I watched Rupavahini news the night (16th July) Jaffna University students clashed. The purpose was to find out about the clash that had taken place at Jaffna University. Let’s consider the time allocated by this state-run television station for various news stories, in the order telecast:
1. The Turkish coup attempt: 3.12 minutes
2. A rubbish story about an Army Intelligence Officer arrested over allegedly connection to the murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge: 1.07 minutes [Rupavahini claims that Lasantha died from gunshot injuries!. The second lie that Rupavahini trots out based on a Police claim is that the suspect was arrested on account of having abducted and later interrogated the person who was driving Lasantha’s vehicle at the time he was killed !]
3. The operation to arrest Udayanga Weeratunga: 1.56 minutes
4. A feature on opposition views of the current political situation devoted to the arrest of Namal Rajapaksa: 2.09 minutes [While S.B., Tilvin, Ajith P Perera, Bimal Rathnayake and Bandula Lal expressed views against Namal, there was time allocated for Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to raise a question as to why the JVP lodged a complaint against Namal]
5. An important piece of news about child safety: 1.30 minutes
6. A segment on the controlled prices of essential items: 2.57 minutes
7. The introduction of a system to streamline public transport: 1.16 minutes
8. Local news in brief: 2.29 minutes [a protest in Thanamalwila demanding clean water, a bus accident, a protest in Gampaha over the environmental impact of a power generation project, a fact-finding mission by the Media Minister regarding the construction of a bridge in Bentota and issues related to the tourism industry in Kalpitiya]
9. Sajith Premadasa’s comments on the construction of a village in Tissamaharama in the name of Narendra Singh Modi and how ECTA would propel Sri Lanka to prosperity: 1.39 minutes
10. Nimal Siripala’s inspection of the Matara-Beliatta railway line, it’s construction and his comments: 2.13 minutes
11. Foreign News – a presentation of video (sources unknown) related to the Nice attack: 2.13 minutes
12. Sports News: of the 2.23 minutes devoted to sports, 1.43 minutes for a volleyball tournament where Akila Viraj Kariyawasam was present, 40 seconds on Sri Lankan students who had returned to the island after securing medals (including a gold) in a tournament held in Russia, and 34 seconds about the Sri Lanka ‘A’ cricket team winning a match in England.
This news telecast which lasted 26 minutes and 56 seconds did not once mention the clash that took place in Jaffna University.
What was the incident that Sri Lankans most wanted to be informed about during the 24 hours prior to the telecast of this news programme? What is the incident that caught the attention of the citizens most via Twitter, Facebook, SMS and rumour? In short what was the incident that provoked the Deputy Media Minister to get involved in a debate following an FB post? Why didn’t Rupavahini allocate any time for this matter as is expected of a television station responsible to the general public? Was it blacked out following the absurd ‘logic’ of a ‘responsibility’ to prevent inter-ethnic unrest?
Those responsible should understand that censorship does not yield anything positive. Even when new media was absent such censorship did not do any good. Such a course of action only adds fuel to rumour and mischief-making. The responsibility of any public service broadcaster (as Rupavahini is expected to be) is to report the incident in a professional manner.
When the path is cleared for rumour-mongers the general public has to turn to conventional media to obtain a professional and accurate account or at least the position of the Government.
The Deputy Media Minister Karunarathna Paranawithana has authored a book on conflict reporting. The Director General of Government Information, Ranga Kalansooriya’s doctorate is on conflict reporting and media. Before taking up that position Kalansooriya was the Asia-Pacific Advisor for International Media Support, an institution that trains journalists the world over about conflict-sensitive media practices. The handbook for journalists on the subject (Conflict Sensitive Journalism) printed and distributed by this institution has only a single line on its first page: “Professional journalists do not set out to reduct a conflict. They seek to present accurate and impartial news. But it is often through good reporting that conflict is reduced.”
It is unfortunate that the Government is yet to issue a statement on the incident.