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Are journalists failing today’s public?



Journalists perform a vital function in keeping the public informed about everything that happens around them, affecting the day-to-day life of the people. They are indispensable to the good health of a democratic society. The importance of this function is illustrated by the press being considered the fourth estate, augmenting the executive, legislature and the judiciary, the three pillars on which a viable democracy could stand. Attempts are being made at every opportunity by interested parties to distort the truth and mislead the people, so that the proponents can hoodwink them and achieve their own ends. Ours is a country with a long legacy of self-seeking politicians, in connivance with their accomplices on mass media, misleading the people with falsehoods. Hence the necessity of the masses to be well informed of true facts is even more important.

Despite the ready availability of the internet, the electronic media and the printed press are the main sources for people to receive information. This is specially so at a time when mass gatherings, indoor and outdoor meetings and the like are severely curtailed due to the pandemic. This situation has provided an ideal cover for wrongdoers to carry on with their sinister programmes keeping the populace in the dark. This has almost become an integral part of the “new normal”. As the rulers and the politicians in general are the decision-makers, often ignoring or not seeking the advice of the learned in the respective field, to know their utterances and answers to any questions raised is important. When the main channels of information fail, social media takes over, giving widely varied perspectives, with questionable authenticity, of a multitude of individuals, often anonymous, confusing the people even further. It is still fresh in our memory how irresponsible news reports and social media posts during times of ethnic conflict and racial disputes lead to violence in the not too distant past.

The state-controlled news media invariably give pro-government views almost amounting to partisan propaganda. They hardly ever give any news or opinions that are against the views or actions of the government. Thus they shield the authorities from any evidence of public discontent, thereby not allowing any course correction that may be required. As far as the so-called independent media are concerned, it is well known and generally accepted that the editorial views expressed therein show the leaning, political or otherwise, of the proprietors of the organizations. When such ownership is mostly in the hands of pro-government businessmen, the democratic Opposition is at a huge disadvantage, having at its disposal only a very limited means of conveying their message to the people. To make matters worse, the handful of news channels and social media, giving information unfavourable to the government, run the risk of being clamped down. Even in progressive democracies of the developed world, news groups historically carry partisan labels, political, business or otherwise. However, most of the time, such affiliations do not colour their commentaries on national issues.

In this adverse environment, it is the primary duty of the journalists to ensure that the truth is extracted from decision-makers. We find the reporters questioning the leaders and other officials at various meetings or at scheduled discussions and Q & A sessions. There are only a very few brave newsmen/newswomen who would ask probing questions, often embarrassing the person concerned, but eventually extracting the truth. Every time a politician comes out from a meeting, many microphones bearing the labels of leading news organizations are used, through half open shutters of luxury vehicles, to record their answers to various queries made. The problem with most reporters is that it is always a one way process. Even when obvious untruths are uttered, there is no cross questioning of any sort that could expose the untruth and unearth the truth. Such unverified facts thus gathered, receive immediate headlines in the newspapers and news bulletins despite all the evidence already available to the contrary. Search for the truth has given way to sensational journalism, making the news media the mouth-pieces of the errant politicians and their subservient officials. The politicians, used to having their own way over the years without being challenged, often get irritated and give abusive answers to probing questions. There are several instances where such reporters asking embarrassing questions have been barred from getting anywhere near them.

The present controversy about chemical fertilis ers and pesticides is a classic example where journalists have failed the people. There is a widely held misconception among the public that these chemicals are harmful to human health. However, there is no proven scientific evidence even to arouse suspicion that this is so. Despite much surveys and research, to date there has been no compelling evidence to show that these chemical substances have a role in causing chronic kidney disease, rampant in some provinces of the island. Yet, we find that in many discussions with journalists and others, politicians and even some medical specialists, keep stressing confidently about the existence of such a harmful relationship. A medical specialist has been callous enough to pronounce that many generations have been poisoned with chemicals used in agriculture. If this is true, obviously this has to be a worldwide phenomenon well established by now, although there is no such evidence anywhere. No journalist has been brave enough to question and challenge them about the evidence for those misleading statements. Such failure in the long term leads to authorities making wrong decisions, as repeated utterances and reporting of unchallenged falsehoods by so called experts will eventually become accepted as the truth (Goebbels theory). In contrast, the role played by the reporters and journalists during the current pandemic in keeping the people well informed is commendable.

