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Press freedom promotes good governance

2014 May 06

Press Freedom Day commemorated worldwide on 3 May 2014 brought into focus the need for an unfettered press to ensure transparency and good governance, which are essential factors that guarantee the rule of law, eliminate corruption and promote good decision making. The lack of these important elements in governance, affect the day to day life of the people and deny them their basic right for a secure life and their right to know how they are being governed.
An independent and vibrant press, while promoting good governance would act as a barrier to corruption and expose such instances to the people and create awareness among them. For, it is they who elected the government to office. In this process the press in some instances, earns the displeasure of the government and gets hounded out purely for doing just what is expected of it.
Governments that have much to hide, while promoting a servile press, go on a witch-hunt for the ones that place the truth in the public domain, using devious methods such as censorship, harassment, veiled threats, draconian regulations and other unorthodox methods. The situation in Sri Lanka is not much different though there is no press censorship in force currently. Many journalists have been murdered over the years and their murders remain unsolved to date. A large number of journalists have gone into self-exile as they feared for their lives, with many fleeing the country regularly in fear of reprisals. As for those who remain, they impose self-censorship for fear of assaults and abductions. That is the state of press freedom in Sri Lanka.
It is in this light that one has to look at the 'Freedom of the Press 2014' Report by Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization dedicated to freedom around the world , where Sri Lanka has been ranked 167th out of 197 countries, with a score of 76 out of 100. The fact that Sri Lanka has ranked so low in the survey goes to prove that the country's press freedom record leaves much to be desired. This is how others see us, despite the many assurances of the government, of the existence of a free press in the country as shown by the tolerance of the regime to articles critical of the government appearing in the local newspapers on a daily basis.
But then, we are aware that so many journalists have gone into self-imposed exile, and what could have been the cause for them to flee if there was press freedom in the country? Newspapers provide information to the public and there appears to be no reason to hinder that process.
Another matter that goes in tandem with press freedom is the right of the people to have access to information. The people should have access to information and documents relating to matters that affect them. A Right to Information Act would provide them this access and make it mandatory for the authorities to provide these to the people.
The Right to Information Act has been in abeyance for many years despite requests for its enactment. Going by the many statements made by some government ministers, it appears that the government is in no mood to implement it. But in actual effect The Right to Information Act will promote transparency and consequently enhance the efficiency of the government. It would open avenues for problems to be approached in a better perspective, and remedied to the satisfaction of the government as well the people, who would know what the government elected by them is doing.
The government as far back as 2010 undertook to have a Right to Information Act enacted early; but has not done so to date. It would be in the interests of the government as well as the people to have this piece of legislation implemented without any further delay as it would promote transparency, good governance and earn the trust of the people.
In the meantime the country could also take whatever measures are necessary to improve its stature as a country, where a vibrant press thrives.

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