Govt will not suppress the media - Dr. Bandula Gunawardena | Sunday Observer

Govt will not suppress the media - Dr. Bandula Gunawardena

4 December, 2022

Mass Media Minister Dr. Bandula Gunawardena said that the Government will not suppress the media.

Joining the debate on the expenditure head of the Ministry of Mass Media, Dr. Gunawardena said the Government is also working to raise the autonomy and professional status of journalists by introducing a program of creating a vibrant media culture.

The Media Minister said that the media has to play the key role in re-establishing the country’s image which had been badly tarnished in the international arena due to the violence which erupted across Sri Lanka after months of protests.

The Minister said the violence that erupted after the ‘Aragalaya’ had badly affected the country’s image. The activities that took place during the last struggle, such as the blocking of roads, absence of Parliamentary proceedings and asking for ID cards even from foreigners who came to visit this country were on the front pages of the foreign media through various media including social media.

Dr. Gunawardena said that the country’s image has been greatly tarnished due to this reason. It is not appropriate for this country to be repeatedly advertised in the world as a country with brutal people. Social media or any media should act in a manner that does not tarnish the country’s image. He said that he will ensure that the work in his Ministry is carried out in a transparent manner without any fraud or corruption.

“Mixed up”

President Ranil Wickremesinghe said the ‘Parabhava Sutra’ refers to the Dhamma and not to the Sangha and the Leader of the Opposition has got the Dhamma and Sangha mixed up.

The President was speaking during the Budget debate in Parliament on Tuesday (29). The President pointed out that many problems arise when the Sangha does not act according to the Dhamma and it has been happening since the time of the Buddha.

The President also said that for the first time, he gave approval to a Bill to register a discourse that empowers the Maha Sangha to protect Sangha discipline.

President Wickremesinghe said, “First of all, I thank the Opposition Leader for bringing up the ‘Parabhava Sutra’ during the debate on the expenditure heads of the Ministry of Buddha Sasana, Religious and Cultural Affairs in Parliament today. As far as I know, ‘Parabhava Sutra’ does not talk about the Venerable Maha Sangha.”

The President said, “The ‘Parabhava Sutra’ refers to the Dhamma and not the Sangha. I think our Opposition Leader has got the Dhamma and Sangha mixed up. We have to understand the difference. The Sangha and the lay people should follow the Dhamma. Sometimes the lay people can live without following the Dhamma. But we should live according to Dhamma.

“I like to give the same advice to our Opposition Leader. Indeed, there are many problems in the Buddha Sasana. First, we expect all laymen and priests to act according to the Dhamma. When our Maha Sangha does not act according to the Dhamma, many problems arise. It has been happening since the Buddha’s time. Devadatta acted against the Buddha while wearing saffron robes.”

As an extension of the recent debate between President Ranil Wickremesinghe and Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa that took place in Parliament regarding matters included in the ‘Dhammapada’, Premadasa responded in the House on Wednesday (30) to a statement made by the President about the ‘Parabhava Sutta’ and Angulimala Thera.

Speaking in Parliament, Premadasa said that the Parabhava Sutta explains how the degradation of a person takes place while the ‘Vasala Sutta’ states that if someone insults the Buddha, the Buddhist clergy, and laypersons, such people can be considered as ‘Vasalas’, or outcasts.

He also said that he spoke about the contents of these scriptures with the aim of pointing out that it is wrong to insult the Buddhist doctrine and the Buddhist clergy. Meanwhile, in response to a statement made by President Wickremesinghe said that Angulimala Thera worked against the Buddha after becoming ordained, Premadasa said, “We know that the President reads books, but he says that Angulimala Thera acted against the Buddha while wearing robes. It has even been recorded in the Hansard.

“There is a serious mistake in that statement. As we know, it was Devadatta who acted against the Buddha while wearing robes. Therefore, I like to correct the President’s statement,” he said.

Leader of the House Minister Susil Premajayantha, who stood up during Premadasa’s speech said, “It is very good to start the proceedings of Parliament by speaking about things mentioned in the ‘Dhammapada’ or the ‘Parabhava Sutta’, or some other sutta every morning, because it calms our minds,” before reciting a stanza from the ‘Vasala Sutta’. Then Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardana was then seen directing Opposition Leader Premadasa to raise a question that the latter was supposed to, saying: “Please, we have listened to enough sermons; raise your question now.”

PM’s post

State Minister of Tourism Diana Gamage alleged in Parliament that Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa’s wife had telephoned former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa asking the Premiership for her husband when the then Prime Minister resigned due to political pressure.

“Not only had the Opposition Leader, but his wife too called Gotabaya Rajapaksa asking him for the opportunity to allow Sajith to become the Prime Minister. Gotabaya Rajapaksa had shared this information with us,” Gamage said.

State Minister Gamage also requested Premadasa not to organise demonstrations from Kandy to Colombo, which would disturb the tourism industry that is regaining ground in the midst of the economic crisis in the country.

She said, “The Opposition Leader would have to take the responsibility if he is to organise protests and disturb the country that is regaining its ground. Don’t organise these rallies. It only shows your incompetence. If you were competent, you could have accepted the post of Prime Minister when then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa offered it to you. Now we are receiving more tourists. So please don’t hold these protests. You should stop this drama.” She also said that the public transportation service should be upgraded to cater to the tourists who show special interest in using it as an experience.

Social media

SJB Parliamentarian Gayantha Karunatilleka told Parliament that it has not been possible to prepare an independent regulatory system for the media. The MP also said that the Government should announce its policy and future plans regarding media regulation and whether it will bring new laws to regulate social media. The MP was speaking during the debate on the Third Reading of the Budget.

