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Tuesday, 8 November 2011

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News websites and media accountability

Quite understandably, queries are being raised in some quarters over a recent Mass Media and Information Ministry requirement that news casting websites register with it before conducting their operations. Earlier the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission suspended the operations of a couple of websites whose news contents were found to flout the norms of legally and ethically admissible media practices.

While it goes without saying that the Sri Lankan state is fully committed to democracy and its essential values, this does not necessarily mean that it could permit any quarter to abuse media freedom and conduct its functions in ways that are detrimental to the common interest, which the government is fully pledged to safeguarding. Therefore, in the event of rogue websites engaging in ‘the freedom of the wild ass’ the state has no option but to take the necessary precautions to safeguard the national interest. This stands to reason and needs to be accepted by those who cherish a democratic culture.

Repeatedly some of these websites have not only offended the sensibilities of decent people but character-assassinated persons with a vengeance. Among their targets are VVIPS, ministers, public officials, holders of public office and ordinary citizens. Of course, not everyone who discharges some public responsibilities is necessarily virtuous but persons cannot be attacked or character assassinated behind a smokes screen of anonymity.

They must be given an opportunity to defend themselves in a court of law against the relevant websites and bring the latter to justice but this cannot be done in connection with most of these news websites because their origins are not known. Most of them have not registered with the authorities and have not been forthcoming on information, such as, who owns them, who contributes news and views to them, who funds them, and where their servers are. How, then, could an aggrieved party bring them to justice, which is a fundamental right?

These are some of the reasons which make the recent regulations by the media authorities extremely necessary. If these websites feel they are in the right, they must come clean on the crucial information relating to them and also operate within the bounds of the law.

It needs to be noted that the current precautions and regulations are only temporary measures which would be lifted once these websites begin to conform to the law of the land and prove to be accountable to the state and public.

It cannot be emphasized enough that the state is deeply committed to the fundamental freedoms of the people, including, of course, media freedom. After all, there are numerous newspapers, for instance, that are not supportive of the state which are functioning freely and the state is in no way hampering their operations. But they are not operating behind a smokescreen of intrigue and secrecy and the rogue websites need to do the same, if they are to meet the norms of legality.

It is a cause for wonderment that some of the home truths we highlight here are not, apparently, being taken into consideration by those who are reacting excitedly to the new regulations governing websites.

Media freedom, is an inalienable right, but it should not be abused and that too very scandalously.

What about the legitimate rights of the victims who are thus shown in a bad light and subjected to humiliating portrayal? Are they expected to bear their pain of mind in silence? What makes some of this treatment of people particularly abominable is the callous incursion of even their private lives by these websites. What forms of legal redress could they have recourse to against an abuser who does not reveal himself but attacks them from an undetectable location in a shroud of dark secrecy?

These precautions by the state are no knee-jerk reaction. They are well thought out measures by the state which, among other things, take into consideration national security considerations too. It has taken cognizance that some of these rogue websites may be even funded by the LTTE and anti-national NGOs whose interests are at cross purposes with the national interest. All things considered, the precautions are justified.

Many states flay flawed Darusman Report

The UNHRC held its 18th Regular Session from September 12 to 30, 2011 in Geneva. The Sri Lanka delegation to the UNHRC was led by me in my capacity as the Special Envoy of the President on Human Rights.

Full Story

New studies highlight risks of vitamin supplements

New research is prompting a fresh look at the value of vitamin supplements, with some surprising results indicating that taking too many supplements of some could be harmful. The research is forcing scientists to rethink the use of supplements with antioxidants, which had been seen as beneficial in preventing cancer, heart disease and other ailments. “Everybody is confused,” admitted Toren Finkel, head of the Centre for Molecular Medicine at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Full Story

Tertiary education opportunities for school leavers

Reference to marine engineering related occupations

At a time when Sri Lanka has recorded a high success rate at the G.C.E. O/Level, and when those who sat for the G.C.E. A/Level are awaiting their results, while contemplating further education, it will be prudent to guide those who seek these various education opportunities.

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