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Saturday, 26 November 2011

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‘Code of conduct for media should emerge from within’

Media cannot escape from a code of conduct as it is very powerful and has a great impact on the people. If it communicates the wrong information to the public, the society can be destroyed. The code of conduct should emerge from the media itself and should not be something imposed by an outside force, said Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC) chairman Mohan Samaranayke during an interview with the Daily News.

Here are extracts of the interview:

Q: Why do we need a code of ethics for Sri Lankan media?

A: It is a must to have a code of ethics/conduct for any society, organization, institution, party or a home. Even when we get on to a bus, there is a code of conduct. According to the code of conduct in a bus, people cannot speak in filth, harass women and a seat should be offered to a pregnant mother/disabled person or to a member of the clergy. The code of conduct can be in writing, oral or a common agreement. In Buddhism the code of conduct is in Vinaya Pitakaya. It states how Buddhist Bhikkus should behave, what they should do and not do.

SLRC Chairman
Mohan Samaranayake

Media cannot escape from a code of conduct as it is very powerful and have a great impact on people. It makes an impact on everything in society and people’s lives. If it communicates wrong information to the public the society can be destroyed. The code of conduct should emerge from the media itself and it should not be something imposed by an outside force.

Q: What is the benefit of introducing the Broadcast Development Authority Act?

A: This is not a new idea at all. In the beginning there were only state media institutions. First it was the SLBC and then came ITN and the SLRC. All of them were under the control of the government and there was no need for a body to regulate them. In the 90s, private media institutes emerged. Now there are hundreds of newspapers, 54 FM channels and over 12 television channels. Late President R. Premadasa wanted to regulate them due to political reasons but there were social and cultural reasons which led to the same. Some FM channels broadcast semi-pornographic programmes. But the idea did not work out. Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga had the same idea and tried to establish an authority. There were huge protests against this idea and it failed just like the previous attempt.

The system proposed by former President Chandrika Bandaranaike had weaknesses. One was that the Media Minister had the authority to appoint the majority of the Board.

According to my view, we need regulation. Unlike the print media, the electronic media directly enters the lives of the people and has a significant impact on them. Both parents and children sit together and watch TV. Television channels telecast sexual content without control and they have a significant impact on children’s lives. They get distracted and neglect their studies while getting addicted to pornography, drugs, etc. Television advertisements have already directed the public towards an unbearable and unrealistic consumption pattern.

Countries which are well-known for their democratic practice have regulatory bodies for the media. The United States has Federal Communication Commission (FCC). India has a similar system. But such a system should be independent. The US does not allow the telecast of programmes that are unsuitable for children.

Persons and groups who oppose this idea have ulterior motives. They are depending on funds from powerful Western countries. They purposely forget that the countries which fund them have tougher regulatory bodies and laws. Opposing is their livelihood.

Q: What do you think about the present behaviour of the Sri Lankan media when it comes to morals and ethics?

A: I cannot say that all media institutes in Sri Lanka always play a negative role. There are some positive aspects as well. The Sri Lankan media brutally attacks people who do not have a way to practice ‘Right to reply’. Most of the websites and other media publicize unconfirmed information, gossip, distorted and fabricated information etc. Unsatisfactory and irresponsible news telecasts/broadcasts are very common. Media feed the society with unhealthy content using the cover of ‘Freedom of Expression’. Tele-dramas address the beasts in human beings. They contain murders, adultery, rape, kidnapping, etc.

Money making and meaningless lifestyles are freely promoted through such tele-dramas. Media promotes lust and desire in people and creates empty human beings. There is no meaning in present day songs telecast/broadcast through media. When someone wants to get a correction published the newspaper carries it in a small corner in an inside page. Nobody notices the correction. But harmful content had been published in the front page in an eye catching manner. Sometimes one newspaper item destroys the entire life of a person along with his or her children. This had happened a few times in Sri Lanka.

Q: What do you think about the present day journalists and journalism?

A: Journalism was born about 400 or 500 years ago. Gradually it became a discipline, profession and an art. This subject has gained vast knowledge at present. It has technical knowledge as well. At present, without adequate knowledge, nobody can be a journalist.

A large number of present day journalists do not have this knowledge. They cannot be professional and responsible journalists because they lack the required knowledge. Today, being a journalist is just another form of employment or an income generating avenue for many. The main tool of communication is language. Today about 95 percent of journalists do not have this essential knowledge on language.

There are grave grammatical mistakes on the front pages of leading newspapers. Some headlines have grammatical mistakes. This is something serious.

Unfortunately, there is no authority, mechanism or law to correct these mistakes and improve the quality of journalism. The quality of technology is very low. There are some ‘Journalism schools’ and other similar institutions but they do not have a proper syllabus, qualified and talented teachers. So called ‘journalists’ teach there. They have no language proficiency. Such ‘Journalism schools’ only promote foreign and Western concepts belonging to the countries which fund them. The Sri Lankan government should establish a place to teach journalism and produce journalists. There are qualified, talented and dedicated journalists but none of them are in the mainstream.

Q: What is the responsibility of national television at this juncture?

A: The sole responsibility of all media is acting for the betterment of society. Exposing malpractices and corruption leads to social betterment. The national television, SLRC has an additional responsibility when it comes to communication because it covers about 90 percent of the island and a large number of viewers watch SLRC.

The Sri Lankan media has to identify the present challenges of Sri Lanka accurately and lobby the public opinion towards overcoming those challenges.

The media should identify the causes which led to the birth of the war and discourage them.

All media need to assist the national reconciliation process. There are various opinions. Such opinions come from the rich and powerful countries which created the ethnic issue in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka was a united country without any communal problems in the past before colonialism hit us.

Minor communities were discriminated after colonization. All ethnicities had worries. The responsibility of the national television is creating the necessary environment to achieve national objectives.

Q: What have you planned for the future of the national television?

A: The national television, Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation telecast current affairs with responsibility and accurately. It builds a broad and disciplined dialogue which leads to solve social problems. The SLRC telecasts programmes which lead to the development of children, provides mental solace to the public and promotes social development. It does not put youths and children into the market for sale. It protects languages.

Q: Do you have any message for the Sri Lankan television viewers?

A: I have only one message for Sri Lankan television viewers. According to the Dhammapada in Buddhism, I request them to take the good and reject the bad. They should identify good and evil. Please reject violence and vulgarity. Avoid meaningless things. Select and watch things that have a depth and help uplift society. This is my message to the Sri Lankan public.

 

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