What is wrong with most politicians is that they rarely or never practise what they preach. We are treated to their tub-thumping, philosophising and self-righteous moralising ad nauseam but they remain a bunch of hypocrites to all intents and purposes.
The JVP, which is crusading for media freedom, has slapped a ban on the State media. Rupavahini and ITN will not be permitted to cover JVP events because they distort news, JVP MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake has said. One may not endorse the brand of journalism that the State media practise. But, the JVP ban on them cannot be countenanced on any grounds.
The JVP, which is weeping buckets for the media these days, cannot reconcile its much advertised campaign to protect media freedom with the draconian measure it has adopted in dealing with a section of the media. If the State media are at fault, the JVP could always seek remedies, legal or otherwise, without resorting to Taliban methods. Access to information is of the same crucial importance as the safety of journalists for the wellbeing of the media and it is a sacred right that must be safeguarded at any cost.
The JVP is without any moral right to make a song and dance about media biases, having committed crimes against media institutions and journalists alike. In the late 1980s, it may be recalled, the JVP gunned down ITN Chairman and television guru Thevis Guruge and veteran Rupavahini presenter Premakeerthi de Alwis. Lake House delivery vehicles were attacked and bundles of newspapers set on fire. Newspaper agents were threatened, attacked and bombed. That was how the JVP dealt with dissent!
The JVP became extremely fond of the State media during its living together with the UPFA in 2004. That was the time when some other TV channels aligned with the Opposition painted a black picture of Rathu Sahodarayas. It looked as if the JVP had taken over Rupavahini, ITN, SLBC and Lake House. Such was its influence over the UPFA government. The JVP did not take issue with the government over how the State media covered the Opposition at that time. In fact, it was the JVP propagandists with access to the State media who coached their UPFA counterparts in developing mudslinging to a fine art. They introduced the so-called 'mud segment' into newscasts against the UNP towards the latter stages of the then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa's presidential election campaign in 2005. Together, the Goebbels of the two parties vilified the Opposition and its leaders mercilessly. Wimal Weerawansa's phenomenally effective demolition job in 2005 courtesy of the State owned television stations is a case in point.
The State media have always functioned as the shock troops of the government in power. That they have been abused under different political dispensations is public knowledge. The JVP, as was pointed out earlier, was also a beneficiary of their propaganda assaults on the UNP. The same goes for the UNP and its allies bearing the brunt of the State media attacks at present. They, too, used the State owned television and radio stations and publishing house to bludgeon the Opposition.
True, two––or more––wrongs do not make a right and the abuse of the State media must stop. But, bans on the media or a section thereof must be resisted with might and main. Else, repressive measures such as censorship and the revival of the Press Council laws, too, will have to be taken for granted.
Moreover, if we are to subscribe to the JVP's argument that Rupavahini and ITN deserve to be banned from covering its political events because of their lopsided coverage, then there is no reason why we should not grant that Minister Mervyn Silva was justified in preventing a certain private television channel from covering events he attended citing the same reasons as the JVP.
Don't the pharisaic Rathu Sahodarayas think they who are pontificating to others on democracy and media freedom should conduct themselves better than at least Mervyn Silva in handling the media?
Old habits die hard, eh?