In various spheres or areas of life, rights are linked to responsibilities. To the extent we fulfil our responsibilities, to that extent only could we claim or exercise our rights. To the extent we fail in our responsibilities, to that extent we forfeit our rights. This hallowed time-tested principle applies also to the independent media which are expected to play a major role in sustaining a democracy that is of the people, for the people and by the people. The independent media are the channels through which the sovereign people exercise their fundamental rights to the freedom of expression and information. The independent media also need to be the voice of the voiceless, marginalised and defenceless people. They are expected to spotlight the grievances and aspirations of the people, especially the poor, and bring them to the attention of the government again and again till action is taken to bring about social justice and an equitable distribution of the country's wealth and resources.
"Despite all these disturbing and negative factors, are the independent media playing their role?"
To what extent this is happening in the Rajapaksa regime is another matter. Most independent analysts see a trend that has little to do with Abraham Lincoln’s principles of democracy and appears to be heading more towards dictatorial methods with an all-powerful Executive Presidency and a patched-up or bought-up two thirds majority in Parliament. As a result there is little by way of the vital checks and balances and less so with the recent impeachment of Chief Justice 43 Shirani Bandaranayake and the serious damage done to the independence of judiciary. There is little by way of accountability, transparency and good governance while the police service has lost its independence to a large extent and is more a party political force. As a result crime is rampant and so is corruption with politicians leading the way in plundering the wealth and resources of the people.
Despite all these disturbing and negative factors, are the independent media playing their role? According to the legendary American publisher William Randolph Hurst, news is something that is hidden or suppressed. The rest is advertising. That means news conferences, political meetings, seminars and media releases from various parties fall largely into the advertising category because the groups concerned want publicity. Of course some publicity needs to be given but real news is where an investigative reporter or feature writer goes out to dig up the truth that is suppressed and exposes it to the people. News also means pro-active reporting and not re-active reporting. Pro-active reporting means going out and finding a story while reactive reporting means just covering an event or situation.
Based on such high values and principles, journalism is more than a profession - it is a vocation. As to how many journalists have this vision, goals and training for it is another matter. But we at least need to be fair, accurate and balanced in reporting and feature writing, while being the voice of the people and making a preferential option for the poor.
During the recent Milkgate crisis we saw an unfortunate situation where media groups which claimed to be fiercely independent or first in most things, clearly and shamelessly took the side of a trans-national company without giving priority to the welbeing and health of the people.
We hope the few remaining independent media groups will work according to the highest values of journalism to bring lasting peace with social justice to Sri Lanka.