By Malinda Seneviratne –
The absence of media freedom and the violation of the rights of media personnel were a constant lament articulated by the then Opposition during the previous regime. The restoration of freedoms and the upholding of rights consequently was a key element of Maithripala Sirisena’s election campaign. He picked up the UNP’s gripe and ran. The UNP, for its part, in pledging support to Sirisena pledged to help him set things right in this regard.
That was ages ago.
If anyone entertained illusions that the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe dispensation was interested in doing anything to stop the rot if not cure the malady altogether these would have been laid to rest when the much talked of and many times promised Right to Information Act was first put on the policy back-burner, then completely removed from the reform discourse.
And now with elections called the true colors are surfacing. It is reported that the UNP’s Chairman, no less, has instructed all state media to toe the party line. Having even without such instruction pandered to party interests in doing everything possible to promote a split in the main Opposition, such institutions now have got the official green light to blank it out altogether.
If that were not enough a leading newspaper house has been taken over. It was not yesterday that this country moved from ‘censorship’ to ‘ownership’ of course. That said, we were made to understand that this lot would do better. After all, these are the very people who cried ‘foul!’ when all that happened and who, during the presidential election campaign, vowed to enshrine media freedom and the rights of media personnel. The journalists of that newspaper who have been effectively silenced, if asked about media freedom under Ranil Wickremesinghe would no doubt break into uncontrollable guffaws and thereafter snort in disgust.
The silence of media watchdogs such as the Free Media Movement and the Working Journalists Association as well as other rights outfits that tagged ‘media’ to their resumes for obvious donor-baiting reasons is deafening. We are yet to hear the US Embassy issue a condemning love note to Ranil Wickremesinghe. International watchdogs that worked tirelessly to censure the previous regime for such ‘wrongs’ have similarly disappeared into the woodworks.
And finally we have the curious case of a previous editor of a newspaper that prided itself for operating in the public interest being charged for pilfering monies collected from the public ‘to keep the newspaper afloat’. The Companies Registrar has received a complaint from a contributor. Those associated with the newspaper have gone silent. Whether or not the Government will bail out this individual will also reveal the true colors of the UNP with regard not only to media freedom but corruption. This newspaper, for the record, backed Sirisena to the hilt.
So this is it.
Media freedom? Forget it! Balanced reportage? Trashed! Fair coverage? Be serious! Change? Past tense! Yahapaalanaya? Cheap rhetoric!