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Media freedoms will lessen without me: President


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 President Maithripala Sirisena

 


 

  • President says certain media organisations backing his potential rivals will find their freedoms subsequently reduced 
  • Delivered on media freedom but had to face more criticism than any predecessor 
  • But pledges to continue upholding freedoms, says even State media is free under him
  • Media Minister says rise of fake news websites has threatened credible journalism

By Nuwan Senarathna 

President Maithripala Sirisena yesterday said the media freedom Sri Lanka has experienced during his tenure in office could not be expected under a new President, insisting that no other person who held the post would tolerate character assassination as he has done in the last four years. 

Non Cabinet Minister of Mass 

Media and State Minister of Defence, 

Ruwan Wijewardene 



The President, speaking at the first ever Presidential Media Award ceremony, organised by the Ministry of Mass Media and held at the BMICH, warned that even though media organisations and journalists have been dedicated to criticising him, they would not enjoy the same freedom under the person who they hope will be his replacement.

The Presidential Media Awards was introduced by the Government to promote credible and professional journalism in all forms of media, including press, TV, radio and websites.

The President did not give specific names but insisted that certain media organisations and journalists had been criticising him to promote a rival who would not respect democratic values and media freedom. 

“If we look at the last three years. No one has been criticised like me. I don’t think I have to remind you of what media institutions and journalists experienced during the tenures of all former Presidents except former President D.B. Wijetunga. Most of the senior journalists here today have had experiences of very trying situations.” 

He pointed out that during the Presidential Election campaign, media freedom had been a key topic, and he was able to deliver his promise to create an environment where journalists and citizens of the country could enjoy the freedom of expression.  

The President noted that journalists needed to understand the importance of being a professional journalist and the importance attached to the role. He claimed some media institutions disregarded this and instead abused the freedom that had been given by his Government. 

“It is very easy to criticise a person like me because I don’t have any connections with underworld gang members and I don’t misuse armed forces and police. So therefore it is easy to criticise me. But those who criticise me have to think will anyone who will be a possible alternative for me let them criticise like this? So I think they have to reconsider their actions, if only for their own self-preservation.”

In addition to mainstream media, social media campaigns have also triggered to damage his reputation, the President said. The President pointed out that he had no influence over any media organisation or any journalist and did not pressure them to publish or report stories that were only beneficial to him.

“I know what happened to the presenters of the breakfast shows before I become the President. But today presenters in breakfast shows express their political opinion instead of reading the paper. This is how media freedom is being used today. But as long as I stay in this position they will not have to worry.”

The President also noted journalists had earlier not been able to perform their duties impartially due to orders they received from owners of media organisations.

“When we talk about corruption the finger only points at politicians. That might be because they are representatives of the public. But there are more corrupt people in this society who were not highlighted by media.”

“I know if a media organisation reports about them that particular organisations has to face problems. Therefore media do not want to talk about them.  State media gets orders to promote the Government. Each Media Minister faced challenges, therefore most of them want to leave this Ministry. When we take private media institutions, the organisation runs according to the preferences of the owner of that organisation. All private media institutions publish the opinion of the owner.”

Speaking at the event Non-Cabinet Minister of Mass Media Ruwan Wijewardene said, with the advancement of technology and the internet, there was more opportunity to spread false information through websites.

He pointed out that websites that contain false information had created challenges for credible journalism. Wijewardene noted journalists had the capability to change the minds of public to guide the nation to a better future.

Pic by Ruwan Walpola

 








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