The MP said that economic reforms must be strengthened. But in our country, such a thing is not shown. This Budget has not shown any political and social reforms.

He said, “I am surprised that the President has forgotten the subject of mass media during these reforms. The collapse of the economy is also a collapse of the country’s social politics. People should be informed, mobilised and empowered,” he said.

MP Karunatilleka said, “The field of journalism is very complex today. About 20 years ago, we were only talking about traditional media. But today social media has emerged. It is international. Social media often provides sources to traditional media. It is still not possible to set up an independent regulatory system. We would like to know what this Government’s policy and future plan regarding media regulation is.

“I asked the media minister whether he is working to bring new laws to regulate social media. He stated that there is no such thing.

“The Information Act has been accepted as a good act not only in Asia but also in the world. In terms of media freedom, Sri Lanka has fallen 19 places within a year. In 2015, Sri Lanka was ranked 165 out of 180 countries in the Press Freedom Index.

“When the late Minister Mangala Samaraweera and I were in charge of the media, we were able to climb up to 126 in terms of media freedom. Now again it has come down to 145,” he said.

Economic crimes

National People’s Power MP Dr. Harini Amarasuriya told Parliament that economic crimes committed by politicians are far worse and more serious than swimming in the President House’s pool. Dr. Amarasuriya pointed out that one Minister had said that ‘Aragalaya’ protesters have tarnished the ‘brand’ of the country.

However, the damage done by the politicians to the image of the country is worse. Joining the debate on the Expenditure Heads of the Media Ministry, Transport Ministry and the Foreign Ministry, she said “The Foreign Ministry has a great responsibility to serve Sri Lankans working in other countries, especially at a time where we look for more foreign employment opportunities. The service they provide is not sufficient. Some embassies have been closed and we don’t know the cause behind this decision.”

Year-end party

Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena organised a year-end party for Government Parliamentarians at Temple Trees recently which was also attended by President Ranil Wickremesinghe. The party which commenced around 7.00 pm went on until midnight.

Some MPs had sung songs providing much entertainment to the event while some had exchanged pleasantries on their past memories. In the meantime, some informal discussions had also been continued among Government lawmakers on future political programs.

SLPP Parliamentarian Mahindananda Aluthgamage who had praised the President had said, “It is only President Ranil Wickremesinghe who can get the country out of the current crisis situation. Therefore, we should extend our fullest support to the President.”

President Wickremesinghe who listened to Aluthgamage’s remarks had said in lighter vein “The real enemy doesn’t come from front but from back.” Then SLPP Parliamentarian Tissa Kutti Arachchi showed some old photographs that he had taken with President Wickremesinghe.

He said aloud, “This is the photograph I will use for the next election.” Then State Minister Lohan Ratwatte and a group of MPs had told him with humour, “Kutti should have shown that photograph earlier because state ministerial portfolios are not given these days.” In response, Kutti Arachchi had said if he is given a state ministerial portfolio he is ready to accept it.

US official meets Minister Sabry

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, during a meeting with Foreign Affairs Minister Ali Sabry, has discussed the joint efforts of the two countries to combat local and global challenges. The meeting took place at the US Department of State in Washington DC. As Sri Lanka and the US are nearing 75 years of bilateral relations, Blinken, taking to his Twitter account, thanked Sri Lankans for their partnership and commitment to advancing shared democratic principles.

The Sri Lankan lawmaker and the US state secretary discussed a wide range of subjects of mutual interest including further elevating the ties between the two countries.

Orange attire

Female MPs participated in Parliamentary Sittings on Thursday (1) wearing orange coloured attire in support of the Sixteen Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence (GBV).

A number of activities were held in Parliament on Thursday under the leadership of the Women Parliamentarians’ Caucus in support of the Sixteen Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence. Female staff officers were also dressed in orange to support the program.

A wristband with the message, “Let’s Unite to end Gender Based Violence” was presented to President Ranil Wickremesinghe by the Chairperson of the Women Parliamentarians Caucus MP Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle along with the other members of the Caucus. Chief of Staff and Deputy Secretary General of Parliament Kushani Rohanadeera was also present. The President informed them that the draft bill of the Women’s Act should be completed soon and submitted to Parliament.

Gender equality

President Ranil Wickremesinghe told Parliament that a Bill on gender equality and women’s empowerment will be submitted to Parliament soon and he also instructed the Women Parliamentarians’ Caucus to prepare the bill.

Joining the Committee Stage Debate on the Budget proposal for the financial year 2023 in parliament on Thursday (1), the President said that women’s representation should be increased not only in the Parliament but also in other sectors and the public sector as well as the private sector should focus their attention in this regard.

The President pointed out that the representation of women in the First Council of Sri Lanka was 2 percent and 91 years after universal suffrage, the representation of women in the current parliament is only 5.3 percent.

Maldivian VP calls on President

Maldivian Vice President (VP) Faisal Naseem called on President Ranil Wickremesinghe at the Presidential Secretariat on Friday (2). Considering the long-standing friendship between the Maldives and Sri Lanka, President Wickremesinghe requested the Maldives to invest in Sri Lanka’s high-tech agriculture sector, cruise tourism and high-end tourism sectors.

The President also requested the Maldives to join hands with Sri Lanka in setting up a climate change university. The duo also discussed the growing drug menace affecting this region and President Ranil Wickremesinghe sought the assistance of the Maldives to combat the drug scourge.

The President told the Maldivian Vice President that he intends to invite the Maldivian President to Sri Lanka after his residence, which was destroyed during the July protests, is rebuilt.