however, because what people don’t know is that for one thing, R. Raja Mahendran (more famously known as Kili Maharaja) and Arjun Mahendran are close relatives. And while he wines and dines with the elite (and corrupt) on one hand, the other hand has been rumored to partner with various political parties in order to insert his presenters and broadcasters onto an influential political stage – perhaps serving to boost Kili’s ego and make him achieve some twisted fantasy where Sri Lanka – and democracy – rests under his thumb.
Although it might seem like the Maharaja Organization has had UNP’s best interests at heart, the scandal of corrupt media continues, with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe speaking out against the Media – in particular Sirasa and the Maharaja Organization – for their continuous efforts to insert themselves into the government agenda, and failing which, spread discord and dysentery amongst the 3 leading political parties. The proof is in the pudding, or in this case, the reporting. Turn on Sirasa or MTV, and you will find nothing but the Gammadda initiative, UNP scandals and a few fluff pieces to keep ‘media’ alive.
Why this vendetta against the Prime Minister and the Yahapalanaya regime? Probably because in the dictatorial Rajapaksa regime, Mahinda and Kili conducted a mutually beneficial agreement; particularly when Kili was persuaded by the then President, to not broadcast sensitive information which would harm the Rajapaksa regimes iron rule. Read the full article on that, here.
Unfortunately, Kili seems unstoppable, having inserted his many minions into top offices of the Government, even to the top levels of the President. And President Maithripala Sirisena, to his credit, stands firm on his traditionalist approach. However, he might be unaware of the agenda he is pushing, and the benefits it brings about; benefits, which only serve to feed into Kili’s political fantasies.
What the corrupt media should understand however is that, although they think that by controlling the top offices of Sri Lanka, they themselves can rise above the law, in the day and age of digitalization, no one is above the law, and all offenders, however much wealth and status and influence they possess, will all come crumbling down. As Pope Francis famously said, “Journalism cannot become a weapon of destruction. Neither should it nourish fear.” And in a country where over 60% of the populace gets its news from TV media, this could not be more true.
What is to be understood from all of this is anyone’s guess. However, if the government of a country is held to high standards of transparency and accountability, then should not the same, if not more, be expected from the media?