Artiste turned lawmaker Ranjan Ramanayake’s revelations about alleged corrupt activities of politicians and businessmen through his voice recordings have raised questions about privacy of individuals.
When two people engage in a telephone conversation, neither party would wish the other to record what’s said without consent. Ramanayake became notorious for such acts even when sitting at the head table at media briefings.
The controversial parliamentarian has to his defence said that he had engaged in unethical practices such as recording telephone conversations with the sole motive of exposing corruption.
On January 22 those attending a panel discussion, held at the Centre for Journalism and Education, aired the view that the media should be careful when reproducing content from such tape recordings because there are no laws in Sri Lanka to protect the privacy of individuals.
These recordings, as we know, have the potential to tarnish the image of individuals mentioned in such tapes. However what gives grieved parties some solace is that Ramanayake and some of the parties grieved by these recordings stating that certain voice recordings have been doctored with.
It had been highlighted at the discussion that the media can’t be named as the third party when such happenings are leaked to the press. A TV journalist at the discussion had pointed out that when a journalist obtains facts from a press conference, the latter becomes the third party and the media that reports this in mainstream media eventually ends up being the fourth party.
We can remember how former Health Minister Dr.Rajitha Senaratne organised a press conference at which an individual, who identified himself as the driver of a ‘White Van’ recalled gruesome details of how abductions were carried out before the Yahapalana regime assumed power.
Senaratne soon fell into hot water and is facing legal charges for the attempted expose. In the recent past there was an occasion when two leading Sri Lankan English and Sinhala newspapers, published by one company, used a doctored photograph featuring Ahimsa Wickrematunge, the daughter of slain newspaper editor Lasantha, to decorate the front pages of these two dailies. This was done to boost the readership of a news item which highlighted a member of the Rajapaksa family renouncing his US citizenship. Senior scribes condemned the use of this manipulated picture and demanded that the newspapers appologise to Ahimsa. After all Ahimsa has her life to lead and values her privacy.
All journalism manuals teach scribes that ‘journalists should not pry into the lives of ordinary citizens’. There was this classic incident in a leading English weekend newspaper many years ago where its editor refused to carry a picture of a daughter, sans a helmet, hitching a ride on her dad’s bike to school. The father, captured on reel, was a policeman and in uniform. The argument was that though the policeman had breached the law by taking a passenger on the pillion of a bike, sans a helmet, the newspaper editor was cautious not to tarnish the image of the daughter because she was a schoolgirl.
State Minister for Export and Agriculture Janaka Wakkumbura has said that Ramanayake is tarnishing the image of ministers, Buddhist monks, Catholic priests, the Judiciary, the Committee to Investigate Bribery and Corruption and the Sri Lanka Police. What’s of real concern is that mainstream media picks content from social media, the latter which doesn’t believe in adhering to any ethics laid out in the practice of journalism. For the record Ramanayake has said that he possesses as many as 120,000 tape recorded conversations and has several more stacked safely in bank lockers.
All this calls for the lawmakers of this country to bring in laws that would ensure that the media protect the privacy of individuals and their families when engaging in the profession of reporting.