Influential section of media accused of being party to destabilisation campaign

‘Govt. will not give into reactionary forces’


by Shamindra Ferdinando

Deputy Minister of Mass Media and Parliamentary Reforms Karunaratne Paranavithana alleges that an influential section of the media is deliberately undermining the government and its major projects including post-war national reconciliation efforts.

Deputy Minister Paranavithana is of the view that the reportage of the recent incident at the University of Jaffna has exposed the strategy followed by a section of the media.

The Ratnapura District MP said so addressing a recent seminar held at Government Information Department to brief the media on the formulation of the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

Deputy Minister Paranavithana alleged that a despicable attempt was being made to blow the situation at the University of Jaffna out of proportion and that had led to the reluctance on the part of Sinhala undergraduates to go back there to resume studies.

"Is this journalism? Paranavithana asked. The Jathika Hela Urumaya representative emphasized that the media couldn’t be allowed to cause turmoil and pursue policies inimical to the well-being of the country. A section of the media had been working closely with those hell-bent on dragging the country to the hell, the former Editorial Director at Lake House during the previous government alleged.

Paranavithana who served as a senior diplomat under the Rajapaksa regime insisted that the government would take tangible measures to create a professional media community.

The Deputy Minister said they were in the process of formulating media reforms to thwart on-going destabilization projects.

Paranavithana said the RTI Bill hadn’t been diluted and was endorsed unanimously in parliament though it was yet to become law for want of Speaker Karu Jayasuriya’s approval. The Deputy Minister assured that the Speaker Jayasuriya’s endorsement would be available soon.

He said that all laws formulated in parliament were meant to govern people, whereas the RTI Act brought both politicians and administrators alike under public scrutiny. Commenting on strong opposition to RTI Act, Deputy Minister Paranavithana said that some journalists resented the move. Some alleged that the RTI Act was a conspiracy, the MP said alleging Sri Lankans were experts at creating imaginary threats. The MP claimed that such strategies were meant to obstruct reforms and development.

The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government wouldn’t succumb to what the Deputy Minister called reactionary forces and would go ahead with planned reforms. "Will overcome obstacles and fight our way forward through obstacles. They’ll retreat", he said.

Paranavithana insisted that this was certainly not an issue regarding media freedom. The government MP urged the media to act in a sensible way to facilitate government projects meant to bring relief to the people.

Media and Parliamentary Reforms Minister Gayantha Karunatilleke, Director General of Information Department Dr. Ranga Kalansuriya, Shan Wijetunga of Transparency International (Sri Lanka Chapter) and RTI activist Nalaka Gunawardena, too, addressed the gathering.

The TI representative admitted that they had no indication as to the amount of funds required for the implementation of the project. The seminar was told approximately 8,000 persons had to be trained and employed for the release of information sought by the public and also to ensure the smooth implementation of the project.

Wijetunga said that once Speaker Jayasuriya had endorsed the RTI Act, action could be taken to establish the RTI Commission consisting of five persons. The audience was informed of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s keen interest to set up the Commission within six months.

He also explained the circumstances under which appointments would be made to the RTI commission responsible for managing the project.

The TI representative denied assumption that the RTI Act would compel the media to reveal their confidential sources.

Media activist Nalaka Gunawardena said that in the passage of RTI law in parliament, various journalists had raised primarily four issues pertaining to their profession. Gunawardena said that some journalists had been worried about them being subject to restrictions in accordance with RTI law, punitive action against journalists, prevention of disclosure of information obtained from confidential sources as well as using ‘whistle blowers.’

Emphasizing that RTI law wouldn’t interfere with the rights and privileges of the media, Gunawardena said it would be beneficial to the media. In fact, RTI law could surely strengthen the media and facilitate their efforts, Gunawardena said, while referring to former Chairman of Ceylon Chamber of Commerce Chandra Jayaratne exploiting the 19 Amendment to the Constitution to raise Central Bank bond scam issues. Wijetunga said that had RTI law been in operation, it could have been used by the media to examine the Central Bank bond scam issues.

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