There is much hullabaloo over the abuse by the government of the state media. The Opposition is demanding that it be stopped forthwith and has sought the assistance of the Polls Chief for that purpose.
The state media has always been in the same predicament as a damsel trapped in a brothel run by thugs. Pimps and thugs may change or rotate from time to time but she is left with no alternative to forced prostitution. She has to do as she is asked to do, willy-nilly. The state media has always been the `comfort woman` of the ruling party.
Fidelity for some people is said to be nothing but lack of opportunity. The same goes for honesty, integrity, justice and fair play etc., of most politicians. The are, irrespective of the parties they belong to, democratic and considerate and their love for the people and the media oozes from every pore of theirs, so long as they are in the political limbo. Put anyone behind a counter, Albert Camus has said, and he becomes all important in no time and develops contempt for others. Similarly, put any politician in power and see him or her for what he or she really is.
An interesting yarn spun by our local Castro (Vasu) while his bitter political enemy President Premadasa was reigning supreme, may be worth repetition as regards the abuse of the state media in the past. One of his (Vasu`s) friends, according to him, had a dog, which was known for a peculiar habit. Whenever the state television carried news, it would make at least hundred trips between the television set and the doorstep, where it used to lie in comfort. Puzzled, the bearded firebrand had inquired from his friend why the animal did so, only to be told that its name was Srimath. (To the uninitiated, President Premadasa was reverently called by his lackeys as `Srimath Ranasinghe Premadasa.` And every time the word Srimath was mentioned, the poor animal responded, thinking that it was being summoned!)
All political leaders are notorious for their insatiable desire to hear their own voice like a donkey its braying and the state media has taken upon itself the task of harassing the public by relaying the shrill noises its masters make. This has happened in the past under the PA and the UNP, is happening under the UPFA and it will happen, whoever comes to power in the future.
Does this mean that the private media is perfect? Let`s not deceive ourselves! If it is truly independent, then how come some of those who work therein find El Dorado in the state media after an election? See how many free media tub-thumpers have ended up in politics and obtained tickets from the parties of their choice to contest elections. Those media pundits have in the process dropped their fig leaves and stand stark naked! Had they been independent and impartial during their `private media days` would they have been rewarded in this manner by politicians? They have, just like their state media counterparts, reduced themselves to a set of `comfort women` of their political masters.
Sri Lankan politicians are, on the other hand, no believers of free media. Free media to them are those which help them further their interests. They are true believers of Bushism?either you are with us or you are with them?and in their opinion a via media is not possible in the media.
Politicians are the same the world over. In the so-called advanced democracies, the only difference is that they have been put in the straitjacket of strong institutions and are therefore denied the freedom to act according to their whims and fancies. But they are making every effort to break themselves free. Look at Prime Minister Blair, who stands accused of trying to manipulate BBC. His government is said to be behind BBC`s decision to open an Arabic language television channel at the expense of several other language services, allegedly to counter Al Jazeera TV in view of the on going disastrous occupation of Iraq.
We are not short of politicians who advocate the divestiture of state media. But that promise doesn`t survive their forming a government. After being ensconced in power, they conveniently forget their pledges and do more of what their predecessors did.
Divestiture is no doubt salutary in that it is inimical to democracy for any government?especially the ones we are burdened with?to have, at its disposal, partisan media organisations maintained with public funds. But it is not the only condition that needs to be satisfied to ensure free media. It is a culture that cannot be evolved overnight through privatisation of the state media. The responsibility for enabling that culture to evolve lies with media owners and the journalistic community. For the media don`t necessarily have to be state owned for them to be controlled by governments or other interests, political or otherwise.
All what politicians should do to help achieve this goal is to leave the media alone! No amount of their crocodile tears is going to be of any help. They have for the media the same love that a fox has for pullets!