Cobra girl boosts case for media code of ethics –Charitha


By Shamindra Ferdinando

Media Ministry Secretary Charitha Herath yesterday said that the recent coverage of Nirosha Wimalaratne (24) aka ‘cobra girl’ highlighted the urgent need to introduce a comprehensive code of ethics for both print and electronic media. Although the right of the media to report on incidents of its choice couldn’t be disputed, it shouldn’t be allowed to abuse its freedom, he said.

Had the media left Ms. Wimalaratne alone she wouldn’t have ended up at the National Hospital in the early hours of Wednesday with cut injuries on her neck inflicted by her Saudi Arabian partner, Herath said. Asked whether he was trying to use Ms. Wimalaratne’s plight to justify the ongoing efforts to suppress media freedom, Herath maintained that the media couldn’t absolve itself of the responsibility of having made her a mega personality.

Ms. Wimalarate couldn’t simply handle the media blitz which made her a celebrity overnight as she moved the Court against the police to reclaim her pet snake, Herath said. Legal proceedings were initiated in the wake of her arrest along with a cobra at the Cleopatra Club, Kollupitiya. At the time of her arrest she was employed at the night club as a dancer. Her speciality was performing with a cobra.

Herath alleged that the girl had received heavy media coverage since her arrest last September. 

The Media Secretary pointed out that the media had given wide coverage to Ms. Wimalaratne’s claim that she couldn’t sleep without her pet cobra by her side. Dismissing that claim as ridiculous, he faulted those at decision making levels of the media for failing to take remedial action.

When pointed out that as the Media Ministry, too, hadn’t raised such issues earlier it should take responsibility for the current situation, Herath emphasized that he was simply trying to respond to a dangerous trend. He declined to comment on Ms. Wimalaratne being represented by President’s Counsel Rienzie Arsecularatne before Fort Magistrate Kanishka Wijerane on Sept. 27, 2012, where the decision to file a fundamental rights petition seeking the cobra was announced.

Kollupitiya police arrested her on Aug. 28, 2012. The police wanted to prosecute her for violation of the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance or under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance. Subsequently, the Court was told that Ms. Wimalaratne was in perfect mental health.

Herath said that Ms. Wimalaratne could have had made new friends due to her being in the spotlight over the past several months. It would be interesting to know whether the Saudi Arabian and Ms. Wimalaratne had met after the media made her a celebrity. It was not an isolated case, Herath said, alleging that many people had caused irreparable damage to their lives by giving in to media manipulations. Some of those in the limelight today didn’t deserve such publicity, he said.

The official said that a draft titled ‘media ethics’ was almost ready for discussion. According to Herath the Media Ministry would be able to make available copies of the draft to those in the industry to pave the way for a healthy discussion. Responding to a query, Herath insisted that none would be left out of the discussion.

The draft would accommodate salient points in the existing code of professional practice of the Editors’ Guild of Sri Lanka adopted by the Press Complaints Commission of Sri Lanka.    

The existing code of ethics is accepted by the Newspaper Society of Sri Lanka, Free Media Movement, Sri Lanka Working Journalists’ Association, Sri Lanka Press Institute, Sri Lanka College of Journalism, Sri Lanka Tamil Media Alliance, Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum, Federation of Media Employees Trade Union and South Asian Free Media Association (Sri Lanka Chapter).

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