Government to establish a new media strategy | Sunday Observer

Government to establish a new media strategy

Minister of Information and Communications Technology, Higher Education, Technology and Innovations Bandula Gunawardana said that now under a new media culture, opportunity will be given to the Opposition in the state media to make constructive criticism about Government activities.

The Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said that however, the new Government would completely do away with the strategy followed by the previous regime. The media policy followed by the former Government reflected badly on them and it didn’t bring any fruitful results at all.

Those days every form of humiliation and mudslinging was thrown at the then Opposition by the state media and scathing attacks were also launched as the order of the day. Despite all those unwarranted campaigns, the final result was that SLPP Presidential Candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa could secure an unprecedented mandate of 6.9 million votes and was elected President. The state media proved very well that they are not in a position to decide on the final victory or defeat of a candidate at a Presidential Election.

Q: What are your plans to ensure media freedom?

A: We didn’t take revenge. Nor did we harass or intimidate any media institutions or their journalists. We have no idea whatsoever to resort to such activities committed by the previous regime.

When the Yahapalana Government came to power, all journalists in the state media who were loyal to Mahinda Rajapaksa were either harassed, assaulted or expelled. When the power was shifted this time, no such harassments were done.

At present, journalists have been deprived of the rights and privileges they enjoyed. We hope to discuss this matter and restore those benefits to journalists. For example, some of the bank loans given to journalists have been suspended.

Therefore, we would intervene to give back these rights and benefits which have since been denied to journalists.

Q: Do you have any plans to enhance the training and professionalism of journalists?

A: In consultation with the UGC, we will set up a university college to enhance the professional skills of journalists and offer them higher level diplomas. At present, degrees on Mass Communication are conferred by the universities. In addition to this, journalists also need to improve their skills in relation to management, information technology and various other sectors. I hope to offer postgraduate degrees to journalists as well. I would certainly discuss with some foreign universities and try to exchange knowledge and experience for the benefit of our journalists and thereby provide new opportunities for journalists.

Q: What is your approach to state media? Will you give them the freedom to criticise the Government and publish opposition news?

A: When I took over the responsibility of the state media institutions, I categorically said leaving aside mudslinging and facts which pave the way for cultural erosion , under a new media culture, opportunity will be given to the Opposition in the state media to make constructive criticism about the Government activities.

However, we would completely do away with the strategy followed by the previous regime. During the entire tenure of the Yahapalana Government, I was not given any room at all in the state media to express my views.

I was an Opposition MP, a former Minister, Head of the Economic Research Unit and Head of the Ombudsman Office of then Opposition Leader, but no state media carried any of my interviews. Each Tuesday, our Economic Research Unit conducted a media briefing but the Rupavahini and the ITN didn’t telecast or did not even cover those press conferences. We should completely do away with that practice.

We believe state media institutions should cover the UNP press conferences as well. If there is anything worthwhile said or constructive criticism of Government policies at those UNP press conferences, we should provide room to publish them in the state media.

The media strategy followed by the former Government reflected badly on them and it didn’t bring any fruitful results.

Those days every possible humiliation and mudslinging was thrown at us by the state media. Scathing attacks were launched against us for hours and hours. Despite all those unwarranted campaigns, the final result was that the SLPP Presidential Candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa could secure an unprecedented mandate of 6.9 million votes and was elected President. The state media proved very well that they are not in a position to decide on the final victory or defeat of a candidate at a Presidential Election.

Q: How about the appointment of media heads? Any plans to bring in professionals and others well versed in journalism?

A: Definitely, I hope to appoint professionals to media institutions. I will call for nominations in the near future. If we could get the approval to appoint experienced professionals, it would be good for the country and the institution at large.

Q: Will you be considering any concessions to journalists to facilitate their job?

A: I hope to get Cabinet approval to introduce a concessionary loan scheme whereby journalists could purchase media equipment without any difficulty.

Q: Do you plan to bring any kind of control or censorship on social media?

A: At present, we have no idea as such. In future, if social media pose a threat to national security or attempts are made to misinterpret a national disaster, we can consider it at that particular moment.

