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was he who first asked the law of criminal defamation be repealed,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.
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.''
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.
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.
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?