| by Milinda Rajasekera
( December 22, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Among the important matters that came up during the committee stage discussion on the media last week was young MP Namal Rajapaksa’s candid disclosure about the embarrassment caused to his family as a result of inordinate media coverage given to the members of the Rajapaksa family. Agreeing with the opposition charge that the ITN channel has become a Rajapaksa family channel, he said the relentless publicity given by the state run TV channels to the events attended by his family members and relatives was embarrassing to his family.
Recounting his experience, he said, “One day I watched the ITN news bulletin with my father, mother and my two brothers. The first news item was about the President, then about the Speaker, followed by news about Basil Rajapaksa, then Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and then sports news which was also about my brother Yoshitha and myself.” He added that the people would blame his mother and two brothers who are not in politics, because national channels telecast only their faces on TV.
The request he made to the state media managements following the above statement was very enlightening. He has said that the President attends several national events on a single day, but TV channel Heads should select only very important events and telecast them giving space to cover important events regarding other MPs in the government, provincial councillors and local government members and the opposition. And very importantly, he has pointed out that there should be a chance for all shades of opinion to be expressed. Then, the credibility of these media institutions will be high, he has pointed out.
The ruling party dominat ion of the state media is not a practice of recent origin. Parties in the opposition always condemn it and vow to take corrective measures but they too do the same when they get into the seats of power. Today, the practice has assumed unprecedented proportions. The state managed media institutions have now become virtual ruling party establishments without any pretensions. The ITN, SLBC and Lake House publications are outstanding among them. They not only are promoting, defending and propagating government policies and defending actions of government politicians but condemning, ridiculing, vilifying and humiliating opposition parties and their politicians. The sycophants serving in these institutions are in their element obsequiously singing the praises of their godfathers.
Defending this situation, government spokesmen cite the numerous private media institutions that support and promote opposition party policies and actions. They, however overlook the ability the state media possess to reach all corners of the country with the extensive coverage they lay claim to. However, the prevailing situation seems irredeemable and it would seem logical for the authorities to declare that these state media institutions are ruling party enterprises thus leaving no room for ambiguity. If these institutions are making profits without depending on state funds, as claimed by government authorities, then the gravity of the accusation that they carry out partisan propaganda while thriving on revenue collected from people belonging to all political parties, would diminish.
It is indeed creditable if these state media institutions have become viable as claimed. But it is unfathomable as to how these institutions have suddenly become viable after being on their uppers for decades. Some of these are overstaffed. Lake House has thousands of employees in excess while SLBC says it has a large number of employees who do not do any productive work.
The conduct of the private sector media is not dissimilar. They promote policies and interests of political parties, organisations and persons that are favourable to them in the pursuit of their own interests. The people, for instance, saw how, on the UNP leadership issue, different sections of the media were promoting some and condemning others. There is indeed nothing wrong in exercising their freedom and independence in this manner. What is objectionable however is the unethical practice of distorting, twisting or suppressing relevant facts.
The refreshing attitude of MP Namal Rajapaksa to undue use of power indeed is something unusual in the present context where most politicians are hankering after publicity. In fact, some of them are publicity hunters who want mountains of publicity for the molehill of work they do. This is understandable because it is on publicity that these politicians thrive. They are on top of the world when they are in the limelight. They commend media institutions and embrace media persons when they are praised and commended and become furious when even a slight criticism is made against their actions. They welcome and support media freedom when their political parties are commended and leaders eulogized. And they agitate for curbing media freedom when criticism is levelled against their parties and leaders.
It would be much appreciated if MP Namal Rajapaksa makes an effort to persuade other politicians also to guard themselves against the instinct for ego inflation. It is this instinct that makes them use their names for roads, institutions and various other places. It seems all right if a road or anything is named after a national leader who had rendered exceptional service to the country. It is however observed that it is close relatives or friends who often take the initiative to name roads and other places in the memory of their departed friends and relatives. It is reflected glory that some of them expect. It is also a moot point whether those great men would have approved of such things if they had a say in them.