Thursday, 18 December 2003  
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A national free media policy

Although it is unlikely to generate any "waves" any longer, we welcome a renewed effort by the State to establish what has been described as "a national free media policy". A glance at our front page lead story yesterday would reveal the mandate of the Presidential Task Force which is charged with this responsibility, which is a truly impressive and ambitious one.

Although top heavy with "academics" and less representative of the country's media, we hope the Task Force would expeditiously evolve a media policy which serves our national needs. We are compelled to say this because it is open to question whether even the so-called State - controlled media are measuring up fully to this all-important standard. As is well-known, depoliticizing the media is a prime imperative but the State has failed appallingly thus far to deliver on this promise which is ritualistically trotted out by the main political parties of the country, particularly while in the opposition.

However, let bygones be bygones. Let's hope that the Presidential Task Force would, in this renewed effort at bringing to birth a "national free media policy", came to grips with the issues in this sphere, which are crying out for attention. In resolving these issues, however, loads of impracticable, theoretical knowledge wouldn't suffice. Relevant theoretical knowledge would need to be finely balanced with pertinent practical experience which only those with hands on experience in the field would be able to provide.

In this important undertaking of the Task Force, we notice that emphasis has been laid on "freedom" of the media. This, however, is a relative question. There are sections of the media which are "freer" than others and to the extent of even being irresponsible. Needless to say, it is not the clichetic "freedom of the wild ass" which is the crying need today.

The ideal which recommends itself to us is a media sector which balances freedom with responsibility. While the former element is quite abundant in some sections of the media it is not present to the same degree in other sections. However, when it comes to delivering on the responsibility component, most sections fall dismally short of the target.

For example, nation-building is a prime requirement in Sri Lanka today.

This undertaking - it will be found on reflection - couldn't be divorced from the major enterprise of bringing into being a united, accommodative, tolerant and peaceful country. In other words, finding a just peace in Sri Lanka and nation-building are two sides of the same coin. It need hardly be said that not all sections of this country's media consider it one of their priorities to constructively contribute towards advancing the peace debate or help in fostering a culture of peace, based, for instance, on democratic accommodation among ethnic groups and inter-cultural understanding.

A principal challenge before the Task Force would be to decide how all sections of our media could be co-opted into this historic undertaking without having to compromise their independence.

However, the efforts of the Task Force would come to nought if the State fails, as has happened in the past in regard to other such efforts, to act on the recommendations and findings of the group.

It is up to the State - more precisely the President - to prove the cynics wrong and to establish that this time around, a "national free media policy" would not only be formulated but fully implemented.

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A century of flight

The birds realise one of the oldest aspirations of man, wrote the French scientist Etienne Jules Marey: "All space belongs to them. They go and come in the aerial ocean, while man is chained by his weight to the earth."

Exactly one hundred years ago, two enterprising brothers proved him wrong. For 12 tantalising seconds that began at 10.35 a.m., December 17, 1903, Orville Wright was literally on top of the world. By the time he came back to earth with a thud, he had covered 120 feet.

Man had just conquered the skies in a heavier-than-air machine. Orville and his brother Wilbur had just created history at Kitty Hawk, an isolated fishing village in North Carolina.

Just hours after Orville's celebrated "First Flight" Wilbur cleared 852 feet in 59 seconds. As is the case with any breakthrough invention, the Wright Brothers' gift to the world was soon adopted for the good and the bad.

As civilian flyers like the Wrights and Louis Bleriot conducted increasingly adventurous flights across countries and oceans, the US military began live bombing exercises in 1910. The rest, as they say, is history.

Today's sleek jet planes are a far cry from the contraptions used by the pioneers. Frank Whittle's jet engine revolutionised air travel and brought the world closer.

It was not long before jet-engined aircraft regularly flew across oceans carrying hundreds of passengers. The modern traveller is never more than 24 hours away from even the remotest parts of the earth, thanks to a worldwide network of airlines.

Man was not satisfied with merely emulating the birds: he wanted to fly faster than the speed of sound too. He did just that on October 14, 1947 when Charles Yeager flew in his Bell X-1. Sadly, the modern incarnation of the X-1 is no more, the British Airways/Air France Concordes flew for the last time in October, bringing tears to the eyes of aviation enthusiasts worldwide.

Now the accent seems to be on bigger, not faster, machines. When the Airbus A380 soars to the sky in 2006, it will be the biggest aircraft ever. It will be able to carry more than 550 passengers in utmost comfort.

No one can predict with any certainty what the next 100 years will bring. Rest assured that someone, somewhere is designing another flying machine that can take us boldly to places where no man has gone before.

STONE 'N' STRING

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