It is disappointing to note that the news media concentrate only on a few issues at a given time. At present new Cabinet appointments and farmers’ problems are receiving attention. The ongoing calamities with long-term repercussions like destruction of nature with the cutting down of trees on a large scale, unregulated sand mining of river beds, and even the extensive damage done to the seafront and marine life destroying the livelihood of fishermen by the recent maritime disaster, are almost completely forgotten by the news media. The human-elephant conflict causing immense misery needing continued attention is off the table now. It is the duty of journalists and reporters to ensure that these issues and discussions are kept alive, until meaningful remedial action is taken by those responsible.

Most reporters appear to be amateurs with no formal training in the field. It is reasonable to expect the few who may have followed a course in journalism offered in many institutions, to do better in their profession. It is imperative that they have a basic knowledge or understanding of the subject under discussion. It would be a valuable learning exercise to follow the reporters and journalists in advanced democracies, asking probing questions even from seemingly very powerful leaders and others, until the unambiguous truth is elicited. As a result, those who are questioned are careful enough to speak only the facts that could be substantiated.

Our journalists, if not investigative, should at least be inquisitive. Instead they appear to be totally subdued in the presence of overpowering personalities trying their best to avoid embarrassing situations. It is heartening to see a handful of journalists on television programmes, brave enough to ask probing questions from powerful ministers and officials trying their best to avoid giving straight forward answers. One only hopes that their own bosses at TV channels will not silence them, as almost 90% of news organisations are owned either by the government or by businessmen who have benefited tremendously by their unwavering loyalty to politicians in power.

By being passive broadcasters of unverified falsehoods uttered by equally ignorant people, the newsmen are insulting the intelligence of the people. They appear to be working to their own agendas rather than promoting the wellbeing of the nation. They have often failed the populace eagerly waiting to learn the truth, especially in these turbulent times with many controversies disturbing the peace-loving citizens of the land.



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Role of Buddhism in cultivating inter-communal peace and harmony



Buddhism is one religion which has never in its history anywhere in the world engaged in warfare to spread the Dhamma. Its scriptures do not preach violence as a means of conversion of people to Buddhism. World history does not record crusades undertaken for that purpose by Buddhism. This is not to denigrate other religions which have resorted to such means, for one needs to consider the context in which such things had happened before rushing into judgment, but to view everything in the right perspective at the beginning of this discussion.

Buddhism in Sri Lanka is in a position to protect all other religions and whatever cultures those religions may have developed in Sri Lanka, not only because it is the religion of the majority, but also due to its virtues such as religious tolerance, its pervasive compassion, respect for different views and particularly its denunciation of fundamentalism. Buddha in the Brahmajala Sutta (Diga Nikaya) had advised his disciples not to be displeased or generate rancour against anybody who speaks in disparaging language about the Buddha, Dhamma, Sanga.

More important is the Buddha’s opinion on religious fundamentalism. He had preached that one should not have dogmatic attachment to views and ideologies whether they are true or false. Such attachment could lead to the development of an attitude that states; “this view alone is true, all else is falls”. This type of attitude is defined by the Buddha as exclusivism (vide; Dhammasangani) which in religion could lead to religious fundamentalism. Buddha in his famous discourse on the Parable of the Raft says that his Dhamma is not for grasping but for crossing the river of samsara and the raft thereafter must be abandoned (Alagaddupama Sutta in Majjhima Nikaya). Buddha had discouraged religious fundamentalism amongst his disciples for it could lead to conflict and even war. Terrorist violence we experienced recently could have been due to religious fundamentalism.

Buddhism could be the protective religion for other religions not because Sri Lanka belongs to Sinhala Buddhists only. Indeed, it does not. Catholic, Hindu, Muslim religious leaders, have said that Sri Lanka is a Sinhala Buddhist country. To briefly clarify the matter, what one means when one says Sri Lanka is a Sinhala Buddhist country is that it was Sinhala Buddhists who had built and protected the Sri Lankan civilisation which constitutes a nation. When Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith was questioned on this matter he said when one travels by helicopter one could see the ‘Stupa’ and the tanks together, the ‘Weva-dagaba’ concept, everywhere which is the symbol of Buddhist culture side by side. To identify Sri Lanka as Sinhala Buddhist is to make reference and give due recognition to this phenomenon. The good Cardinal had said that everybody in Sri Lanka had grown under the protective culture of Buddhism.

