Saturday, 14 December 2013 00:08
By Ashwin Hemmathagama – Our Lobby Correspondent
The Government’s media policy and its step-motherly treatment to private media got grilled during the Committee Stage Debate of the Ministry of Mass Media and Information which took place in Parliament on Wednesday.
Opposition lawmakers pointed to deteriorating media freedom, increasing government intervention and false promises given to uplift the industry standards,” as key strategies used by the “Rajapaksa regime to deny the public right to information”.
Moving the debate on the 16th allotted day of the Appropriation Bill 2014, UNP Parliamentarian Karu Jayasuriya took on Ceylon Newspapers Ltd. for engaging in character assassination against those politicians and individuals who do not follow the newspaper’s agenda.
“I have encountered tear gas, baton charges, and various harassments from thugs having stood for media freedom and rights. I continue to stand for the media freedom. Similarly the media should also consider other peoples’ rights. Certain media institutions personally take on individuals neglecting the responsibility.”
Jayasuriya said he had stood up for Mawbima when it was sealed for the second time. “However, they have started a disgraceful media culture in Sri Lanka. During the recent past they have published a headline, which talks about a meeting of mine with a headline that describes lightning. But no lightning took place. Their media policy is to turn against their close friends. This is what happened to Sarath Fonseka and Mangala Samaraweera. They were close ally of this newspaper company, which is strategically working toward destroying the United National Party. Mawbima is a substandard publication that went to the extent of blaming my parents who are no more. Not stopping at that point, the writers in this newspaper goes on criticising the clergy,” said MP Jayasuriya, suggesting that the owners and the management of the Ceylon Today should learn the trade and the culture from industry veterans including Upali Wijewardena and Ranjith Wijewardena.
In response the Minister of Petroleum Industries Anura Priyadharshana Yapa said MP Jayasuriya’s personal issues with a newspaper company were irrelevant to the debate. “I am stunned to hear how Karu spoke. It is more of a confession. With the web and the use of satellite technology gone are the days that we could be hidden or control information. We have always encouraged media freedom. The number of television channels, newspapers, and the radio channels are more than what you had during the UNP regime,” the Minister charged.
He said the web was full of criticism of the Government. “They underestimate our development and promote LTTE propaganda,” he noted. “When it comes to measures taken to uplift industry standards, we have given laptop computers to media personnel, enabling them to be more productive and also to enhance professional knowledge,” said Minister Yapa.
Democratic National Alliance MP Vijitha Herath joining the debate highlighted the use of the Government media to cover-up faults and sling mud at opponents. “You should not point fingers at the private media. Firstly cover your media institutions, with their disgraceful media policy. The Media Minister cannot instruct the private media to be civilised having failed to adopt the same at home. The Government has a responsibility to protect the right to information by law. We suggest that it be included in the Constitution as an Act,” Herath said.
Herath charged that the public was misinformed in Sri Lanka under the Government’s current media policy.
“When Channel 4 was prevented from travelling to the north, they turned back and started to interview the protestors. They asked the protestors the reasons for the protest and if they have ever watched Channel 4. The protestors who were from the rural Anuradhapura denied knowing about a Channel 4 but have confirmed taking to the streets under the instructions of politicians. Channel 4 telecasted this live from Anuradhapura and the footage went worldwide. So, we showed the absence of media rights to the global viewers. Were you able to protect media and enhance their professionalism?” queried MP Herath.
However, Minister of Culture and Arts T.B. Ekanayake disagreeing said the pro-LTTE Channel 4 had been invited to Sirikotha. “Channel 4 was instrumental in creating domestic turmoil in other parts of the world. You were claiming the Government obstructed Channel 4 from travelling to the north. But any foreign media should first take approval if they intend to travel to any part of Sri Lanka,” the Minister said.
MP Wijedasa Rajapaksa joining the debate highlighted the three pillars of a democracy – the executive, legislative, and judiciary. “The three pillars concept is outdated. Media freedom is the yardstick that measures the prevailing democracy in any country. During an era where the judiciary and the legislative is overrun by the executive, media personnel work in an environment with little freedom and protection.
“The younger generation no longer believes the conventional media but resort to websites. Most of the time these websites offer sensationalised news. Being a member of the Commonwealth we need to be an example for the non-members by establishing media freedom and making an independent judiciary. We should media access to all committees including the COPE,” said MP Rajapaksa.
Opposition Lawmaker Ranjan Ramanayake in his speech criticised the Government’s failure to protect journalists and editors. “Your system has led to a position where an editor of an important newspaper was killed in broad daylight. Were you able to find the killers who stabbed him with a sharp weapon and also shot him using a gun fixed with a silencer? The Sunday Leader editor who died used to have coffee at Temple Trees but as soon as he started asking the wrong questions, the things changed,” Ramanayake charged.
He said the Government could not keep using the killing of actor Vijaya Kumaratunga to get away with killing Lasantha.
“Six people entered Mandana’s house and the Bambalapitiya Police killed one person who entered the house on the spot. Mandana left the country just because she found a deposit slip made to HSBC. We all know whose account it was,” said Ramanayake.
Taking on the Minister of Mass Media and Information Keheliya Rambukwella, Ramanayake said: “Minister, have you taken legal action against that Australian hotel you were staying? You were talking high about taking legal action. You were trying to put a jump and fell off the balcony? This is what happened. Rupavahini survived telecasting the cricket matches. Now the telecasting rights are given to a Rajapaksa channel, CSN.
“Sudharman who is under open warrant is freely moving inside Temple Trees. Why not arrest him? At least the Channel 4 journalists had the spine to ask the President about war crimes. None of the local journalist could do it,” he added.