The latest talking point in the Sri Lankan media circles in particular and in public in general is the revival of the Press Council Act. Frankly, I do not know about the nuts and bolts of this Act, so it will not be very ethical for me to comment on what I am ignorant of. At the same time, as an informed citizen, I suspect that the real implications of this will necessarily involve silencing the media critical of the UPFA regime either because they act independent of the State or because they have different political ideologies or different agendas. If the Press Council Act to be enforced is nothing but an excuse to suppress media freedom, then it is something we can scarcely approve of.
In my opinion, the Fourth Estate does not necessarily have to see eye to eye with the State on everything. In a true democracy, dissent is something we should tolerate and of course encourage. As a matter of fact, neither the media nor the State is in the right all the time. When the State errs, it is the responsibility of the media to point out that and compel it to rectify its errors and curtail its excesses. Whether the media belong to the State or private entrepreneurs, they must play a constructive role in improving social, political, and economic conditions that affect the citizenry.
It is regrettable that the state media have been flagrantly used as a propaganda tool of the regime in power. So, even if I am a vocal critic of the JVP over their hard-line policies and foolhardy political moves, I certainly cannot help agreeing with them on their stock-quip that the state media are nothing but the trumpets of the State (anduwe horanae).
Just as the State media are biased towards the State, so may be the private media towards the Opposition. Although this is not something we can be very happy about, it is unrealistic for us to expect this to be otherwise.
Further, the government that has been voted into power by the people has no moral right to deny them their right to information. It is hardly the policy of a Democratic regime to limit people’s access to information when, obviously, it does not jeopardise national security. Instead, it should let the media have their say whether it is ‘for’ or ‘against’ the State and let people decide. If the media act irresponsibly and report inaccurate information to mislead the public, then the government must not hesitate to take legal action against them.
People in this country may be honest, simple and grateful almost to a fault, but they are certainly not naïve. They know when enough is enough whether it is the excesses of the media or those of the State.
And the government is but an agent of the people. The Law of Agency dictates that an agent shall always act in the best interests of the principal.
Therefore, while we wholeheartedly agree with the government on the prosecution of the media personnel who have compromised the country`s security for personal gains, we oppose the introduction of Draconian laws that will suppress the freedom of the press.