Media protection for development

Tuesday, 1 February 2011 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

THE attack on LankaeNews has brought an often discussed topic back to the attention of people. Media freedom in Sri Lanka has long been a touchy topic and the addition of yet another attack on an organisation underscores the need to take strong action to address this literally burning issue.

Sri Lanka’s media repression track record does not illuminate either the country or the laws governing it.

Attacks and even killings have remained unsolved and the institutions that have been appointed to safeguard citizens seem incapable of bringing redress to the aggrieved parties. Moreover the right of people to know, to make informed decisions and be aware of what the people they have appointed to power are doing needs to be strengthened more.

The attack on LankaeNews comes at an important point in history. Even though local government polls are not considered to be as crucial as the presidential or general elections that preceded them the principle of free and fair elections need to be maintained. The people have a right to know what the different political parties are doing and how they are furthering their campaigns. Ends do not justify the means and the media is a crucial tool to monitor how victories and defeats are shaped.

Elections are often fought hard and dirty in Sri Lanka and as the country stands at the threshold of a development oriented journey the hope is that new traditions of accountability, transparency and democracy will be brought to the forefront through the “little” election – hope that can be bolstered by the presence of a free and independent media.

Euphoric ideals might seem unrealistic at this point but then so was ending the three decade war in a not too distant past. It happened because as a people we believed and so too can the same goal for media freedom be achieved if Sri Lanka is dedicated to it. Freedom of information can empower the march for development by combating corruption, assisting knowledge transfer and transforming attitudes. Media is for the people but are the people for media?

People make up the government. They appoint representatives who ideally carry out important policies and decisions that the people require for the country to grow. A government sincere to recapture lost opportunities and fast track development has many constructive points of mutual interest with media. Are all these to be undermined because of the negligence to stop attacks?

Whatever the reasons for the latest attack one point is clear. The government cannot continue to disregard and dismiss the threat lurking against media organisations and personnel. It is true that the media institutions must also report responsibly but the authorities must also show that they are making a sincere effort to protect and promote media in acknowledgement of the services that they provide. Increasing professional standards of media is needed but such a measure is ill served by threats or attacks and serves no purpose but to put the government in a bad light. So at least now, as the numbers stack up, action should be taken to show that the government is not ignoring this issue and is indeed focused on brushing up its reputation.

With internet penetration increasing within the country attention to media websites is growing. Unfortunately so are the repressive elements that seek to discredit efforts made at transparency and right to information. Protecting all forms of media including print, TV, radio and internet is essential if Sri Lanka is to make full use of its fourth estate.