Former President Chandrika Kumaratunga in her inimitable sardonic way used to call her bête noire the then Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa the 'reporter' in her Cabinet, as she thought he was responsible for leaking out information about her bungling government to the media because of his rapport with the journalistic fraternity. She was not completely wrong! He was easily accessible and outspoken and therefore became one of the most sought after politicians in those days. He talked freely with journalists, endeared himself to them and got good press in return. His healthy relations with the media stood him in good stead in politics later in life.
Sadly, the media has come under dastardly attacks on his watch and, worse, his government stands accused of having carried out some of them. We do not intend to hold a media trial but suffice it to say that the government has failed to or not cared to clear its name. None of the much advertised investigations launched by 'special police teams' into assaults and even assassinations of journalists have been concluded and it looks as if they would never be.
On Friday, President Rajapaksa added insult to injury! He appointed, of all his MPs, Mervyn Silva Deputy Media Minister! He certainly could not have found a worse person for the job! It was only the other day that we said in these columns whether the President had mistaken jokers for trumps in the game he was playing would be known after the appointment of his Prime Minister and ministers. What was feared has happened!
People get the governments and politicians they deserve, it is said. The electors of Gampaha may richly deserve Mervyn, as they returned him with a huge amount of preferential votes. But, we the members of the Fourth Estate certainly do not deserve him!
It is not that we have not had political misfits in charge of the media earlier. All the Media Ministers and their deputies, save a few, have been square pegs in round holes. However, one of them stood out like a sore thumb––for the wrong reason; he displayed fatuity and asininity.
Under President Ranasinghe Premadasa, who also succumbed to the arrogance of power and made ministerial appointments according to his whims and fancies, we had A. J. Ranasinghe as State Minister of Media. The only qualification he had, if at all, was his sickening servility bordering on downright helotry to his political master to the point of declaring in public his desire for slurping a bowl of soup made of President Premadasa's slippers or serappu soup. (Whether he really partook of his gastronomic delight we really do not know.) The current Deputy Media Minister makes use of every opportunity to demonstrate that he has the same propensity and predilection for 'footwear soup'. But, AJR and Mervyn are poles apart in that the former's jokes were funny and the latter's are dangerous. The problem with all 'political jokes' is that they either get elected or appointed via the National List!
Does Mervyn's appointment give a foretaste of the approach the new government is going to adopt to the issues concerning the media? Absit omen! Our counterparts in the State media must be shivering in their boots because of a harrowing experience some of their colleagues had in the aftermath of an incident in December 2007 at the Rupavahini Corporation, where Mervyn and his goons took on a senior journalist only to meet their Waterloo. Some of the Rupavahini workers believed to be involved in the incident suffered grievous injury later on at the hands of some unidentified assailants. The government hushed up investigations.
It is hoped that hereafter journalists, especially those in the State media, will not have to come to work in running shoes and headgear!
What is Mervyn capable of as Deputy Media Minister? He, in our opinion, can only give a turbo boost to the Voluntary Retirement Scheme (VRS) now underway in some State media institutions. On hearing of his appointment, journalists working in those places may run away even without pausing to collect their compensation!
Mervyn’s coming! Are you ready?