Buddhism could be the catalyst to bring to the surface all the goodness that resides in other religions and discourage evil if any. The Islamic fundamentalists who set off bombs in Catholic and Christian churches may have perhaps referred their scriptures, and disregarding context, focused on the content that recommends violence, and were motivated by it. Buddhist clergy and laity could by word and deed show that non-violence could be a very effective force. They must by their demeanour and action show how emotions could be controlled, and how non-violence work.

Instead if there is violence against fundamentalism as happened in Kalutara and Digana, the fundamentalists will never learn the wretchedness of violence, depravity of killing others and oneself and the importance of living in a Sinhala Buddhist country. They must see and feel the difference in Buddhism and life in a Sinhala Buddhist country. This cannot be achieved by attacking mosques and churches or harassing the minorities. They must feel they belong to Sri Lanka. They must feel that the famous singer late Mohideen Baig was right when he told his son that he will never go hungry as long as he lived among the Sinhalese. They must be made to feel that they belong to Sri Lanka. This is in the hands of the Buddhist clergy and laity.

Other religions on their part must appreciate the benign nature of Buddhism, its precept of non-violence, its ability to foster their religions and allow them to work in peace and harmony. Other religions must make use of these virtues of Buddhism and not abuse them. They must not make unfair and unethical advances, claims, and try to subvert the Buddhist culture that pervades the entire country. Instead it may be prudent to try and subject the cultural aspect of their religions to a process of localization or domestication, for instance in the areas of music, ritual, symbols and architecture. We see this happening in Catholic areas in the Western coast but seldom in the East coast’s Muslim areas. In fact, what we see there is a process of ‘Arabisation’. When we visit Kattankudy we feel as if we have come to the Middle East. This was apparently the experience of MP Prof. Marasinghe recently.

This kind of activity may hurt Buddhist sensitivity. After all Muslims happen to be in the East due to a kind gesture of a Kandyan king. Perhaps this kind of adaptation may be easier for Sinhala Christians as their culture is Sinhala Buddhist for their ancestors belonged to that culture before they were converted, which was often by unethical means and not conviction. Sinhala culture is inherent and visible particularly in the rural Christian folk if not in the urban westernised.

If religious harmony is to prevail unethical proselytizing, conversion without conviction for material benefits, has to be recognized as an evil for everybody. No genuine religious priest would attempt this kind of conversion. Only those who are tools in the hands of a global political power would engage in such unethical work. Stopping unethical conversions would go a long way in achieving religious peace and harmony. Paying lip service to peace while turning a blind eye to these happenings is to court disaster and to strengthen the hands of the extremists and pave the way for violent reaction which has the potential to trigger foreign interference in our internal affairs.

Buddhism seems to be slowly but surely gaining in strength internationally in providing a solution to the problems concerning peace of mind and harmony and control of greed. These changes are happening mainly in Europe and the US. In the US for instance, believers in Buddhism rose by 170 percent during the period from 1900 to 2000. This happened while successive generations moved away from belief in God and associated rituals. The majority comprising 53 percent of believers in Buddhism were white middle class highly educated young Americans and they had converted by conviction, 67 percent of American Buddhists had been raised in a religion other than Buddhism (Pew Foundation Survey, 2015; Russel Heimlich, 2008).

On the other hand the attraction of these groups to Islam and Hinduism is much less. This change had happened despite a concerted effort to prevent it. The main attraction of Buddhism has been its above-mentioned virtues and their final goal of peace achievable via its method of meditation. All this proves the point that Buddhism could play a role in uniting the people under one umbrella. In Sri Lanka it should be done by the priests and laity by word and deed. Whether politics would allow them is a moot point.

N.A. de S. Amaratunga



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Collie Smith – the other ‘Sobers’ that West Indies lost



When I read the article, “Cricket’s greatest is 85 today” by veteran cricket journalist, Rex Clementine of this newspaper on 28th July, I thought of writing the following article about a ‘Great loss’, incurred to Jamaica, West Indies and the world cricket.

The name Collie Smith would be familiar to the majority of cricket fans, fascinated by the history of international cricket of yester years. His full name was O’Neil Gordon “Collie” Smith who was born on 5th May 1935 in Kingston, Jamaica, before he met with an untimely accident and died on 9th September, 1959, in Staffordshire in England.

