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DateLine Sunday, 1 July 2007

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Some People's Awards

Light Refractions by Lucien Rajakarunanayake In what was easily among work by famed cartoonist late W. R. Wijesoma was one he drew during decades ago when there was a huge stink about loans being given to favoured persons by the People's Bank. The cartoon he drew showed Wijesoma's cartoon character Punchisingho look up in surprise as a worker on a ladder put the word "Some" in front of the People's Bank's name on its signboard to make it read "Some People's Bank".

I was reminded of this on reading of the recent controversy over the move to restrict the persons who can even enter the competition for journalism who awaits by the Sri Lanka Press Institute to those who work for newspapers publishers that make donations in cash or kind to the SLPI or its awards programme.

Cash for honours may sound new in the UK where there has been a prolonged inquiry by Scotland Yard into allegations of the possible "sale" of royal honours for contributions made to political parties. Hanging-on Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair was at the center of this investigation, which has also included the Conservatives and Lib-Dems.

Although new to the so-called seat of democracy today, cash for honours in nothing strange to our people. Before imperial honours were banned by SWRD Bandaranaike it was an open secret that many who strutted about those days, displaying their imperial awarded pomp, particularly a knighthood or even a lowly MBE, had obtained such honour by the funds donated for projects favoured by the colonial government and/or extended family service to British Crown, to power centres of subservient local politics from which the UNP was born, and later to that of the first ruling party the UNP itself, or contributions in cash and kind to its polls campaigns. In fact there were people such as Sir John Kotelawala, and Sir Senerath (RSS) Goonewardena who were so attached to their imperial trappings that they refused to give them up even after such honours were stopped in Sri Lanka, but took their knighthoods to their graves.

It's more than funny how any journalist, or organization of or for journalists, could even think of attaching a condition of donations by proprietors of media institutions for their employees to be able to apply for an awards scheme, presumably to reward excellence in one's profession. Let's not forget that journalists, the honest type at least, are the first to cry foul if there is any knowledge of such conditional sale of privilege or benefit to others. What else is all this fuss made in the media about corruption other than a justified howl against granting favours to those who have made their own little contributions to the holders of power or have a power full link to them in cash, kind or blood.The issue that caused a stink in the People's Bank's loans was special favours ranted to the then owner of the Mt. Lavinia Hotel who was also a well-known local brewer in addition to a leading bookseller. Strangely, today's owners of Mt. Lavinia Hotel have been drawn into thee present controversy too, not by any fault of its own, but because it is the venue for this annual awards ceremony, and its CEO is a good friend of the man who brainchild this proposal is. If the new criteria is accepted, there is nothing to prevent any hack who writes for a newsletter of the Mt. Lavinia Hotel, duly registered as a newspaper with the GPO, to enter the competition and win an award for excellence in journalism, in the food, beverage and accommodation category, because the Mt. Lavinia Hotel is the generous host for the awards ceremony.

Who can refuse a prize to a journalist with such savoury backing? There has been much criticism in the past of the manner in which the recipients for these awards are chosen, particularly for the self-application process. While these are matters for debate, it is possible that this vulgar proposal of "cash or kind for honours" may come to pass because its proponent is one whose name at least is one that carries great power being that of the Hindu deity considered the god-sovereign, the personification of divine authority, and of cosmic and moral law, and said to represent the more juridical side of divine sovereignty. Such vibes can well prevail over the decisions of the SLPA.

If so it will be a great beginning. It can be the precedent for awards in the medical profession to be given only to those doctors who are recommended by the pharmaceutical companies that makes sufficient contributions to the organization that administers the awards, if that is not happening already. This is easily extendable to any other profession.

Very importantly, it can also open the way for proprietors of media institutions, who make donations in cash or kind to the SLPA, to make their own nominations of candidates for the awards, and if contribution is big enough in free advertising space plus regular puffs for the SLPA and its awards scheme, to also decide on what award their nominees receive.

Here's one piece of advice for those who apply for the next round of journalism awards, under this dispensation. Make sure also attach a certificate from your employer stating the value of the contribution he/she or the company has made to the SLPA in cash or kind. You will have an awfully better chance of being called up to the stage at the Mt. Lavinia Hotel to receive your award. Cheers.

 

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