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Sunday, 22 July 2012

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Prostituting journalistic profession

Today there is a large number of newspapers, web-based news sites, radio and television stations in Sri Lanka. Though generally branded as Sri Lankan media, not all of them adhere to the norms and journalistic traditions.

Thanks to the immense INGO funding and even certain foreign missions here pumping money on the sly, some of these so-called media organisations make a song and dance over media freedom in Sri Lanka. Barely anyone bothers to ascertain whether these newspapers, web-based news sites, radio and television stations in Sri Lanka respect media ethics and act in a responsible manner.

A few newspapers published here are not true newspapers in the real sense of the term if one were to study their contents, editorial policy and ultimate objectives.

Some newspapers descend to an abysmal level in journalism, totally ignoring their social responsibility and all accepted norms in journalism. Are these ethical newspapers or mere rag sheets that 'plant' baseless stories purely to tarnish the image of their opponents, mainly politicians?

Not all newspapers get a sizeable revenue from advertising and some struggle to stay afloat without adequate income to meet soaring production costs. Some newspapers are funded by those with vested interests and INGOs so that they could impose their ideas on society through the newspapers they fund.

Simultaneously, a 'new culture' of journalism has emerged in Sri Lanka as we now see newspapers with an axe to grind. These journals are more dangerous than underworld gangsters who undertake contracts to kill people literally but descend to character assassination, especially those whom they loathe - their political opponents.

These newspapers prostitute the profession brazenly. In the event you wish to tarnish the image of any of your opponents or enemies, all you do is to 'inspire' the editor of such a rag sheet, or newspaper as 'they' call it! Thereafter, a price is fixed for their dirty mission.

No sooner the 'deal' is finalised, the editor and 'suicide scribes' of such newspapers get cracking and the following weekend, they would 'dish out' a story to satisfy the aspirations of their funding source. They are adept at producing concocted stories.

However, only a couple of newspapers fall into this sordid category and sully the image of the entire newspaper industry. Moreover, there are newspapers which act in a highly responsible manner.

All newspapers need not necessarily fall in line with Government policy. Constructive criticism, no doubt, is most welcome as such criticism with concrete evidence would contribute to the betterment of society in a democratic country.

Nevertheless, journalists and editors should not be allowed to sling mud at their opponents, political or otherwise, and go scot free in the name of media freedom. Merely because they are 'armed' with a pen, journalists cannot be given the freedom of the wild ass. Scribes should not run away with the idea that they have immunity and could write defamatory and malicious stories and get away easily. By no means can they intimidate people whom they are averse to.

There are born and trained journalists. Of late, a new breed of 'suicide journalists' have come into being. They are not real journalists or editors but are mere 'creations' of funding agents. They care two hoots for solid reasons or concrete evidence to initiate a story.

They are 'master chefs' in the trade who cook up any kind of story. Their imagination runs wild and they pen articles predicting what would happen in the future. They are by no means soothsayers and level wild allegations on incidents that could transpire in the future.

The authorities should not brook such arrant nonsense and allow 'adopted' editors to intimidate senior Government officials, or anyone else for that matter. The media has the right to highlight mistakes and shortcomings of officials and politicians, but that does not necessarily mean that they could act as arbitrators.

The media should be sincere and constructive in its criticism and should desist from abusing media freedom to put their personal or political agendas in motion.

The time is now ripe for people to identify this media mafia, especially those who abuse their rights and privileges as journalists. Such unprincipled editors and journalists too are answerable to the Sri Lanka Press Council and people ultimately. All right-thinking people would condemn such unprofessional acts in no uncertain terms.

Journalists need freedom to carry out their duties professionally. They have the inalienable right to spotlight anything that endangers society and expose corrupt officials and people's representatives. But does this mean that they could use a poisoned pen to take revenge from their opponents or the people with whom they don't see eye-to-eye? Journalists cannot trot out excuses all the time by saying "a matter of public interest".

It was only the other day that an 'editor' of a weekend 'newspaper' had attempted to blackmail the senior-most official of a ministry. The journalist in question made allegations regarding an incident that would occur in the future. If such a scenario is adopted, more scribes would take the cue when they have nothing to write about. These misfits bring the profession into disrepute in the name of media freedom.

Is it worth identifying such rag sheets masquerading as newspapers? These newspapers have hardly any circulation as only a handful of extremists get carried away by their concocted stories.

By initiating a controversy with a popular politician or a senior official, editors and owners of such publications attempt to steal the limelight so that more would be written in other newspapers which have a better circulation.

A self-initiated confrontation with a popular figure is perhaps a blessing in disguise for such media mafia as they attempt to exploit the popularity of these self-same people to keep their newspapers going.

All that they need is to publish something or another to woo public sympathy and thereby step up their circulation. The so-called bankrupt media associations, which preferred to remain mum when the Chief Editor of Lakbima News was attacked, seem to be more concerned about editors who are hell-bent on blackmailing people.

This tomfoolery should be stopped forthwith to ensure the rights of genuine journalists who use their pens in the broader interests of the nation at large.

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