The following article based on the press communique written and issued by the author as the Convener of the National Media Forum, a newly emerged media watchdog based in Colombo on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day 2017!
by Mandana Ismail Abeywickreme
Views expressed in this article are author own
Views expressed in this article are author own
(May 2, 2017, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Tomorrow, 3 May, is the World Press Freedom Day and UNESCO has declared “Critical Minds for Critical Times: Media’s role in Advancing Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies” as this year’s theme.
The National Media Forum (NMF) believes that this theme is quite timely, especially considering the present Sri Lankan as well as global context and that journalists and media organisations should understand that our role as the Fourth State and watchdog of democracy is crucial at this critical juncture.
Locally, we are facing a situation where most of the democratic freedoms and essential democratic reforms we have secured after January 2015, by defeating the totalitarian Rajapaksa regime, are being taken back or being restricted by the government. Now the leaders of the government have started to openly say that there is too much freedom and too much democracy in the country where people do not have the discipline to enjoy it. Especially with the increasing public protests against imprudent government policies and successful trade union action, the Cabinet is now discussing new mechanisms to suppress them.
On the other hand, the government has turned its back on its pledges made at the 2015 Presidential Election and the subsequent General Election. Investigations of large-scale fraud and corruptions committed by ministers and top officials of the previous regime have been disrupted by political interference and now these allegations are being used to concoct political deals in order to give a boost to the weakening powers of the government. One example of this is how that the Bribery Commission was neutralised after removing its former Director General.
FCID also seems paralysed after the transfer of its Director, and with the move to take hundreds of important files out of FCID and handing them over to other police divisions. These cases are against some leaders of the former Rajapaksa regime and now it is clear that there is a move to protect these criminals who stole public funds. Anti-Corruption Committee Secretariat (ACCS), the front office of the FCID, too has been deactivated. Facilities given to the intelligence division of the ACCS have been cut off and FCID has been directed not to request intelligence reports from the ACCS.
Meanwhile, fraud and corruption continue under the present government, and top officials including the President and the Prime Minister seem to be directly interfering in these investigations and protecting the culprits. There is no transparency in government’s international agreements, tender awarding in mega projects, and privatisation of State-owned enterprises. This government too is following infamous and corrupted Unsolicited Proposals in mega projects.
When it comes to media freedom, the President has resumed his predecessor’s practice of calling upon media institution owners, editors and directors for meetings at the President’s House. This practice was started by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and it was used to influence private media organisations. However, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe continues his hostility against selected media organisations. The progress of the investigations into the murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge, missing cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda and attack on several other journalists and media organisations are not satisfactory at all. President Sirisena is influencing these investigations to safeguard so-called war heroes of the intelligence units who committed these crimes. Under these circumstances, we cannot expect media freedom under the yahapalana government as well and therefore NMF stresses that Critical Minds of journalists is essential at this critical time.
In the global context too the majority of the people living around the world, whether they live in the developed or developing countries, are facing most critical situations, in terms of political, economic, social and environmental issues. With the increasing tension in the Korean Peninsula, the world is on the verge of a nuclear war. Building up of NATO military power along Russian borders has intensified the threat of a war in Europe. Wars created by the US in the Middle East continue and thousands of innocent civilians are being killing in Syria, Iraq and Libya.
Despite evidence suggesting enough food is being produced to feed every mouth on the planet, due to inequality in distribution, millions of people are dying of hunger. The United Nations warned in February that more than 20 million people in Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria and Yemen risk death by starvation. South Sudan has already declared a state of famine in a crisis largely due to a violent civil war.
Climate change is also creating a lot of social and economic issues. Thousands of people around the world are dying annually as a result of rising temperatures. Rising sea temperature and rising sea level and its impacts have reached alarming level which human beings and all other living creatures in the world cannot tolerate anymore. These climate change issues intensify drought, food shortage and hunger by another round.
Therefore, journalists who have the biggest capability of creating public opinion and defining the world should carefully recognise the Media’s role at this Critical Time.
NMF believes that this is not the time for journalists to exaggerate and project the rosy picture portrayed by politicians and corporates and investigate and report the true plight of the people.