media or failed state?
Once in a way, it is incumbent on us to turn the searchlight inward.
The Press, nowadays more often referred to as the Media, is an integral
part of the democratic framework of any society, and therefore,
its well-being is indeed the well-being of the people in that society.
The people's right to access to information is largely transmitted
via the Press and hence, the state of the Press has a direct effect
on the right of the people to make informed decisions about their
is why in most advanced democracies around the world, freedom of
speech, expression and publication is a human right. In a report
on the "Failed States Index" released this week (See page
11 of our International section) in Washington by the Fund for Peace,
Sri Lanka has been lumped together with countries such as Colombia,
Bosnia, Laos, Egypt, Ethiopia and Uganda in the 'In Danger' grouping.
least it's not a Failed-State, not yet, they say, nor in the 'Critical'
grouping, but why we find ourselves in the 'In Danger' class might
be worth considering.
We could well reflect that this week's brazen attack on the Jaffna-based
Uthayan newspaper would surely propel us to a higher plane than
the 'In Danger' class, or that we could easily brush shoulders with
countries like Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Haiti, Zimbabwe, Nepal and
the like which are in the 'Critical' group.
assault on the Uthayan is nothing new to a country like Sri Lanka
that has paid step-motherly attention to investigating or discouraging
such blatant attacks on press freedom.
and Human Rights groups, both local and international have been
howling till they are blue in the face - but their cries have fallen
on deaf ears with successive governments choosing to remain indifferent
to the deteriorating situation vis-a-vis the media.
Kill the Messenger credo and the tit-for-tat attacks on media institutions
and media personnel have gone on and on and on. Whoever committed
the atrocity against the Uthayan succeeded in embarrassing the Government
in front of an international audience assembled in Sri Lanka to
mark -- of all things -- World Press Freedom Day on May 3, under
the auspices of UNESCO.
hurried announcement that some suspects had been taken into custody
may have wiped some of the egg off the Government's face, but the
overall picture is anything but rosy. It was unfortunate that the
UNESCO conference itself did not discuss some of these burning issues,
nor make any specific announcement about the attack; no, not even
a muted condemnation of the incident.
was there any call for the Sri Lanka Government - or any other Government
- other than a fleeting reference - to pay greater attention to
safeguarding Press freedom in their respective countries.
apart, there has been an increasing sense of frustration among local
media that the Government of the day is paying almost no attention
to weekly exposures on instances of widespread corruption and abuse
of power in high office.
has only to open the newspapers to see the reports of such cases
splashed in great detail. Yet, the Government's response has been
Government must not view these exposures as being engineered by
the Press to try and embarrass it; rather as a public service to
ensure good governance.
have been replete with cases -- with names of Cabinet ministers
involved in visa rackets and wastage of public funds; of admirals
involved in ill-gotten wealth; of ex-presidents involved in shady
transactions when in office; and now, of crooked fertilizer tenders.
But the President pretends -- or prefers -- not to know.
again, the UNESCO conference this week did not dwell on one of the
fundamental pieces of legislation that advanced democracies are
putting into place -- The Freedom of Information Laws - also known
as the Access to Information Law.
law is already in place in neighbouring India. It is a significant
step in that it gives the public and the Press access to official
documentation that would elicit information about wrongdoings by
public servants and politicians who are making hay while the sun
shines for them while their compatriots get roasted under the same
soon, the Government will probably welcome what the media might
just as well do. Given the threats on the one side, and the nonchalance
on the other, the media might as well opt to turn their focus on
to news that is fit to print, as preferred by the Government and
those engaged in guerrilla rivalries.
And in such circumstances, if the Government prefers to believe
that what is not reported does not happen; then one fine day they
will awaken to find that Sri Lanka has degenerated from an 'In Danger'
of Failing-State to indeed, a Failed State.