Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe minced no words when he gave a piece of his mind on what he thought about sections of the private media, who, according to the Premier, were busy working to bring the Rajapaksas back to power. Speaking at an UNESCO sponsored event calling for an end to impunity for attacks against journalists the Prime Minister said the task of upholding press freedom had squarely fallen on the lot of his administration and a few civil society groups, while private media bosses remained unconcerned. This he said while noting the absence of editors and owners of private media establishments at the event. Instead of raising issue over the murder of Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunga, the disappearance of Prageeth Ekneligoda and attacks on the Uthayan newspapers the private media bosses were today keeping mum as if the whole matter of probing these attacks is the business of the present government, he observed. The Premier also said that certain media houses were planning to bring the Rajapaksas back to power in order to continue with their shady businesses, which they carried out with the blessings of the former ruling family.
Prime Minister Wickremesinghe’s ire is justified to a great degree, given the lukewarm attitude shown by, both, journalists and media bosses to pursue investigations against their colleagues who had been victims of state power. Nay, journalists and bosses of certain newspapers and TV channels are busy today working to political agendas. It is obvious to any independent minded person that certain private media were hell-bent on getting the Rajapksas back in the saddle. News stories are slanted and/ or distorted to place the government in poor light. Mountains are being made out of molehills and lapses on the part of government are exaggerated. Certain private media lose no opportunity to turn the knife in, so to speak. This was amply evident during the recent petrol crisis where newsmen of certain private channels were seen shoving mikes to the mouths of irate motorists to obtain their naturally uncomplimentary views on the government.
There is one particular Television channel which takes delight in relentlessly attacking Premier Wickremesinghe in its news segments. Special programmes are being designed by this channel to carry out these vicious attacks employing hired ‘experts’ who are known critics of the PM, with carefully bowled full tosses served to those interviewed. This was seen during the bond commission inquiry where the Premier was being unfairly targeted. It is common knowledge in media circles that this axe to grind with the Premier was occasion by his refusal to accede to a very lucrative business contract, eyed by the wealthy owners of this private TV channel.
There is yet another private channel which makes no bones about where it’s sympathies lay. The presenter of a morning programme where the stories of the daily newspapers are conveyed to viewers gives his own spin to the news items and his own interpretation of events in a manner that is unfavourable to the government and its leaders. What is more, it is also given to stirring communal passions with reportage of incidents and events in the north in a manner that suggests undue tolerance of the Tamil community by the government.
True, TV channels are concerned about their ratings and anti-government news gain much currency with the public rather than ‘sunshine stories’. Hence there is fierce competition among these channels to outdo each other and a certain degree of sensationalism cannot be avoided. However, concentrated attacks on government leaders have today become the norm with certain channels.
Like the PM said, it is strange that no private media bosses have shown an interest in raking up the murder of Lasantha Wickrematunga who was killed in broad daylight in an area with a heavy security presence. Not just Wickrematunga, there was the abduction, and, torture of The Nation News Editor Keith Noyahr and Rivira Editor Upali Tennakoon, not to mention the disappearance of Prageeth Ekneligoda, during the Rajapaksa era. The ‘no show’ by the media bosses at the UNESCO event that highlighted attacks on journalists may, or, may not be due to their reluctance to cause embarrassment to the true perpetrators of these atrocities. Or is it that they couldn’t care less about the journalist tribe and only wish to foster their businesses, which the majority newspaper and TV channel owners are deeply into, and journalists and their lives are only of secondary importance?
Be that as it may, journalists, themselves, should take a more pro-active role in demanding investigations into the murders and attacks on their fellow scribes rather than expect their entrepreneur bosses, whose interests lay elsewhere, to promote their cause. But regrettably today certain journalists themselves are reluctant to do so for fear of antagonizing their one time patrons, whose return to power is their sole aim. Evidence of this is shown in their open hostility towards the government and the kid glove treatment given to the former rulers.
Daily News, December 7, 2017