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Editorial - If Media are suppressed, Democracy will die


10 June 2013 04:17 am - 1     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


History has shown us clearly that the four pillars of a genuine democracy are a people friendly executive, legislature comprising elected representatives who are servants of the people and work for the common good of all, an independent judiciary and a free media.

All four are important to provide checks and balances for a government of the people, for the people and by the people. When they work effectively and honestly we see good governance, accountability, transparency, the rule of law and social justice whereby there is an equitable distribution of wealth and resources among all the people.

If we compare this time-honoured and time-tested image of democracy with what we see in Sri Lanka today, we may have to agree with an enlightened joke that is doing the rounds on the internet theses days: When I was a child I was afraid of the dark, now with the huge increase in electricity bills I am afraid of the lights, the future is bleak indeed, because of the increase in electricity tariffs someone appears to have switched off the light at the end of the tunnel and what we see is only another tunnel.   

After the imposition of the 18th Amendment which the Rajapaksa regime pushed through with a 2/3 majority not obtained from the people but patched up by offers of power, wealth, perks and privileges, the executive presidency appears to be more connected to dictatorial trends  than democratic traditions. The legislature, which till 1977 had the power to topple governments and had total financial control over everything including the presidency, has been reduced to a rubber stamp or a talking shop from where a big noise is heard but little is done by way of walking the talk.

" Now we come to the last of the crumbling pillars—the free media "

Over the past the independence of the judiciary has been attacked in subtle ways from inside and outside, culminating with the illegal and widely-condemned impeachment of Chief Justice 43 Shirani Bandaranayake in January this year.

Now we come to the last of the crumbling pillars—the free media. Over the past few decades the government has  controlled a large section of the media and these state media institutions  today violate virtually all the principles of fair, accurate and balanced reporting or feature writing. Only a few sections of the media sincerely try to maintain the  principles of independent journalism but they too are under direct or indirect pressure and threats or intimidation and thuggary.

It is in such a dictatorial mess that the government is trying to impose a code of ethics for journalists  with the powerful parliamentarian Sajin Vas Gunawardena even proposing that the draconian criminal defamation law be re-imposed. Last week we saw the level to which the system has degenerated when a government MP alleged that the missing journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda was living in France and that he had seen him at a meeting arranged by an old school friend and journalist Manjula Wediwardena. But Mr. Wediwardena in a telephone interview on TV denied the whole claim. On Saturday France also said there was no evidence at all of any Mr. Ekneligoda living in that country. If the Rajapaksa regime continues this trend and imposes indirect censorship through the so-called ethics for journalists, it might be the final death blow to democracy. Millions of people and generations to come will suffer.     

  Comments - 1

  • R.M.B Senanayake Monday, 10 June 2013 06:03 AM

    Democracy is already dead and we are heading for a failed state.Surely there is no real freedom for the media since the Editors exercise self censorship.I like to quote from Hayek the economist
    But to call ‘law’ everything that the elected representatives of the majority resolve, and to describe as ‘Government under the Law’ all the directives issued by them – however discriminating in favour of, or to the detriment of, some groups of individuals – is a very bad joke. It is in truth lawless government. It is a mere play on words to maintain that, so long as a majority approves of acts of government, the rule of law is preserved.

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