The manner in which the world media is covering significant events, the twists and turns it renders to the core substance of a major event and the preordained definitions it ascribes to the personalities and communities who generate these events are way beyond comprehension. Whether it’s the so-called ‘free media’ of the West or state-controlled media in closed societies such as the Middle East, North Korea and Cuba or even an open society like India, the story is the same. Sensationalism is substituting authenticity; commercialism has invaded the minds of those who control the machinery of the media, both print and electronic and to obtain maximum ratings or readership, newspapers have fallen to the level of tabloids and television and social media have fallen to the level of downright nihilism. For example, the coverage on the latest airline tragedy, the missing EgyptAir flight 804, received on worldwide television screens was pure sensationalism and they did not even begin to talk about those 66 people who were on board until the next morning. Every one of them on that flight, including the crew, had a family. They were fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons or daughters of somebody.
The loss of each one of them is being mourned by his or her family. The coverage of the human angle of the story was subordinated to ratings; the anguish and despair caused to those families took a back seat while sensationalized tidbits such as the location of the Black Box -- of course, its critical discovery would be immensely helpful in finding out what took place immediately prior to the disappearance of the plane -- and the political shades that were painted to suit the particular network that covered the event, hit the headlines. No argument is made here to belittle the enormous validity and relevance of incidental facts and figures regarding the actual crash or disappearance of flight 804. But the absence or lack of focusing on the human side of the catastrophe is glaring and cannot be understated.
The same story is germane to Sri Lanka and in some cases such coverage of newsworthy events is deplorably deficient. Politics and coverage of politicos have overshadowed the human tragedy that runs behind each and every sensationalized story. The haste that journalists of electronic and print media adopt to these peculiar scenarios has surpassed all decent precincts to convert a human tragedy into a ‘news story’. To win viewers and readers, the network bigwigs and print media barons direct their subordinates, news directors, etc. to attain ratings goals. And they resort to sensationalism.
The human tragedy that surrounds the particular event recedes into the background and political and other considerations take precedent in the minds and mechanisms of the media. And that is a real tragedy.
Two conspicuous cases in point are the murder of Lasantha Wickrematunga and the disappearance of Prageeth Ekneligoda, two well-known journalists of the past few decades. Volumes have been written and volumes have been telecast on the political perspectives of these two tragic occurrences, allegedly at the behest of the former regime and its major stakeholders. But the real tragedy of the families affected, relatives’ yearnings and colleagues’ agonies are sparsely referred to even among those who discuss these life-changing events with a glass of single malt whiskey in hand and puffing an expensive cigar. How many words have been penned on the circumstances under which Lasantha’s widow left the country? How many columns were written on the unspeakable harassment meted out to her when she was living in exile? These are human beings too; they too have families of their own and livelihoods to protect; they too have feelings and emotions; they too cry and weep at their losses.
The unfolding human drama about them is even more moving and touching than what political consequences would entail these unholy crimes. In the case of Prageeth Ekneligoda and his forlorn wife, the sad saga is heartwrenching -- a tragedy of ancient Greek proportions. The melancholy drama that is being played out in open, a widow’s lament over her missing husband, the desperation and misery that has been brought upon the children have not been chronicled with any degree of fairness and profundity. Such human stories are many and each of them is part of the moving drama of man, enacted in public on the outrages committed against him in private. In a market-driven economy, in a country waking up from a ten-year slumber in the outreaches of corruption and nepotism, one might not have time nor the resources to muster even to pay lip service to a languishing mother or a mournful widow, but a modicum of empathy is what is necessary and needed.
The greatest sin of man is abstinence from empathy. No man, ruler or leader can claim greatness if he or she shows no empathy towards their fellow beings. We, as a civilized society, are committing that sin not only as a collective body; we are continuing to commit it individually. Our worthiness as one human family, breathing the same air and sharing the immensity of natural resources on earth will be questioned by history itself one day and the legacy we are leaving behind is not a very readable one. Drapes of prejudice may conceal our nudity; melodies of yesteryear may enchant the souls of a lost generation, but truth and truth alone will help open our eyes and ears. No man is worthy of his existence if he abdicates his fundamental human quality of being empathetic to his fellowmen. The fountain of Siddhartha Gautama Buddha’s elementary teaching of four sublime states of mind, Metta (loving kindness), Karuna (compassion), Mudita (sympathetic joy) and Upekkha (equanimity) is empathy. Whether one is a Buddhist, Hindu, Christian or Muslim, one simply cannot argue against the validity and universality of empathy.
Man today is confronted with an uncommon existential crisis, a crisis in which the very existence is being challenged on the one hand by exceedingly vulgar material wealth and pitifully barren mindlessness on the other. Long before Sigmund Freud, Buddha, the first existentialist in known history, opened our eyes to the naked truth of existence, its vitality and validity to society as well as to individual man; Buddha’s deafening silence on deities and one single creator has been abandoned by those who profess to be teaching his Dharma today.
Religion in all forms has been desecrated and soiled; it has been used as a tool to invigorate the uneducated to irreligious goals. Clergy brocaded in saffron robes, cloaks and yellow threads are roaming the wilderness of society with new pseudo-visions of salvation, easy and unencumbered paths to moksha are being preached in the name of the founders of all religions and in these modern sermons, these frauds find ‘God’ an easy product to sell to a frightened and despaired people. Man, as he did in the ancient days, finds solace in the notion of ‘God’, for belief in an unknown and abstract ‘God’ offers him easy escape from the material and psychological deficiencies he experiences.
Allow me to paraphrase what Pundit Nehru, the great intellectual politician of the 20th Century wrote: “I cannot believe in a notion of an all-powerful god because such a belief belittles the spirit of man that is the central driving force behind all civilization”. One can hardly find truer words. The psychic swindlers who pose as great spiritual leaders today are indeed belittled by such enlightening thoughts so humbly expressed in elegant words with such consummate skill. Yet savants argue that the world has to go on; great scientific discoveries and stupendous feats have been consummated with human hands and with diligent work of the human mind. Man has no time for supra-mundane, religious endeavours.
This buttresses my argument that education and learnedness are quintessential elements of those who should be vested with political power. It should not be taken in exclusion of other characters and qualities of power holders, but absence or lack of learnedness and education would ultimately catch on as they did during the past regime in our country. There are a few corrupt and murderous leaders who possessed very creditable credentials in education in the past but the all-corrupting quality of power consumed them totally. As Plato said in, his Republic,“The society we have described can never grow into a reality or see the light of day, and there will be no end to the troubles of states, or indeed, my dear Glaucon, of humanity itself, till philosophers become rulers in this world, or till those we now call kings and rulers really and truly become philosophers, and political power and philosophy thus come into the same hands.” It might well be a fantasy to imagine such a world where philosophers become rulers. But there is no law against dreaming such sublime thoughts. The writer can be contacted on vishwamithra1984@ gmail.com