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Democracy needs a free media - EDITORIAL

2018-07-02 00:11:07
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he media are often described as the watchdog of freedom, and many journalists all over the world have lived up to the high moral values and standards the media sets for itself. As is the case with every human endeavour, a few rotten eggs are always found amid the thousands who are ready to die for the lofty principles of their trade. And dying for the principles, if statistics are anything to go by who the journalists are.  


During the period -- 2013 and June 26, 2018 -- statistics published by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) show that at least 286 journalists were killed for promoting and defending media freedom. By Thursday morning, that number had jumped to 291 after a gunman stormed the office of the ‘Capital Gazette’ in the US and killed five more media persons in cold blood.  
In times gone by, rulers of the self-styled protectors of the ‘media freedom’ ranging from the United States to the UK and France took umbrage against elected rulers from Asia, Africa, China and other countries who they claimed impinged on media freedom.   


Today the reverse is taking place. In the US, no lesser person than its President is leading a crusade against the media accusing media personnel of being an enemy of the US people via publication of ‘fake news’. President Trump’s soulmate President Durtate of the Philippines has often described opponents in the media in terms which cannot be printed in an editorial column, while President Xi of China or Putin of Russia are not known for their love for media freedom.  


In our own SAARC region during the same 5-year period, over a hundred media persons were assassinated either by state or non-state agents. What is even more sad is, that in India, the largest democracy in the world, a spate of killings of journalists saw 37 journalists losing their lives between 2013 and June 2018 -- killed either by state-friendly assassins or by gangland/militant groups.  
In short, worldwide journalism and media freedom is under threat. Soon the UN may have to consider adding journalists to its list of endangered species. And, ‘Fake news’ is now the fig leaf with which corrupt political leaders attempt to cover their nakedness.  


Even in Sri Lanka, no lesser person than the present President, who rode into power on the backs of the media, is now seeing Don Quixotic enemies among the media -- those who lampoon him over his gaffes -- as for example his most recent outburst against the provision of Tabs to students. Our President is on record opposing making available tablets to students on the grounds they could be used to download porn! Perhaps he would like to take the country back to the era of the ‘Kalu lalla and hunu kura’ (slate and chalk) while the world’s children study aerodynamics, a colleague remarked.  
Follow up action against persons responsible for past killings of journalists, attacks on media personnel, arson attacks on media houses and on the state media itself during the term of past regimes have largely been castigated to the dustbins of history, as have some killings of media personnel which occurred during the JVP insurrection of 1989/90.  


While journalists in Colombo are relatively free while our colleagues in the North and their media houses there continue to face numerous threats. Social media too has come under fire from the very regime which came into power on a pledge to media freedom. Not too long ago, a website critical of the President was blocked.  


Claims that the media is the enemy of the people, is wrong in every aspect. The real enmity is between the rich and powerful corrupt political leaders, and the media that expose the illicit, illegal activities and ties of the rich to politically corrupt leaders.   


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