Following is an account of the accident extracted from the internet.

On September 6, 1959, Collie Smith, Garfield Sobers and Jamaican medium-fast bowler Tom Dewdney, met after their respective Lancashire League games ,and were all set to travel through the night to London to take part in a charity match, the following day. But, fate had different plans. At around 4.45 that morning, Sobers was in the driver’s seat, and it so happened that he was confronted with two dazzling headlights, coming straight towards him, leaving him no time to react. That was all, Sobers says, he could remember about the collision that followed. It was later learnt that the car they were travelling in had run head-on into a 10-ton cattle truck. Once out of the daze, Sobers immediately went to check on Collie, but the latter responded by saying “I’m all right, Maan. Go look after the big boy (Tom).”

Three days later, on September 9, 1959, Collie was declared dead due to a severe damage to his spinal cord. He had lapsed into unconsciousness after the horrific accident, and one of Jamaica’s favourite sons was no more. He was already an accomplished player by then, having scripted terrific centuries against formidable sides, like England and Australia. Sobers, in his autobiography, reckons that Collie would have been among the top players in the world had he not been taken away by that fatal accident. But on that day, the dreams of the Jamaican people and that of Collie’s had indeed come to an abrupt end. 

Following is what Sobers had written about the accident and Collie.

“There should have been four of us making the journey south on that fateful night. We were waiting for Roy Gilchrist, but after an hour or more we gave up and decided to make our way to London without him. Such is the fickle finger of fate. Had we left on time or had we waited for a little longer, who knows what might have happened. But there is no turning the clock back,”

“He was three years older than me and already a very fine cricketer who seemed destined to become even better. He was more than just an accomplished batsman, having scored big 100s against England and Australia. He was also developing into a very good off-spin bowler. I am serious when I say that he had the potential to be a top class all-rounder, probably one of the world’s best.” 

A crowd of 60,000 is believed to have attended Collie’s funeral in Jamaica. That speaks volumes of how popular he was back then. The people believed in his ability. 

His tombstone, in Jamaica’s May Pen cemetery, is engraved with “Keen Cricketer, Unselfish Friend, Worthy Hero, Loyal Disciple and Happy Warrior. A road in Collie’s birthplace is named ‘Collie Smith Drive’ in his memory.

Sobers was found guilty for careless driving and was fined although he pleaded not guilty claiming that he was dazzled by the oncoming headlights.

The following comments found in the internet, are truly interesting.

After the three ‘Ws’ –  Everton Weekes, Frank Worrell and Clyde Walcott – had graced the stage for West Indian cricket, it was perceived that another trio in the form of Sobers, (Joe) Solomon and (Collie) Smith would take the cricketing world by storm. Sadly, the dream was short-lived.

Lalith Fernando


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Ministers at the Olympics “Fiddling while Rome burns”



Olympics opening ceremony in Japan

Thank you for the editorial of 29 July, aptly headlined – “It’s MPs’ Code of Conduct, stupid”! We could also add, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

Media Minister and government Spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella’s remarks that several Parliamentarians (including himself!) had visited the Olympics where they enjoyed ‘fun and games” with sponsorship from private sector companies, warrants an inquiry by COPE. Such “sponsorship” of Joy Rides by Ministers would be illegal in many countries and is unethical under any circumstances.

Your hard-hitting editorial is summed up in the opening line- “What on earth are our politicians doing at the Tokyo Olympics?” Is the Sports Minister’s presence so essential at the Olympics? And if so why can’t all ministers self-fund this type of visit rather than expecting me and other taxpayers to pay? After all, no Minister is short of cash.

As compared to other countries our Vaccination program has been relatively very good. People in both Indonesia and Thailand are on a waiting list of several months before they can expect even the first Jab! As for the Phillipines,its even worse. This explains why the Sports Minister seems to be claiming kudos , by, as you call it, “monitoring the progress of the Vaccination drive”.

The function of the Sports Ministers of the recent past has not been particularly great- and include as you point out, Olympian Susanthika Jayasinghe, – the “poor lass who had to sprint so fast to escape the randy minister pursuing her.”

Sports Ministers frolicking at the Olympics, in Japan, during both an Economic crisis and Health pandemic at home, reflect their scant regard for the hardships of the public .



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