The other day I read rather curious remarks made by the Minister for Parliamentary Reforms and Media Gayantha Karunathilaka in an interview with a state-run newspaper. Minister Karunathilaka is understandably effusive that the president and prime minister have reposed great faith in him by giving him back the portfolio he held during the government of a [...]


Speak the truth to report the truth


The other day I read rather curious remarks made by the Minister for Parliamentary Reforms and Media Gayantha Karunathilaka in an interview with a state-run newspaper. Minister Karunathilaka is understandably effusive that the president and prime minister have reposed great faith in him by giving him back the portfolio he held during the government of a “100 days” that intended to usher in an era of yahapalanaya but has slipped and stumbled by the wayside.

Gayantha Karunathilaka

The minister is entitled to enthuse at retaining his portfolio seeing what has happened to some of his colleagues and others who have crept into comfortable positions with perks and all despite reports of their unsavoury conduct in the not- so-distant past. Accusations of turpitude have been in circulation for some time, long before some slithered into their ministerial seats of one sort or another.

There is an old saying that people are judged by the company they keep. But given the size of the ever-expanding ministerial ranks and those of a lower order all of which should eventually find us a place in the Guinness Book of Records, it is not always possible to say who one is rubbing shoulders with or the company in which one ends up.

But just for the record and before proceeding to consider some of his contentious remarks which should send a few shivers down the spines of respected media professionals and organisations it might be prudent to ask what exactly Minister Karunathilaka achieved in the cause of furthering media freedom in that interim period when a minority government with a rather dubious mandate was running this country of which he speaks so gushingly.

It might be recalled how the then secretary to the media ministry told the press that the Right to Information (R2I) draft bill was all ready to go before parliament on 20 February. That day came and went but the bill failed to cross the Diyawanna Oya. A few days later Public Administration Minister Karu Jayasuriya, who during the days of the Rajapaksa administration had moved a private member’s bill on the same subject, said they were still discussing the matter with other relevant ministries and concerned groups.

Several months later parliament was dissolved with the R2I apparently in gestation and the media still wondering if and when its birth would occur. One wonders whether it was the labour pains that Karunathilaka’s ministry collectively underwent before announcing the premature birth that won him the plaudits of the ruling duo. After all we see stranger things happening as ministerial seats multiply and the public is treated to the unprecedented spectacle of two deputy ministers swapping their portfolios, sanctioned no doubt by our political deities.

Announcing that before 8th January media freedom had “reached rock bottom”, the reincarnated minister promised that in the near future “we will take the initiative to promote media freedom.” At this point he should have paused for a round of applause from a reinvigorated media waiting anxiously for the next pearls of wisdom to “droppeth as the gentle rain”, if one might steal Portia’s words from the Merchant of Venice.

But without a moment of hesitation it would seem, Minister Karunathilaka, the son of former MP and a one-time ambassador Rupa Karunathilaka who I knew quite well from the days of the parliament by the sea, sallied forth saying that they have already commenced several programmes for the welfare of journalists.

Apparently he wants to build 1,500 houses somewhere in Homagama for occupation by journalists. What is more he intends to provide duty-free motorcycles to journalists. Women journalists, especially the saree-clad ones might not find this particularly useful but then why look a gift-ass in the throat, if one might adapt an old saying. They could, of course do what some of our parliamentarians and pradeshiya sabha types do with their duty-free vehicle permits. One of my more cynically-inclined friends said that balancing themselves on motorcycles along our congested streets where even pedestrians using authorized crossings are hardly safe from marauding motorists, might serve as a useful future lesson for balanced reporting.

This is probably what the minister meant when he said an “initiative” would be taken to promote a “balanced media culture”. It is of course easy to pick up a phrase here and a phrase there and make it sound like some learned discourse. But what is seriously lacking is an exegesis of what is actually meant by a balanced media culture.

It would seem from the very little the minister said about media freedom, except for the offerings he proposes to make to the journalistic tribe, he is not trying to create an environment in which the media could exercise their freedom without the state restraints we have known and worked under for decades, but a pliant group of media persons thankful for some manna from the political heavens.

It might be recalled that under the Rajapaksa administration when journalists were plied with laptops and other paraphernalia of the trade, the government and the journalists who accepted such gifts were castigated no end for compromising their vocation and for the ‘buying’ of journalists.

Now the yahapalana administration is dangling even bigger carrots hoping perhaps that those who accept this largesse could be tamed and bent to do the politicians’ bidding, or at least they would be reluctant to write that which is critical of those holding the political reins.

Resorting to the platitudinous about the media having a vital role to play in society, Minister Karunathilaka says the media should “report the truth without blowing it out of proportion.”

That is a big ask given the fact that the Media Ministry is trying, it seems, to covertly influence journalists into hiding the truth or slanting it by first offering goodies. Not all journalists, those that respect their vocation and their integrity are going to be swayed by such obvious attempts at influence peddling from the very start.

But there could well be those who would be influenced either by what the state has to offer or because they would like to have political patrons and do their bidding. If the minister is keen to see that the truth is reported then he might first ensure that politicians utter the truth. A substantial percentage of media coverage is devoted to politicians and what they say or do. The minister can achieve his objective of promoting the truth in reporting if politicians can be persuaded not to prevaricate and show a modicum of respect for law and order and the judicial system and ministries and state institutions provide the information sought.

Despite all the effervescence over yahapalanaya just last week a new MP Chathura Senaratne was noticed by court after he allegedly walked into a police station and threatened some persons held there. It appears that old habits die hard.
If politicians continue to behave like common or garden thugs and the code of ethics for MPs and R2I remain in the attic of forgotten things preaching to the media on reporting the truth is so much hallucination.
As Tennyson wrote in the “Coming of Arthur”, truth is this to me and that to thee.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Post Comment

Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.