he blazing battle between United States President Donald Trump and the US media provides good headline lessons for Sri Lanka’s media on how we acted or reacted during similar periods in the country, especially from 2010 to 2015. During the past few weeks President Trump has been using his infamous twitter weapon to blast major news networks such as the Cable News Network (CNN), senior news anchors of other major TV networks and newspapers such as the Washington Post and the New York Times. But the senior journalists also are hitting back strongly and what is going on, when looked at positively, is a good test or showpiece of American Democracy. Of course President Trump, in characteristic style, has been resorting to ugly personal attacks on female journalists referring to private matters that even cads or scoundrels do not talk about. Even Mr. Trump’s Republican Party leaders are saying his twitter comments are damaging the high and powerful office of the US presidency, but Mr. Trump does not seem to care, and continues the twitter warfare, perhaps due to the lack of political experience, an overdose of reckless arrogance or a combination of both.
As the US marks its Independence Day today, most Americans were stunned by extensive details disclosed in a CNN block buster weekend programme titled “The Russian Connection”. The investigative report exposed how from 2015 Russian cyber war spy agencies, apparently on the directive of President Vladimir Putin, hacked into the computer networks of the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. For reasons known to President Putin, the Russians in a sophisticated way disclosed negative details of the Democratic Party and its candidate Hilary Clinton. But Republican Party secrets are still in Russia’s possession and some analysts are wondering whether the Russians could use it for political blackmail of Mr. Trump, members of his campaign team and the current administration. Russia’s overall aim apparently is to undermine liberal democracy, as it has allegedly indulged in such cyber attacks in Britain, France, Germany and other countries also.
Along with the unrelenting campaign of the free media, another important factor we see is the freedom of the Federal Bureau of Investigations, with President Trump recently sacking FBI Director James Comey because he refused to stop the investigation into alleged Russian collusion with Trump’s campaign staff to ensure his victory in last year’s presidential election. The FBI, the Central Intelligence Agency and other national security institutions officially informed the then President Barack Obama that they had substantial evidence of Russian involvement to undermine the US election. The documentary evidence was given to Mr. Obama about a month before the election, but his advisers say the former President could not or did not act because of uncertainty over whether it would be seen as an interference in the election campaign. History will perhaps record that if Mr. Obama had disclosed the evidence, not Donald Trump but Hilary Clinton may have become the US President. In any event, if the current controversies, contradictions and confusion continue, some analysts believe the Republican Party may initiate or support impeachment proceedings against Mr. Trump on charges such as obstruction of justice.
Sri Lanka’s media - the print, electronic and social media - need to learn from the US media on how to fight the good fight and keep the faith that the people still have in an independent media where there is free, balanced and accurate reporting and feature writing. During the 2010-2015 era, except for a few journalists who dared to challenge the authoritarian regime and the rampant corruption, the media, to a large extent maintained a convenient silence. Most people would have agreed with Martin Luther King’s saying that “what hurt more was not the sword of the enemy but the silence of the friend.” Now that media freedom has been restored to a large extent, Sri Lanka’s journalists need to speak out openly against inaction or inefficiency, corruption, cover-ups or other vices in the National Unity Government. But the rights are linked to responsibilities and we need to see a media commitment to the long-term principle of a peaceful, just and all-inclusive society where the people, whatever their religion or race, work together in a spirit of unity in diversity.