The law vs. liquor
I read the correspondence captioned ‘The Law Vs. Liquor and Lawlessness’ in ‘The Island’ of April 28, 2009 with a degree of fascination coupled with amusement. The writer, police spokesman SP Ranjith Gunasekera states in it as follows. ‘Investigative journalism revolves round the principle where classifications (clarifications?) and ratifications are obtained from both parties and publishing the analysed details for the reader to make his/her own assessment. It is surprising that an editor of your caliber is not aware of this basic principles’.
I suppose, SP Gunasekera will take my explanation with due regard since he has also in the past sought my advice in matters relating to law and journalism. It was a couple of months ago that the police spokesman rang me up on my mobile phone while I was quite busy and introduced himself. Indicating to me that he had thoroughly read my book written in Sinhala – ‘Madyavedaya Saha Neethiya’ (Media and the Law) – SP Gunasekera wished to get some points clarified.
What is the legal definition of a journalist, queried he, to begin with. Dealing with the diverse aspects of the matter in reply to many of his questions, I pointed out to him that nowhere in the legislative enactments in our country has this term been specifically defined. His next query was: if a specified percentage of the income of someone is earned through his journalistic work then is such person not a journalist. I explained, yes, he can be so called yet such is not a legal definition.
With all other questions as well by him having been answered, albeit briefly, despite it being a heavy tax on my time, the phone conversation then ended with a happy note. I sincerely felt happy to know, here is a public officer, conscious of his duty, attempting to do his assigned job to the best of his ability. Let me thankfully mention here, too, that in this era when the law and order situation in the country is at its lowest ebb and public service is more a public disservice, this caliber of public officer is the need of the day.
Let me presently come to the police spokesman’s correspondence mentioned above and add a couple of words to ‘Editor’s note’ therein. Sorry. His understanding of investigative journalism is misconceived.
Investigative journalism is an entirely different concept. Space constraints prevent me from going into details. Newspaper editors are not supposed to investigate all aspects of factuality or otherwise of the contents of the readers’ responses before they are printed in the ‘Letters to the Editor’ columns. Indeed, such an exercise is next to impossibility.
On the other hand, ethical journalism demands that if anything prejudicial to you has been printed then you have a right to have an opportunity of explanation. Happily, SP Gunasekera got that opportunity on the earliest possible date.
Gothatuwa New Town