Politicians have in their vocabulary expressions of all sorts save one, `mea culpa`. Why they have no need for it is perfectly understandable. They think they never err, if how spiritedly they defend all their actions is any indication. They pretend they are paragons of virtue not capable of sinning even in private. Then who on earth has brought the country this sorry pass? Ask any politician and he will say, `The media.`
That is the considered view of many geniuses in the den of thieves aka the government and in the political dustbin aka the Opposition. Why is it that the prices of bread and buns remain very high despite a decrease in the flour prices? The greatest economist to have ever inhabited this country, if not the world, Minister Bandula Gunawardena said the other day in a press interview that the media had to be blamed for the high bread prices. If the media had highlighted the decrease in the flour prices, he sagely opined, pressure could have been brought to bear on bakery owners to reduce the prices of their products accordingly! But, in the same breath he threatened to take the media to court for highlighting the fact that gas prices remained high in spite of a drop in world oil prices. He in his wisdom argued gas prices were being worked out according to a price formula sanctioned by the Supreme Court and any criticism thereof amounted to contempt of court! But, we don`t blame politicians for such glaring contradictions and illogical and fallacious arguments, as we believe they need some schooling.
Minister Gunawardena is not alone in passing the buck to the press. He is in the exalted company of erudite Speaker W. J. M. Lokubandara. The Speaker is of the view that the press should be blamed for having carried advertisements promoting a con artist who has recently fled the country after cheating the public of their deposits to the tune of billions of rupees. The media, the good Speaker is reported to have told the NFF leader and MP Wimal Weerawansa, who urged the government to protect the public against swindlers, that the media, before carrying the fraudster`s adverts, should have checked if his finance company had been approved by the Central Bank.
Parliamentarians-including Mervyn Silva-are honourabe men and women and the Speaker is the most honourable of them all. So, we the humble scribes don`t wish to make so bold as to take them on over what transpires in the assembly not so august, because those great personalities are protected by a testudo of privileges. Instead, we shall discuss something else.
What if the media were to conduct such checks on politicians as well before publishing their advertisements and filing reports on them? During election campaigns the media carries a lot of advertisements where politicians make various claims. Are the media to check whether there are rogues masquerading as decent human beings before accepting their advertisements? If so, what would be the outcome? Most politicians will have to do without advertising. The media also carry election manifestoes of various parties, knowing very well that they contain blatant lies and promises like the pie crust made to be broken. The same goes for political speeches replete with fib and baloney. Should the media to stop carrying them?
It is not only political worthies who try to make a scapegoat of the media. Some moons ago, it may recalled, a doctor was arrested and charged with the rape and murder of a poor garment factor girl, whose body was plunged from an upper floor of a building at the Negombo hospital. This newspaper asked the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) what action it had taken against the doctor concerned, only to be told very curtly that it could not act without a formal complaint! An SLMC bigwig had the audacity to ask us why we did not make a complaint if we were so concerned about the incident. We politely told him that ours was not to complain but to expose and there was enough proof if the SLMC was desirous of taking action against the suspect.
Last year the Transparency International (TI) sought to palm off the responsibility for initiating action against those responsible for the questionable deals exposed in the COPE report, to the media. When the Director Investigations of the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption told a TI sponsored seminar in Colombo that the Commission could not initiate an investigation without a written complaint, we asked the head of Transparency International Sri Lanka J. C. Weliamuna why TI, which was on a much advertised and expensive crusade against corruption had baulked at making a complaint to the Bribery Commission, he cynically asked why The Island could not do so. That prompted us to retort that we were only the messenger and it was up to TI, which was being paid handsomely to battle corruption, had to make complaints.
The Opposition, too, has, on several occasions, inveighed against the media `for not attacking the government hard enough`. (The government accuses the media, except the kept press, of being partial to the Opposition!) How desperate the Opposition is to capture power is only too well known. Opposition politicians are like a colony of leeches denied an opportunity to have a feast at the expense of the public. Envious of their bloated ruling party counterparts bleeding the public dry, they are too impatient to wait for their turn. But, toppling a government is a task for an Opposition and not the media, which can only facilitate a regime change through the dissemination of information. A midwife cannot be expected to deliver on someone else`s behalf!
A good journalist, according to political leeches and INGO/NGO fraudsters is someone who is ready to act as a lackey offering his or her services as a cat`s paw. Others, they seem to think, are there to be bashed. Therefore, it is not surprising that political gasbags vent their spleen on the media every so often.