It has been reported in the media that the government has issued a Gazette notification on October 10 introducing new regulations to control electronic media institutions. In short these regulations seek to ensure that whatever is telecast or broadcast is nothing but ‘his master’s voice.’ By this exercise the government hopes to muzzle these institutions with the threat of refusing applications for issue of new licences or cancelling the existing licences of television broadcasting stations.
Under these regulations the government could control the private TV stations since the sole authority for the issuing of licences is the Media Ministry.
It seems that the government is eying the private TV channels while using the Rupavahini and ITN as it mouthpiece. In the 1970s the then Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike took steps to take over Lake House.
Later her daughter and former President CBK followed her mother’s footsteps and introduced a Broadcasting Authority Bill to parliament. But the Supreme Court delivered a landmark judgment declaring that it needed a two thirds majority in parliament which acted as an impediment to that bill becoming law.
This time the MR government, which came to power through the same political party, has introduced the above regulations in the name of national security. It is a violation of the fundamental rights of the people as well as the freedom of thought and expression because the regulations lay down that any person who joins any political party cannot have legal authorisation to have a licence to operate a media institution.
It appears, the government already has a grip on the private TV channels although not formally, when one considers how the news relating to defence is telecast by these channels. Every day we are told that areas that were under LTTE control have been captured or how their installations were destroyed by the government forces. It is the thinking of political experts that the war is only being fought in the newspapers and what is said is far from reality.
One week before the North Central and Sabaragamuwa Provincial Council elections we were told that the troops were only two kilometres away from Kilinochchi, and Kilinochchi could be seen by the troops. It seems that the government wants to apply the ‘Goebbles theory’ — which is that if you repeat a lie 10 times it would be conceded as the truth.
But the truth cannot be hidden even if new regulations are imposed on the media whether they are electronic or printed.
It is needless to say that the country needs an accepted media policy at this critical juncture. But the government has chosen the wrong path for political expediency without thinking about media freedom. The ‘war against terrorism’ seems to have been turned into a ‘war against journalism.’
I wish that the government sets up the Independent Media Commission through the Constitutional Council without any further delay. It is only then that press freedom in the true sense of the word would prevail.
A letter to the Editor, published in themoringleader.lk