20 September, 2020

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The Vilification Of Karu Jayasuriya And Media Ethics

By Malinda Seneviratne

Malinda Seneviratne

Malinda Seneviratne

No politician can escape the watchful eyes of the media.  Media is a blessing as it is a curse as far as politicians are concerned.  It helps and it detracts.  This is a reality that all politicians have to learn to live with.  Media can make and they can break.

In a country where the media industry is heavily politicized with prominent media outfits openly backing either politicians or parties scathing attacks are not uncommon.  There are of course times when political preference notwithstanding the recipient deserves the criticism, just as others deserve praise.  For the most part, however, politics colors reportage and comment, stories are tweaked to varnish blemish or obtain scar; media and ethics don’t always go together.

There’s fair and unfair in all this, but in recent times no politician has been as unfairly attacked by the media as has been Karu Jayasuriya.  We are not talking about the occasional cartoon and caustic satirical piece; we are talking about a full scale mud-slinging campaign carried out by well-known media houses.  Perhaps this is why when Parliament debated the budgetary allocations for the Media Ministry, Karu Jayasuriya opted to speak on media ethics.

Now in politics there are no permanent friends.  Even media institutions that wade into the political fray are known to shift loyalty, backing now one and now another.  Saints become devils, darlings turn into horrors.  Through it all, few would disagree, Karu has shown a kind of equanimity that is very rare in his tribe.  This is why Anura Priyadharshana Yapa, one of the more gentlemanly of the MPs in the Government ranks, did himself no favors when he read Karu’s observations on media ethics as an attack on media freedom.  Yapa is intelligent enough to know the difference and is no Mervin Silva; he need not have done himself the disservice of warranting comparison.

The truth is that Karu Jayasuriya has always defended media freedom.  He has stood up for the rights of journalists.  He has objected to intimidation. Indeed he has defended the very institutions and media personalities who for parochial political reasons spare no pains to sling mud at him.  When one considers that these very same institutions and journalists not too long ago were virtually falling over themselves to portray Karu as the country’s savior, one can obtain a sense of the politics of loyalty in both country and the media.

Interestingly there is very little substance in these attacks.  Creative use of headline, turn of phrase and even downright falsehoods have been used to ridicule (‘criticize’ is a word that would amount to unwarranted glorification) Karu Jayasuriya.  The entire campaign has given new meaning to the term ‘below the belt’.

Karu clearly stated, ‘I am open to criticism and I welcome it!’  At no point in his political life has Karu shown any fear of criticism.  He has on the rare occasion taken issue with something that was written about him but has always focused on the relevant facts and has always assured that he has no issue with comment.  Indeed ‘Facts are sacred, comment free’ is something Karu seems to respect far more than those who swear by that line do.  The attacks on Karu, on the other hand, have nothing to do with facts, sacred or otherwise, and certainly do not add up to ‘commentary’.  Malice, invective, irresponsibility, despicable are some of the words that come to mind if one were to describe what’s being hurled at Karu.

What is more disturbing about all this is the fact that Karu’s detractors paint themselves as championing the cause of the Opposition.  Forget Karu. He’s just one individual.  Let’s talk about the Government and the Opposition.  There are many reasons to criticize the Government.  One could focus on specific individuals, specific incidents, specific policies or even overall ideological thrust.  A good case can be made for ‘change’.  Let’s go with that.  Let’s add that if politics is a reality then media houses will not be impervious to the political.  Let’s assume that they have a role in criticizing and a role in building opposition.

The problem with these opposition-builders is that those who they attempt to resurrect or beatify are inevitably scarred by the processes of resurrection and beatification, including the ‘necessary’ element to vilifying potential challengers.  What does all the invective and vilification say about the named and unnamed ‘saints’ in this matter, those individuals and cabals that are being directly or indirectly promoted? What does it say about Sajith Premadasa?

