By Bernard Fernando
At the outset we raise our hats to the mainstream media for defusing tensions among the people by vouching to disseminate only proven information in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday massacre. But unfortunately the unravelling political drama continues to be a part of the lopsided and skewed media culture that is yet to come out of the woods.
In general, some of the electronic media institutions are hell bent on giving undue importance to political minions in their news bulletins at a time when the curse of the entire country has befallen them. Almost 80% of prime time news is allocated to talkative, egoistic politicos of their choice who seek nothing but power and publicity.
Meaningless voice cuts of these unreliable, political liars who have no principles, values, ethics or morals are given top priority at the expense of country’s economy, development efforts, ethical and value systems. They aggravate political rivalry and add fuel to fire through frequent late night political talk shows without dwelling on conflict resolution. In the good old days these ‘talk shows’ came to the limelight only during election time.
Many media institutions never care to double check with the affected parties regarding the veracity or the importance of the news items they carry. Instead, they play to the gallery very well knowing the uselessness and the cheap quality of the news items. The response from the affected parties is reckoned long time after the damage is done. As a result, the people are deprived of obtaining a balanced view on any issue.
Some channels blatantly engage in ugly personal vendettas and witch-hunts. Despite the appealing tag lines they carry, it is amply clear to the people that many media institutions have their own political agendas which they follow unblushingly.
Undue political patronage
In the process they make heroes and demi-gods of satanic politicians. They hardly highlight the exemplary deeds and righteous acts of deserving personalities worthy of emulation. Can children and simple citizens look up to any of the present-day politicians as role models to develop positive thinking and patriotism?
The country-loving decent citizens are at a loss to understand why the media is brazenly continuing to force-feed the people with such cheap, shoddy and inferior political news clips laced with liberal doses of unbalanced political bunkum in their prime time news.
As political animals people have now got addicted to this political comedy that will never help to build a patriotic citizenry or develop a ‘debt-trapped’ country. Even developed countries do not resort to this so-called liberal media culture that makes scapegoats of simple people who are compelled to feed on and digest this unbridled news fodder!
If our country is to emerge out of this pathetic morass, our present political and media culture should undergo a paradigm shift that prioritises and highlight more positive facets of life that promote country’s development efforts and value systems.
At last, we are seeing some light at the end of the tunnel with the appointment of a special committee to recommend suitable changes and oversee the State media institutions. Some modifications are already visible in the State electronic and print media striking a better balance in the reportage of Political news. This example should influence the private media institutions to change their approach when reporting political news and also in selecting ‘teledramas’ for public view. A code of media ethics and best practices can be issued to all media institutions by the Media Ministry.
As a first important step, we recommend that the news editors be advised to allocate space in their prime time news bulletins in priority order, namely, island wide local development programmes/projects updates (30%), inspirational achievements (15%), religious activities (15%), local politics (15%), international (15%) and sports, entertainment and weather (10%).
When airing voice-cuts, they should also be advised to obtain and present ‘both sides of the coin’ then and there with equal coverage to let the viewer/listener draw his own conclusions.
In addition, the media gurus should train their students to focus on ‘country first’ when they report.
Since media freedom and freedom of expression are projected as undeniable rights, we exhort on intelligent, patriotic media, politicians and citizens with country at heart to facilitate this much-needed change through example and relentless pressure.