Press and responsibility
Credit needs to be given where it is due, and the Prime Minister deserves the kudos for the repeal of criminal defamation laws. His predecessors promised press freedom from the Opposition, but ended up suppressing press freedom once in government. But Ranil Wickremesinghe has kept his word so far.

As former Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar said in the House, the modern world considers criminal defamation primitive and archaic. But it was unfortunate that former Information Ministry Secretary Sarath Amunugama struck a mordant note. It was totally unbecoming to claim that it was he who first asked the law of criminal defamation be repealed, while going onto say that the government's repeal of the law was a case of "paying kappan''(protection money) to the press.

Some parliamentarians with skeletons in their own cupboards, have made it a habit of characterizing an entire profession as opportunistic. But tarring all with the same brush is indicative of plain animus, more than anything else. One ex-Media Minister, used to say "all journalists can be bought for a bottle of arrack.'' This is quite like saying "all politicians can be bought with a credit card.''

The unanimous passage of laws to repeal criminal defamation this week casts an onerous responsibility on the press to conduct themselves as professionals worthy of respect and recognition. Self-regulatory mechanisms for the press must be put in place without further delay.

The burden of responsible journalism which the press wanted to shoulder so enthusiastically should now be discharged through a mechanism of effective though inexpensive, simple and expeditious redress to all those - big or small - affected by the commissions and omissions of the press.

Dengue days
When the Cabinet spokesman tells us that we should not be obsessed by the dates for the peace talks, certainly it is important to remind the likes of him that their own obsessions have perhaps distracted their attention from a runaway epidemic. Full-blown dengue is the epidemic that threatens Sri Lanka now - one that is far less attention-grabbing than AIDS.

An anti-dengue campaign will also be far less chic than an anti- AIDS effort.
Epidemics of malaria and dengue are not compatible with the minimum health and sanitary standards of a modern day state.

There is little funds in countries such as ours for campaigns against a dengue scourge when the big bucks tend to pour in for far more high-profile efforts such as anti- AIDS and anti-smoking campaigns. But much of the problems associated with malaria and dengue epidemics in Sri Lanka are man made. Irresponsibility is one. Lack of civic mindedness especially by the schools that are supposed to teach them is another. And yet, more than all that, the local government bodies, and the police and the environmental authorities are the main culprits responsible for the dengue scare in Colombo and its environs.

Today any person who contravenes any conceivable municipal by-law can buy himself out of trouble. Well-meaning public health inspectors are unable to prosecute anyone of any financial or political standing because someone down the line is paid for his services of ignoring the acts of the culprits. Either that or they are cowed by the clout through local politicians they have bank rolled. Governments may come and go but civic scourges such as malaria and dengue will go on unless the entire system of public health care is cleansed and revolutionized. But, who can take on these public enemies?


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