By Charitha Dissanayake –
Most of the Sri Lankan newspapers and websites have added the readers’ comments facility and it has become more attractive as they feel they have a role to play instead of reading. It is an obvious fact, that people like to have their own voice rather than listening to someone’s interpretation, which is according to the basics of 2-way communication.
But some argue that the newspaper is not a blog, although it is online and vice-versa. In the Sri Lankan context, the representation of the general public was very limited until mid ‘90s and the only choice was ‘letters to the editor column’, which was also edited according to the editor’s limitations and the space in the newspaper. In the radio this opportunity was limited to listeners’ requests. But with the broadening of the limits of electronic media listeners/viewers opinion became a powerful tool. Some listeners became professionals making comments on any topic and they acted according to the political line of the stations. For example, you will find a listener/viewer engaged in a programme run by a particular channel, made against government, commenting in favor of that topic blaming the government at the same time talking, criticizing the opposition in another programme.
This is because they are well aware of how to get an opportunity from limited air time. Some followed all ‘talk shows’ aired throughout the day. If you closely follow these programmes you would notice that this type of listeners/viewers is very small in number compared to the listeners or the viewers of the media institutions. But, a normal citizen gets a boost and becomes a public figure after commenting in the radio/TV, which is created by the media. The people, who enjoy the power of the fame brought on them by the media, keep on making more comments, as they have to maintain the status gained and some try to be radicals or to be pundits on air. At the same time media institutions market this as popularity, saying the number of callers is high.
Now this trend has switched on to the websites due to few reasons. Readers do not have to pay anything to comment on websites, as when you call a radio or TV will cost you a phone call or even more when at times producers put you on hold for a long time in live programmes. You don’t need to have a specific time to make a comment, as the mode of media is different and makes you more comfortable. The web commenter can reach a mass audience. The most attractive user-friendly tool is you can be present anonymous or can come under a fake identity. This option gives you more strength and confidence for mudslinging, presenting half truth or unprofessional presentations such as poor language or writing the comment in English script (Sinhala in English).
But you can’t practice this in another comment-based websites such as Face Book or Twitter as their owners will kick you out of the spectrum forever. At the same time the moderators of the so called news websites will protect you as a resource person, to increase their hits; some are attracted to the sites to read only the comments, though the moderators publish or self-write the comments which make a bizarre. Some websites add comments revealing the details of the story which can’t be included in the news item due to constrains of law.
That’s why communication expert J. Dysart explains, the best of the current generation of Internet newspapers are those that excel at interactivity – they facilitate communication between Web users, and between Web users and Web site content. The real power of the Web lies in interactivity. Interactive systems are becoming the key tools for attracting and keeping Web site visitors.
One of the unethical and most unprofessional reader comments were published recently. Singer Sathis Perera passed away last Monday at 4.26am at a private hospital after being treated for leukaemia for 42 days. The news was broken about 6am in the morning by a few radio stations and SMS services. Then it became the talk of the day in the websites and the commenting process started as usual. A comment published in the Gossip Lanka site, at 7.32am which didn’t mention the cause of the death, said (in Sinhala) “May he attain Nibbana, other artistes please refrain from the causes which made his death quicker”. But he didn’t mention an exact cause for the death. At 8:10am another anonymous comment (in Sinhala) said, “Don’t be a boozer in your next birth. Anyway may the artist attain nibbana..”. Then Mallika Herath made a comment saying (in Sinhala), “Sathis, may you attain nibbana… I beg from other artistes in the country please don’t drink alcohol…” It was followed by another anonymous comment (in Sinhala), “Innocent artiste, lost his life due boozing. This is the reason they can’t sing without the booze. Alcohol and weed are a must”.
Right place to discuss
Majority of the comments from 200+ were accusing alcohol as the cause of the death. Meantime, some made comments to correct the myth and they were online abusing saying, “true it was a cancer but the cause was alcohol.” Let see how gossip9 website shared this news. Kotiya commented bluntly, “reason drugs” and Saradiel guessed cause was alcohol or drugs. As mentioned earlier the demise of the singer became the talk of the day and news was carried out in all the media in all 3 languages. The Daily Mirror, which is a newspaper maintaining more facts than gossips, comments were as follows, Silva commented “Got married recently, another case of alcohol (sic) abuse.” Sampath Chandrakumar said: “See how too much alcohol kills people”. Just in comment was, “P.S. If he had one good friend he wouldn’t have allowed Sathis to depart so soon. Alcohol (sic) and tobacco (sic) must have taken his precious life. Our celebrities! Please be health conscious (sic) than popularity as God will never grant us a replacement for the sin of poisoning people.” Mama’s comment (in Sinhala) was, “Too much drinking was the cause.” These are a few and some of the comments made to correct the fact but it doesn’t seem to have a big impact. Meantime it’s not the right place to discuss the bad effects of alcohol or celebrities personal habits.
This scenario creates a forum to discuss the practice of making comments, as some use this democracy to provide false information which can easily tarnish the image of the celebrities and much respected people and values and we are tired, listening to the old story regarding free speech. Do you believe these comments helped the society in a positive manner or to maintain democracy? People who make these comments feel they have done good, by exposing and revealing the truth. But isn’t it the reverse that takes place. The moderators were counting the hits and waited for another. Can these unethical sites survive, without these sensational comments?
Banning inappropriate information
Some of the media institutions have introduced precautionary actions to minimise these unethical practices, such as opening an account to make a comment. According to the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) when you are creating a pet name the use of obscene words, abuse, defamatory content, contempt, incitement, copyright infringement, brand names or registered trademarks, company or organisation names, names of high-profile or public figures, names promoting political, religious, social or economic issues are not accepted. Apart from that it has introduced user participation policies, banning the inclusion and publishing content, that contain inappropriate personal information, which you see being included in the comments mentioned earlier.
Anyway one can argue that there are alternative media practices in society and does it need to follow the mainstream media? Though these sites boasts saying “The website also has the right not to publish selected comments’, has allowed to comment using false facts and allow these to remain after being corrected. That’s why we need to rethink to stop slumming as blogs and disallow comments or need responsible readers.
Courtesy The Nation