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Government Gazette

Reviving the Press Council

The decision by the Government to re-launch the Press Council is welcome news. We say this in consideration of the potential such an institution possesses, given its identity as a State body, to deal even-handedly with public complaints against the local press.

It would be unrealistic to expect a perfect performance from all public sector institutions, given the constraints under which they usually operate.

However, there is a strong possibility of organisations such as the Press Council holding the scales evenly in their dealings with the public on account of their considerable accountability to the State and the people, than privately - run institutions of this kind.

A public sector body is usually subjected to a number of checks and balances and this prevents it from acting arbitrarily. Accordingly, it would need to base its thinking and its decision-making on the common interest and avoid sectarian biases.

For instance, it would need to scrupulously avoid ethnic and religious prejudices.

It is our experience that the Press Council measures-up to these standards. It has, for instance, dealt even-handedly with issues concerning ethnic and religious minorities.

Therefore, the Press Council's accountability to the State, which in turn is expected to uphold the common good, makes it an ideal instrument in the settlement of disputes between the public and the press.

Apparently, there have been some adverse reactions in some sections to the news on the reactivation of the Press Council.

Why react with alarm and fear if one's newspaper does not engage in selling the national interest and is not a purveyor of falsehoods, prejudices and baseless scandals? Why bother about the reinstallation of the Press Council if one does not specialize in character assassination and in the spewing of defamatory commentary?

These are issues for the detractors of the Press Council. If the highest standards of journalism are conformed to by our newspaper, there is absolutely no need to fear the Press Council or to fret over moves to revive it.

As far as we are aware, the Press Council would conduct itself on the lines of an arbitration body.

It would not be imposing draconian regulations on errant newspapers or clamp unbearable penalties on those which have been acting in violation of laws regulating the media, but would try its best to arrive at amicable settlements between parties to a dispute, thus obviating the need for these parties to resort to litigation.

However, those questioning any rulings by the Press Council are at liberty to seek redress for their grievances in the courts system. Reviving the Press Council, therefore, is a sound measure which should be welcomed and not seen as controversial.

We call on the State to appoint nothing less than the best minds to the Press Council. This body should never be seen as compromising the common good.

Malik Peiris, the first Sri Lankan Fellow of the Royal Society

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