Opposition and UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe`s flair for stinging and biting extempore remarks oozing with sarcasm is monumental. On Saturday, when a group of journalists asked him what had transpired at a closed door meeting between him and the Malwatte Maha Nayake Thera in Kandy, he displayed his puckish sense of humour with the quip that he had requested the prelate to ordain all the journalists.
We know that kind of jovial remark should be forgotten after a hearty laugh. However, we can`t but yield to the temptation for making a comment. We wonder why the Sasana which is already faced with enough and more problems should be burdened further with an additional liability. So, we believe, instead of ordaining journalists, an attempt may be made to turn them into upasakas or pious laymen and urge them to observe pansil or the five precepts. (Journalists of other faiths may be urged to live according to the tenets of their religions.)
Journalists may not have any difficulty with the most important precept?abstinence from killing. For, they may be accused of anything but killing. However, they will have to abstain from aiding and abetting those who unleash terror that kills, on flimsy pretext, driven by the love for dollars and pounds jingling in their pockets.
There is a precept that some members of the Fourth Estate might prefer to skip?abstinence from sexual misconduct. The majority of them won`t have a problem with that or at least we believe so.
The precept that prescribes abstinence from stealing may not apply to journalists direct. But if it is considered as including the abstinence from accepting what is not one`s due, then it becomes problematic. For, then those who are in the pay of various organisations with dubious sources of funding like the various NGOs and political parties will find it difficult to bring themselves to practise that precept. Like the ventriloquist`s dummy, they have no voice of their own they only pretend to communicate. If all journalists adhere to this precept, then the allegations of brown envelopes changing hands and bribes being solicited and taken for `planting` stories will be a thing of the past. The press will be above suspicion like Caesar`s wife. Then only will they have a moral right to demand that politicians declare their assets and account for their wealth. Politicians and their cronies, however corrupt they may be, have a right to demand that scribes too account for whatever they have amassed over the years. If there are doubts in the public mind about the media, there should be ways and means of clearing them. It is not only the public officers who need to be probed. There are disturbing reports of some media persons, lured by filthy lucre, being in league with some outfits which splurge funds on projects to promote transparency and good governance by hosting expensive seminars at posh hotels at a massive cost. Millions of dollars are thus wasted to prepare small but much publicised reports. It may be foreign funds that get thus squandered but that money comes from the tax payers of other countries and embezzlement and criminal waste thereof amount to stealing. Charity, they say, begins at home.
Abstinence from lying is a precept of special relevance to journalists. To those who practise it credibility comes as the reward. That is also the way to arrest the erosion of public confidence in the media, which has got a fresh impetus from the pre-election SMS polls aimed at the dissemination of barefaced lies in favour of one party or another. See how some journalists who used to expend reams of newsprint to inveigh against certain politicians have made a U-turn to praise them thus giving the lie to their own claims in the past!
Under President Chandrika Kumaratunga`s government, one of her senior ministers stirred up a hornets` nest when he said some journalists could be bought for a bottle of arrack. The press hauled him over the coals over that remark. If the last of the five precepts?abstinence from intoxicants?was practised by the media persons, there wouldn`t be room for such affronts. After all, that minister, who has thrown in his lot with the Opposition Leader, didn`t tell a lie. The propensity of the pressmen for intoxication is only too well known. That`s why some PR agencies have the audacity to mention in their invitations to the press: `The press conference will be followed by cocktails`. The day may not be far off when it is written: `Cocktails will be followed by the press conference`, as we pointed out the other day. Embassy cocktails are also one of the reasons why some worthy members of the Fourth Estate who roar like lions when attacking local political buffoons mew like cats before foreign diplomats. They don`t want to be struck off the cocktail lists! Let it be added immediately the Sri Lankan press can justifiably boast of having members within its ranks whose integrity has never been in question and who dare call a spade a spade regardless of consequences. They adorn their profession.
Thus, the Opposition Leader will agree with us that a great deal could be achieved at least for the benefit of the media without journalists being ordained. Turning them into upasakas will do. Likewise, one may suggest that politicians, too, practise the five precepts and be upasakas so that this country will become a much better place to live in. But, the problem is that if they all become upasakas, they will stop wallowing in the cesspit that is politics and the country will be without anyone to rule it. So, let politicians be politicians while journalists aspire to be upasakas.