By Granville Perera –
The total abuse of our broadcast frequencies and airwaves by the government and private broadcasters is a serious threat to democratic values. It is an infringement of the rights of the people. Broadcast frequencies have been allocated only on political patronage and are continuously abused for political and commercial interests. There is no space for any, truly independent media.
The last government under the dictatorial administration of President Mahinda Rajapaksa abused the state-broadcasting networks that looked more like houses of ill fame than national broadcasting networks. Veteran Radio Ceylon broadcasters of the golden era must have been turning in their graves, when they heard Hudson’s choicest words in the morning shows on national radio, during the last four years of the Rajapaksa regime.
The Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation led the abuse followed by the Independent Television Network with character assassination of individuals and organizations that could not be compared to any other, anywhere in the world. It can only happen in the miracle of Asia where the Chairman of a national radio gets on air, everyday and puke the worst filth imaginable on our airwaves. The language and abuse hurled against any opponent of the government by the SLBC Chairman and his yes men were worse than the Mariyakade slang. Yet, nobody took Hudson to task legally and wonder where he is hiding now. Needless to say, the reason for not attempting any legal recourse for defamation was that the public had no faith in the judiciary during the Rajapaksa era. Now, with Yahapalanaya, its time these psychopaths are taken to task.
Of-course, no government since the elevation of Junius Richard Jayewardene (JR) to the Presidency in Sri Lanka, allowed any free speech on National Networks. Ranil Wickremesinghe, the Prime Minister of the 2002 government, who now talks about media freedom and the right to information is accused of deciding the news agenda in his morning meeting with state media heads. Mahinda Rajapaksa and his band of psychopaths perfected it and claimed that the Government had only the government channels to use for their propaganda. While, these are not acceptable by any norm, it is an extension of the total abuse of political power by successive governments that are elected by the people.
What should astound every citizen is the total abuse of the airwaves by private broadcasters to fulfill their political agenda. Not a single private broadcaster in Sri Lanka is clean of this allegation. The biggest abuser could be identified as the Sirasa network that allocates considerable airtime to promote their political stooges and plants. Today, a few of their nominees have managed to enter parliament and provincial councils, and there is absolutely no doubt that they are attempting the political control of a sizable representation, both in and outside parliament so that they could blackmail any government in to submission. The network uses prime time television to promote their nominees and has even dropped their lucrative drama belts to achieve their political goals.
The Sirasa network, during the Rajapaksa dynasty went on a witch-hunt of the current Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe and promoted Sajith Premadasa as a possible successor to lead the United National Party. Towards this, they used up at least 50% of the airtime during news broadcasts to abuse Ranil Wickremesinghe, Mangala Samaraweera and other anti Sajith Premadasa politicians of the UNP. Ranil and his men withstood this hate campaign and succeeded in retaining their control of the opposition and the United National Party. Sirasa’s primary aim was to promote Sajith Premadasa to the helm so that they can influence any future UNP government to their advantage, as they did during the Ranasinghe Premadasa era.
They did a complete turnaround to suddenly promote the opposition when the writing was on the wall that there was considerable opposition to the Rajapaksa rule. It is a known fact that Senarath Kapukotuwa, the former General Secretary of the UNP and a Maharaja confidante brokered the truce. That truce, was made not because they loved Ranil, but they feared the inevitable.
The Sri Lankan television audiences who watch Sirasa TV is inundated with the nuisance of Ven. Seelaratane Thero, a monk who would not garner 5000 votes, Milinda Moragoda, a failed politician, Marikkar, Sajith Premadasa, Sujeewa Senasinghe, the foul mouthed Sri Ranga, Susil Kindelpitiya, Susara Dinal, Buddhika Pathirana and the latest hate monger, Dayan Jayatilleka to name a few. It’s appropriate to contemplate, how they have strategized to plant their men in every political party. Count the number of prime time minutes each of these political plants get to drive the blood pressures of the television audiences in Sri Lanka. Are there no laws to prevent this nuisance? Yes, they could claim that they are using their private money to promote their political nominees, but what needs to be stated is that the broadcast frequencies belong to the people of Sri Lanka.
It is time that the media is made free from the clutches of commercial and political interests. A government fund needs to be created to support all broadcasters so that there would be a level playing field, Media needs to be independent, and there should not be any government, religious, commercial or political patronage to any media institution. Laws need to be enacted to withdraw the license of any network that engages in political lobbying. Any misuse of the airwaves should be a punishable offence in law. A powerful commission or an independent regulatory body is needed to oversee the role and independence of the media in Sri Lanka.