We read with interest the recent argument of a minister of state that the media has a fair share of the blame to bear for the spread of ethnic chauvinism, race hate, and religious intolerance. If we understand him right, there would be none of the above – if the press did not report it. [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Let’s stop lionizing our politicos


We read with interest the recent argument of a minister of state that the media has a fair share of the blame to bear for the spread of ethnic chauvinism, race hate, and religious intolerance. If we understand him right, there would be none of the above – if the press did not report it. It is his contention (as reported in the newspapers, ironically enough) that the papers among other news outlets are responsible for the proliferation, if not the promulgation, of much that is sick in our nation-state today.

This is his surmise. And he may be right in some perverse way about the role of media in encouraging the worst kind of political thug or ruling hooligan to seek their fifteen seconds of infamy; some sordid spot in the glare of the camera-lights. Of course, one knows that even without the loving glance of the lens or the foreplay of pen and ink, the plug-ugly lovelies who run riot will have their play, anyway.

Today, a day after the UN General Assembly-designated World Press Freedom Day, we take the opportunity to critically engage and challenge our dwindling tribe of fellow scribes.

The fact remains that many members of the Fourth Estate are taking for granted the implied freedom of the media to practise their trade. This is now being plied to such an extent that one of the most wasteful uses of our brain power and other national assets is not being noticed for what it really is.

We mean, of course, the inexplicable attitude of the media towards politicians!

For one, the leaders among ‘the free press’ online (and via the safety and anonymity of proxy servers) are given to going the whole hog. These usually run to supposed and rather selective exposés that have civic-minded, politically well-balanced members of the public scratching their heads and all. We think it may be true, we hope it isn’t, we suspect there’s a vested interest somewhere, we don’t know what it all means in the end…

Then, there are the ‘atheists’ or the ‘agnostics’ – who would prefer not to give even the ‘devil’ his due, believing as they do that there is no such thing as bad publicity. They, therefore, ignore even the genuinely commendable actions of the politicians whom we all love to hate.

But most importantly, by and large, are the common or garden publishing rags, mags, media houses – and now, blogs – who use political life in the blessed isle as cannon fodder. This output is used to feed the masses their daily dose of opinion, propaganda, and mindless reflection of what equally unmindful politicians do, say, feel, think, or otherwise communicate.

There are two equal and opposite dangers into which the media in Sri Lanka have walked with their eyes – and the eyes of their respective readerships and viewerships – shut. One is to have an excessive interest in political goings-on; the other is to ignore its existence altogether. Most of our elected representatives are equally pleased with sycophants and skeptics alike. They’d welcome both idiots and ignoramuses, with open arms. All they are interested in is publicity, if it will do them any good… and no media coverage at all, if it will expose their true nature.

Now, perhaps, more than at any other time in the political history of the island, politicians are dominating the media. The pity of the matter is that, with a few exceptions, what our benighted leaders have to say is not worth the newsprint or airtime. The exceptions are so rare they go virtually unnoticed by virtue of being relegated to the back pages or non-prime-time slots.

Consider this. When was the last time you, gentle reader, were sincerely edified, enthused, or empowered by reading about a politician in your favourite newspaper – or any newspaper? Come on – be honest, now, faithful citizen! We are willing to wager that joy, love, grace, or goodwill are hardly the emotions that dominate when our politicos make the headlines.

To be fair, the doings and sayings of (say) the head of state, or a speaker of the house while presiding over that august (ahem) assembly, or that ministering angel (no saint he) to whom nothing is foreign should be of (at least academic) interest. The content of the political-news media in the best of democracies is chiefly composed of such pleasant trivialities.

But what good does it do when our news today mainly comprises the arrogant or inane actions and stupefying or simply stupid sayings of a certain clan or ilk of the powers that be? Their jejune utterances, ignorant assertions? Their cupidity, their criminality, their corruption?

Despite its obvious biases – be they political, social, cultural, linguistic, or economic – the media is still taken very seriously in this country. Especially in the so-called vernacular or national languages. People believe what they read and are influenced by what they see and hear. Let it be reflected upon for a quiet moment or two what irreparable damage is being done to the national psyche by continually exposing it to the calibre of thought, capacity for action, and charity of spirit as is possessed by the ego-inflated, power-bloated, blatantly self-serving politicians as do strut their petty hour on this poor stage that passes for a republic of ours…

Of course, one must balance this antipathy to broadcasting with what is rotten about the state of the nation by asserting the right of the public to information. In this day and age, when all the hallowed institutions that are beloved of traditional democracies are being attacked and eroded with impunity, the last bastion of a barely free state may be an independent media that is not afraid to publish (the truth, we hasten to add) or be damned. Or be published and be damned.

Is the media really free? Significant, meaningful? Let it stop lionizing politicians! Even the ones who make news… especially the ones who make the headlines for the wrong reasons! We don’t care… and we don’t want to know, anymore!

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