On the flip side, what does Sajith have to say about all this?  Is he thinking, ‘Karu is a threat and if he’s getting a bit of stick it’s good for me and therefore I shall be silent’?  It is perfectly legitimate for anyone to object to anyone else. Sajith does not have to hold a brief for Karu.  On the other hand, if it’s about ethics, a different culture of engagement, a better political practice, then can Sajith breathe silent hurrahs for the media outfits and journalists who seem to have abandoned all else in the rush to evict Karu Jayasuriya from the political equation?

Can Sajith Premadasa remain silent and expect not to be judged on his ideas of media ethics? Can the Government remain silent?  Can anyone, really?

*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at www.malindawords.blogspot.com

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Latest comments

  • 1
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    “No politician can escape the watchful eyes of the media…… This is a reality that all politicians have to learn to live with. Media can make and they can break.”

    WOW!! When was the last time Malinda wrote an objective article on Rajapakse Family? The last two sentences above come from Malinda’s mouth? WOW!!!

    • 0
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      Dude MS please right about the need for lanka to have A RIGHT TO INFORMATION BILL.. That is more important than what Karu thinks of the media and indeed Karu was the man pushing the Right to Information.
      Please write about ideas and policies and principles, rather than gossip about people..

  • 0
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    Yes Rohan. Cheers to Malinda for stating
    “No politician can escape the watchful eyes of the media…… This is a reality that all politicians have to learn to live with. Media can make and they can break.”

    But poor Malinda is yet to come to terms with the Characteristics of Social Media – where the masses talk back. The comments are in his case often longer than his article and expose his futile attempts at Malinda Puaja.

  • 0
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    Yet another piece from this pandankaraya to prove his credentials as one of the biggest hypocrites in the Rajapassa-owned media in Sri Lanka. What a travesty in the name of “objectivity” though I suppose that one must appreciate the debt of gratitude that he and his bosses owe Karu for his act of betrayal from which the UNP is yet to recover!

  • 0
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    An another verbose to cover the ground reality. If writer is in the opinion that nobody can escape from the media eyes, why we the readers are compelled to read only the good side of the rulers in state media ?

    This kind writing is idiosyncratic to MS and the ilk that are on apologetic mode of the state.

    • 0
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      I wonder and ask myself why do the writer calibre journalist continues supporting a regime that is being criticised by IC and significant masses in the country repeatedly ? Either the perks they enjoy or their blindness against fact and figures. Honesty is miles away from this kind journalists. Anyway this is the pathetic situation the nation faces today. People have lost the credibility towards MS^s articles long back now.

    • 0
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      This Vermin is no different to that Mervyn type although he believes he is a great Media person. He is nothing but representing the Gutter Media safe guarding the Scum in Governance.

  • 0
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    Mr. Senevirathne

    Were you among the 91 journalists who received a car permit from the Government? If yes, what did you do with the permit? If no, who else in your newspaper has received these car permits? If you have non in your newspaper could you kindly investigate and reveal the names of the journalists who received the permits and their newspapers or broadcasting services.?

  • 0
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    I rarely comment on Malinda’s articles.A journalist with a preset agenda.Not much of a difference between The nation and the Sunday Times.Malinda,where were you in 2005?Which side were you in?Malinda is one of those so called journalists who are “Wasi pathata hoiya”.Meaning money.By any chance if Ranil becomes president,Malinda will carry the can for Ranil.So now lots of idiots address this dude as “sir” at his work place!A bloody wasted case.Pl go on defending the Bodhisatwa Karunarathne Jayasuriya.The Bodhisathwa loosing to Paba!

  • 0
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    Max, Malinda is smarter than that. He is no longer doing Mahinda Puja. He is preparing him self for the next swing – but the Sinhalese have not alternative. So his holding on to his tail on one hand and I dont want to tell where the other hand is. I will leave that to your imagination.

    • 0
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      Kiri Yakka,
      I won’t dispute your comment.

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