Over the past four decades or so, it has been impossible to persuade politicians of the benefits of having a state media trusted by the public. That is hardly surprising, considering that we have had more than our equitable share of successive imbecilic governments in our little corner of the world who have ruled on a foundation of lies, deceit, incompetence, mismanagement and corruption.
Many would stress that we would by now have surpassed our quota of such idiocy in governance. But the limitation in choice for voters will ensure that as far as sick systems are concerned, we will continue to surpass our quota. Still one must grant that a few perspicacious media ministers have been striving frantically to balancing themselves on the credibility tightrope without any real success.
That message has been advocated by former politicians when in power such as Ananda Tissa de Alwis, Dharmasiri Senanayake, both former newspaper scribblers. Holding the media portfolio, they had been consistently exhorting the state media to move away from a manifest pro-government attitude and work according to their own strategies and directions. Although they offered few specifics, there is not much to debate here, particularly because they had essentially conceded by their affirmation that the state media had been continuing to adopt such a traditionally biased stance.
Surely, no one is expected to actually believe the state cheer-squad media as it has for the last 40 years or so been venerating the supreme erudition, boundless benevolence and peerless clemency of the powers-that-be. But that is what the state media had primarily been established for in the first place, when the nation lost its freedom to information. Even more obscene is the way they all have been frequently lambasting the opposition with scurrilous tirades that have often been tantamount to criminal libel. As they have been continuing to do so ad nauseam, the people have been reaching for the salt in large doses.
This profusion of shameless hosannas compounded with derisive drivel has been regarded with a scoffing disbelief by the public, whose elementary intelligence they have been attempting to offend all along. All but incurable dolts will be even remotely deceived by some of the pathetic puffery and disgraceful distortions churned out by the state propaganda machinery. That is why complacent governments are often voted out of power by the populace who cannot be taken in all the time.
Take the Lake House group for instance, which in the realms of officialdom has been an ambiguous organisation since the offensive Press Takeover Bill in July 1973. Nonetheless, it has been perceived as a useful propagandizing device for every government in power since. But the truth is that that the once hallowed institution has been reduced to a partisan mouthpiece with the changing of every political guard.
The same could be said of the government-controlled broadcaster, its radio, but over a longer period of time and subsequently its TV stations. Through it all, there has not been the slightest evidence of any succeeding government making any attempt of actually endorsing a return to the veracity of the state-owned media or the benefit of re-establishing public trust in it.
It is certainly time to end the era of jingoistic broadcasting and journalism. This is a sort of political relic that should have, by all reasoning gone down the tubes but hasn’t. With the advent of the electronic media and web technology, that credibility factor has ironically, but ever so logically, become even more dangerous for anyone attempting to conceal the truth.
Instead of praise and head-swelling raves for the command structure, the message that has to be preached must be one of drastic and urgent reform, if any government intends ushering in a new democratic culture. Actually, those who do not intend to adjust must simply get out of the way or be sacked. Usually, any self-respecting media institution performs on the old concept that the “medium is the message”. But as far as the lap-dog media is concerned, it has turned into more like, “when the media was the mayhem.” In reality, the state media has become a dangerous double-edged weapon wielded by opportunistic flunkeys, untrained and unqualified in a craft that calls for demanding ingenuity and skills associated with well-grounded professionals.
As some journalistic wag said politics is supposed to be the world’s second oldest profession. But people have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first. Politicians may think that prostitution is a grim degrading life. But prostitutes think the same of politicians. In turn the people hold a more sneaking respect for the practitioners of the oldest profession who are more proficient in their vocations than certain inept lap-dog media personnel.
What the people have always needed is a dose of plain truth, not grandiloquent speeches. There were few among us who dared defy the authorities by reading or writing between the lines. One classic example is the human ingenuity, however, knows no bounds. Some people have the knack of doing things in a way nobody would have imagined. A clear example is the following obituary published in the Daily News during the Sirimavo Bandaranaike regime: “The death occurred under tragic circumstances of D.E.M. O’Cracy, beloved husband of T. Ruth, loving father of L. I. Berty, brother of Faith, Hope and Justitia. Interred on Saturday, 20th instant at Araliya Medura, Panagiyawatte, Anduruwella.”
Another was when the government in power decided to announce on state-controlled radio its move to take over Lake House. The fearless and quick-witted broadcaster Mervyn Jaysuriya slipped in this brilliant thunderbolt while reading the last headline on the prime-time news bulletin.
“Legislation will be introduced shortly in parliament to control the Press .. And that, is the end of the news.”