Q: What are your plans to curb fake news on mainstream and social media?

A: As the Media Ministry, first we should discuss with the ministry officials to ascertain what the actual situation prevailing right now. Therefore, I can’t give a definite answer at this point.

Q: Any plans to broad base or privatise the state owned media?

A: We have no idea whatsoever to privatise the state media. We may try to experiment as to how the state media can be run by minimising losses or maintaining them at break-even point.

Q: Will you continue the investigation into attacks on journalists like Lasantha Wickramatunga?

A: Actually, this is a political campaign carried out by making use of a few isolated incidents. However, nobody ever uttered even a single word about the ruthless murder of journalist Richard de Zoysa committed by the then UNP Government. He was abducted by a Government- owned white van and killed and later dumped into the sea by a helicopter. Those who even failed to appoint a Parliamentary Select Committee into such dastardly crimes strangely make a big hue and cry about the killing of Lasantha Wickramatunga today.

Q: What is the Presidential Election’s message to the country?

A: The UNP right through uttered that this is not a Sinhala Buddhist country. That was the view of the UNP. While the UNP projected this view, even Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith openly acknowledged that Sri Lanka is a Sinhala Buddhist country where the various communities and religions live in complete harmony and insisted that due respect should be paid to the Sinhala Buddhist culture. However, the UNP continuously attempted to portray that this is not a Sinhala Buddhist country. Therefore , at the recently concluded Presidential Election, majority of the Sinhala Buddhists proved that this is a Sinhala Buddhist country and other communities can also live in peace and harmony.

Q: What is the impact of the Government’s relief package on national income? Should not there be any new sources of income to meet Government’s expenditure?

A: When a country collapses beyond rescue, even if higher taxes are imposed, the anticipated tax revenue cannot be realised.

If the commercial enterprises collapse and businessmen are not in a position to repay their loan installments and their properties remain unredeemed with the banks and if no new industries are established , even if the tax ratio is 25 percent, it will not produce good results.

Therefore, we have to use tax relief as a measure to develop the economy and as a result higher revenue can be realised with a low tax ratio. The output and revenue in agriculture, industries and service sectors will be increased next year in view of the substantial tax relief given. This will also create more employment opportunities. Then the sum total of taxes to be levied will also go up. When the economy regresses the increase in the tax ratio becomes unproductive.

Q: Can you s outline the reasons for the failure of the Yahapalana Government and the uncalled for behaviour of certain UNP politicians?

A: The UNP was in the Opposition for a long time. Strangely, the UNP was able to secure victory at the August 2015 General Election mainly due to Maithripala Sirisena being elected as the President. Since the day the UNP came to power, they have launched a scathing attack on the Rajapaksas with much hatred. The burning issues of the people cannot be resolved only by resorting to such hate politics. The vindictive approach of the UNP against their political opponents was the prime cause for the downfall of the former UNP Government.

Q: Unlike the previous Government are you going to have a comprehensive plan to deliver the goods to the people?

A: Certainly, we have a comprehensive program. We have included that program in the manifesto of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. That program was not prepared in haste. Long before Gotabaya Rajapaksa became the SLPP Presidential Candidate, he created the Viyathmaga, public forum with the help of many professionals and he learnt very many things from such professionals prior to the Presidential Election. To couple with it, the SLPP National Organiser ,Basil Rajapaksa ,launched the program named ‘Gama Samaga Pilisadarak’ at village level.

That program covered each and every village and entertained the views and suggestions of the masses on the requirements in their respective villages.

University lecturers, professors and panel of experts formulated President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s manifesto by taking into consideration all these facts. We have a systematic program and a solution for each sector such as industries, services and balance of payment issue.

Q: What are your plans to develop higher education? Any increase in the university intake?

A: Obviously. Every year, 25,000 to 30,000 students are enrolled at universities. We hope to increase this number to at least 100,000 students in the national university system next year.

Q: Is there any move to prorogue the Parliament by the President ?

A: I think Parliament will be prorogued for a short period it will be only after that the President will address the Parliament.

I think that the Parliament will possiblybe prorogued before December 03. 

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