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Tragic truth of media freedom

2013 Jul 01

In a few weeks time, the Editors Guild will be organizing what has now come to be their annual 'Oscars' or 'Academy Awards' or by whatever name it has come to be known, where journalists of our tribe will be honoured with trophies and medals. We can only beg, our distinguished and intelligent readers, to pardon us for devoting or squandering today's editorial to write about ourselves.

Celebrating the journalistic excellence of our peers is refreshing, and would indeed serve us as a diversion from the tragic every day truth, the media fraternity confronts on a daily basis.
The sad but pertinent question, indeed, is whether we are in a position to celebrate.
It was only last week, we, helped by an eleventh hour intervention by Ven. Mahanayaka Theras, forced the government to retract a 'new Code of Media Ethics' unilaterally drafted by the government's spin doctors.
Had the so-called Code of Media Ethics been successful, the enemies of media would no longer need to pick up and bump off members of the media, but instead journalists can be put out of work and sent home for truthfully doing their job. Had the so-called Media Ethics Code been implemented, we would be publishing only what we call 'sunshine stories' meaning our job will be to project public and responsible figures as the perfect lilywhites next in line to reach Enlightenment or Sainthood, while the country burns or starves.


No profession is perfect. While there is a handful of journalists, who would merrily serve the whims and fancies of politicos or who belong to a tribe called 'pocket journalists,' who will prefer the new Code, still the preponderance of media workers, who are self-respecting professionals, would have preferred to give up their career rather than compromise on the sacredness of a responsible vocation and here is where the readers, we believe, will be crying to high Heaven to save the media from eternal damnation.


The so-called Code of Ethics, in fact, wanted journalists to turn a blind eye to the sins of the government or the opposition and above all not be in a position to tell anyone responsible in public that he or she is on the wrong path detrimental to society or the common man. The media is under obligation or bound by its conscience to safeguard minors. But where in the world does media have to cover up the sins of grown-ups and the powerful? That was exactly what this Code envisaged journalists to comply with. This so-called Code of Ethics and equally egregious Press Council were meant to serve the desire of the government for a servile media culture.


The sad truth is the avenues through which the journalists could vent their opposition are limited. Peaceful marches and demonstrations are no longer considered as legitimate modes of protest. Chances are that peaceful protests were at the receiving end of violence orchestrated by the government-backed thugs.
Therefore, the thought alone is absurd, for journalists to down their notebooks and pens and take to the streets for nothing will ever change.


One would argue the government is inherently averse to the very essence of media freedom. Its recent track record does not help assuage those concerns.
Therefore, it is the duty of the multitude of media rights associations to tell the government and the opposition, loud and clear and in no uncertain terms that we journalists have a public duty to perform and that is to educate and inform for society's wellbeing and not for the survival of rogue politicians and their henchmen.

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