Over the past few centuries we have seen the emergence of four pillars of democracy. They are the Executive which is expected to be blessed with the gifts of honesty and integrity, accountability and transparency, a like-minded Legislature, an independent Judiciary and a free media.
The free media’s role cannot be underestimated as long as it is committed to the values of free and fair, balance and accurate news reporting or feature writing. This is seen in the United States where President Donald Trump -- widely seen by independent analysts as being erratic, inept and a pathological liar, who is dangerously unpredictable -- has been exposed mainly by the free media. The Washington Post reported last month that since Mr. Trump took office in January 2016 he has lied or twisted the truth about 12,000 times. The newspaper, widely respected for its role in the Watergate scandal which forced the then President Richard Nixon to resign -- is now playing a similar role along with other free media in what is called the Zelenskygate scandal. This involves a telephone call or calls made by President Trump to the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The newspapers revealed that President Trump had promised to give approval again to a US Dollars 400 million aid package if the Ukrainian President Zelensky further investigated corruption allegations against the former US Vice President Joe Biden and his son. Mr Biden is Mr. Trump’s main rival for November 2020 presidential election. The White House issued a five-page transcript of the telephone call or calls and the US national intelligence director made a nine-page report to the US Congress after a whistle-blower exposed details of this call or calls. This led to the Speaker Nancy Peloci announcing that the House of Representatives would soon begin impeachment hearings against President Trump for alleged obstruction of justice and the violation of the oath he took to uphold the US Constitution. What we wish to emphasise here is the role played by the free media including leading newspapers and the world’s leading television channels. Though President |Trump dismisses these stories as “fake news”, most independent observers believe he is in deep trouble and the impeachment hearing may significantly reduce his vote base at the November 2020 presidential election. President Trump may be found guilty by the US House of Representatives, but the Republican party-dominated senate is unlikely to convict him through a two-thirds majority. Yet most analysts believe he may lose the presidency because of the charges that emerge during the impeachment hearings and the revelations made by the media.
We spotlight this case as the United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) today marks the International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI). Since 2016 UNESCO has been marking September 28 as the IDUAI, following the adoption of a resolution to this effect. The IDUAI has particular relevance with Agenda 2030 with specific reference to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on investment in rural infrastructure and technology development, on positive economic, social and environmental links between urban, peri-urban and rural areas and on initiatives to adopt and implement constitutional, statutory and policy guarantees for public access to information.
In Sri Lanka with the presidential election to be held on November 16, much has been achieved in access to information, thereby strengthening the democratic process. The most notable achievement has been the Right to Information Act approved by Parliament in February 2016. This is one area where most political parties agree. They say the RTI Commission has done an excellent job in compelling some State institution to reveal information regarding their tender procedures, contracts and other financial deals sometimes involving hundreds of millions of rupees in public money. Several media personnel have made use of the RTI Act to get information regarding important public issues and bring them to the attention of the people. We hope more media personnel and even the people will make use of the RTI Act so that diabolical leaders like Donald Trump could be brought to justice.