By Amila Muthukutti –
Mass media plays a pivotal role in any country for safeguard of the democracy, as it is the bridge that connects citizens with the rulers. When people rely on media for knowing the truth and thereby take decisions, especially their political decisions, civil power of the media is on the increase. Once incidents taking place for past few weeks in the country are closely examined, what can be seen is the rise of social media and fall of mainstream media. Because this is a case in which the mainstream media goes beyond their ethics and public trust, leaving a vacuum that was fairly filled by social media, particularly Facebook, future behaviour of mainstream media in the country ought to be widely discussed in terms of their role for democracy which seems to be now at stake.
Mainstream media includes newspapers, radios and Televisions. When it is considered in Sri Lankan context, they are largely owned by few businessmen who are either directly or indirectly affiliated with political parties. It is true that media needs money to cover their expenses and should finally make a profit. However, it doesn’t in my opinion have to be a business that is run just for profit. If so, fundamental expectations placed on the media are shattered.
It is needless to note here that all the mainstream media acted in favour of their political parties over past few weeks by violating the right of the public to know what is actually happening in the country. Furthermore, it could be seen that how state-owned media reported things, even without telecasting parliamentary sessions. Consequently, state media heads had to be summoned to the parliament by the speaker. This is a very sad situation, as media stations that are funded by the public did not provide people with any opportunity to know the truth, but fabricated stories. This can be called a fall of mainstream media.
When people understand that they are unable to get an idea of the real situation just by sitting in front of the TV, They opted for social media for getting information as well as sharing their thoughts. People started sharing their views concerning constitutional coup, making a platform for moderate discussion, since everyone can express their ideas on social media without any hindrance. For an instance, people started believing Azzam Ameen more than some TV channels. It is true that the media can create and topple regimes by making and changing public opinions. Nevertheless, it has been clearly proved that this is valid, as long as people don’t choose alternative sources for getting information.
Moreover, when the Supreme Court declared its verdict with respect to the dissolution of the parliament, not only natives but also the entire world were keeping an eye on it. Social media, especially Facebook could post the Supreme Court verdict more quickly than some TV channels that were telecasting surroundings of the Supreme Court. Why should people switch on their TV, despite the ability to know the truth by logging onto Facebook?
It can be said that information shared on Facebook is not reliable, because they are not filtered by anyone in authority. While it is true in some cases, people have still the chance to get information from reliable persons and sources in authority via Facebook. On the other hand, if someone questions as to why people read papers and watch TV, answer could be that Sri Lanka doesn’t have good internet coverage in remote areas. It is with low computer literacy that people hesitate to access to the internet for verifying information.
Furthermore, even though people in Sri Lanka is well ahead of its regional counterparts in terms of language literacy, media literacy in the country is not at satisfactory level. Media literacy can be defined as the ability to access, analyse, evaluate and produce communication in different ways. To put it simply, media literate person can critically think of what they see, hear and read in media. So long as media literacy is poor in this country, it is a blessing in disguise for opportunistic politicians and businessmen engaged in media business.
In conclusion, mainstream media in Sri Lanka have miserably failed to win the public trust and fulfil their duty of conveying the truth which is of course need of the hour. They cannot expect their readers, listeners and viewers to believe whatever is available in their media, since people are now more sophisticated, having an access to the internet and increasing number of social media users. This trend can be introduced as a rise of social media and fall of mainstream media in Sri Lanka.