The Sunday Times Editorial

9th June 1996

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Censor censured

Media Minister Dharmasiri Senanayake announced this week that the censorship will be removed "soon" but unfortunately the media and the country know only too well that it is not he who decides how soon the "soon" will be.

The current censorship is running to a longer period than the previous one imposed only a few months ago. 'The Sunday Times' has formally written to the Competent Authority protesting that he is acting ultra-vires the powers given to him under emergency regulations. Not surprisingly, the Competent Authority has not had the courtesy to reply.

It is dangerous for any government to get accustomed to a clampdown on the media under emergency regulations. The Generals appear to like censorship but it could lead to abuses. We are having Presidential Commissions of Inquiry today about past involvement of Generals because the media were kept on a tight leash.

The whole world knows what is happening in Sri Lanka, but the people of Sri Lanka are kept largely in the dark. Jaffna is still out of bounds for the media. We have said it before and we say it again that journalists have on the whole acted with a far greater sense of national responsibility than many politicians. Journalists love and care for this country as much as any politicians do and it is sad to see government's and officials being so suspicious or sceptical about the motives of the national press.

President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga recently complained that the media were not adequately complimenting the government on the success of the military's Riviresa operations. How can we, when there is a censorship. We would like to tell the President that her Competent Authorities have sometimes even censored success stories about Riviresa. So she needs to put her own house in order before blaming the media for the country's problems.

Recently the CA fired out large chunks from an interview given by the Army Commander himself. Does it mean the CA thinks he is more competent in military matters than our own Army Commander? In a sense, the government is cutting its own neck in continuing with the senseless censorship.

Bus 'service'

At a time when the people are suffering terribly from a skyrocketting cost of living, increasing power-cuts and other problems, the government is reported to have decided to allow private bus operators to increase fares.

For several months private bus operators have been threatening they would go on strike and cripple the public transport system if they were not allowed to increase fares. Apparently shocked by the Mayhem caused by the CEB strike, the government seems to have bowed to the demands of private bus operators. They claim that running and maintenance costs are so high today that it would be unprofitable to operate buses unless fares are increased. May be so.

But there is another important side that needs to be addressed if fares are increased. The government has a sacred duty to ensure that private bus operators improve their services. Today by all accounts it is sheer hell to travel in a private bus. On the so-called aisle which is meant for one row of passengers to stand, most private buses force in not two rows but three rows. At peak hours there are people in this infamous 'meda peliya' who have to stand on the feet of others. For women especially, it is like a torture chamber. To add injury to insult, there are pickpockets who are now said to be wearing ties like young executives.

Many governments have come to the bitter experience that elections are lost in buses and trains. The situation in buses and trains today is bad and getting worse. Urgent steps need to be taken to bring in hundreds of new buses, not necessarily to purchase them, but repair those that are 'kota uda' for public transport. If the CTB and peoplised depots compete strongly with the private operators by bringing in additional and more convenient buses we might see a general improvement in services.

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