By Pubudu Laksiri –
As satellite television is now common in Sri Lankan households many of us enjoy the privilege of watching many international channels on news, sports, movies etc. I wish to make some interesting observations I noted in watching some of the Indian news channels and the stories carried by them; and despite how funny it may sound I feel that a comparison needs to be made with news reported in local media. The comparison shows to us different cultures of media reporting and also reflects different demands of society.
As televisions in Sri Lankan households are dominated by family from early evening thanks to the mega television culture, I always eagerly await that half hour of Sri Lankan news as it gives me a reason to join the family household. The expectation of watching news for me as well as any reasonable minded citizen would be to update themselves on the latest stories that affect their lives and the public large. But to my greatest frustration the leading stories reported by the news presenter features the ‘discovery of the mysterious white tortoise’ followed by the sensational story of how a female anaconda has eaten up the male anaconda in the national zoo. I watch these amusing stories jaw dropped at their irrelevance to the public and wondering to myself thinking of one good reason for these reports to be made the headlines of the day. Quite unsuccessful in that task I decide to move on and focus on the other story making news; and again I’m quite disturbed with the five minute long story on the latest ‘Reality Show’ produced by that news channel. And now… Oh for god sake !!! that hippie looking mohawk styled gigolo is interviewed in the news studio for another five minutes. Unable to bear his interview any more I start cursing the channel, only to be silenced by my mom. And without even knowing it, news is over and the commercial break is followed by the usual soap opera at 8. 30 pm; and surprisingly its first five minutes of cliche drama and not to mention its stupidity makes me wonder how little difference it is from the previous hour and half of news I just watched.
And finally as my family hits the bed finishing their daily two to three hour long soap opera session; I grab control of the remote and tune in to some Indian news channels praying for something different… something newsworthy. Interestingly I am watching a live debate on homosexuality in India and views of academics and religious leaders are entertained by the presenter. I am thrilled with the arguments endorsing the rights of homosexuals in India and overjoyed by the manner in which the staunch religious advocate runs out of arguments only to realize his own irrationality that silences him. It certainly is honey to the mind to see how crucial issues of a country are so valiantly exposed to the people and gives goosebumps in seeing the manner in which properly mobilized masses initiate change to tradition in society. As the debate draws to an end the headline stories are followed; it features the end of the anti corruption struggle as the long awaited anti corruption bill is finally passed. And in more happy news the Supreme Court decision to criminalize homosexuality is to be petitioned by the government in an attempt to cater to the interest of the people as well as the elections ahead in few months time. And of course the battle against sexual violence on women continues with the media initiating programs and projects enhancing the safety and rights of women.
These stories do not by any way mean that Sri Lanka is a problem free country where the only injustices that take place are tortoise robberies and anaconda biting’s. If one looks closer enough he should be able to figure out how the young generation in certain parts of Colombo and outstation fall prey to the drug menace which is fast rising its ugly head. For those who are unaware the rise of drug use in Sri Lanka is accelerating and it is youths who become victims of this dastard culture; it not only burdens their parents and families but also blurs their futures. Of course I do not suggest that the media in a single handed attempt deal with the issue; but certainly I believe that the media has a task to expose those behind this ugly business. And also it is disappointing to see how the media has forgotten the Rathupaswala people who fought with their lives at stake; only to demand the most basic necesity of all mankind; clean water. Has the once headline making story now become unnewsworthy or do they need another life to be sacrificed; to turn their cameras to their suffering. And then there are the Eknelligoda’s, Bharatha’s, Lasantha’s, Nimalaruban’s, Raviraj’s and many who have been forgotten and their stories demanding justice been neglected and replaced by those of the anaconda’s and tortoises.
Of course I do not attempt to paint white the ugly background of Indian politics and society. But that being said I think it is reasonable to laud the efforts made by its national media to bring issues to the people and to mobilize the people in the direction of thought and action. The passing of the Jan Lokpal bill for anti corruption would have only been a mirage for the country had not it been for the media who hailed the efforts of Anna Hazare to garner masses against corruption in India. Had not for the media the Delhi rape victim Damini, would just be another record in a file never to see the light of day. It is the crucial role played by the media which enabled the Aam Aadke Party (Common Mans Party) to record a significant win in their debut elections in Delhi state elections; and form a government in the state. The constant media follow ups has led to the AAP fulfilling its promises to the people within days; reducing electricity prices by 50 percent and giving free water to all residents of the state etc. Surely, India is progressing with change and combating the undesirable traditions and facets of society and the media is spearheading the battle.
But where are we ? Our media seems to be not driven by a desire to serve the public; but only seems to be driven by a desire for profit. The consequences of this media culture has devastating results. These are evident by the people’s ignorance during the impeachment of a Chief justice, their silence when recently the alleged murderer of politician Nalanda Ellawala was released by court, their silence when it was rathupaswala children, Roshen Chanaka and many more in the list. The gravity of this dilemma is not felt by the people until its consequences challenge them one day; and on such day they shall feel the pain and misery of those whom they ignored all along. This collective error of our society can only be remedied by an initiative that properly mobilizes and awakens the dormant masses; and who best can make such initiative than the media. But sadly their budgets are spent on soap operas and reality star shows and has no time for the ordinary man any more.