Uncivilised media, a threat to society, says veteran journalist | Sunday Observer

Uncivilised media, a threat to society, says veteran journalist

21 July, 2019

Media plays the main role in transforming society. However, in Sri Lanka the media is the main obstacle to the establishment of a civilised democratic society. Uncivilised media in the country had become a threat to society even more than politicians. It is clear that they will have to face public retaliation, warned veteran journalist, former editor of Ravaya newspaper and founder of RavayaWeb, Victor Ivan last week.

He was speaking at a panel discussion themed ‘Fake News; Hate Speech and Freedom of Expression’ organised by the Free Media Movement (FMM).

The panel included Human Rights Commissioner Ramani Muththettuwegama and Human Rights Lawyer Lakshan Dias.

It is the media’s unethical conduct that had been the main obstacle to liberating the country from the predicament it is in, Ivan alleged. His discussions with a cross-section of the people throughout the island, revealed that citizens hold two of the main players of society in contempt, said Ivan.

“Even in the furthest village, people show dissatisfaction over the conduct of the media and the clergy.” Taking the example of the unethical conduct of the media during the recent arrest of the Senior House Officer of the Kurunegala Teaching Hospital, Dr. Shafi Siyabdeen, he said that the propagation of fake news, and hate speech by the mainstream media, was not a new phenomenon.

“It began at the passing away of Ven. Soma Thera. Though it was advantageous at the time, now the same had brought in shame,” he said.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act of 2007 is a point of contention when it comes to freedom of expression. The Act was used as a tool of abuse to wrongfully hold people such as writer Shakthika Sathkumara, and a woman from Ampara who had been wearing a frock with the image of a ship’s wheel incorrectly identified as a ‘Dharmachakra’ in the past few months.

None of the governments in Sri Lanka had had the political will to enact legislature to uphold the human rights of the people. Though some viewed ICCPR as progressive legislature, it was introduced in 2007 due to international pressure as a condition to the GSP plus facility, said human rights lawyer Lakshan Dias.

The then government was least willing to bring it in at the time, when a civil war was raging. Though, the Act stipulates “No person shall propagate war or advocate national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence,” none of this was taken into consideration during the two remaining years where the government waged war against one racial community in the country, he said.

The Police had recently begun using Section 3 of the ICCPR Act to prosecute people. Before using the ICCPR, it was the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) that was used to do the same and there is other legislation which could be used as well.

However, what the media and the public have to reflect on and question, is whether all those who have been making hate speech, or propagating violence have been arrested or prosecuted under the ICCPR Act by the Police, or whether they have gone scot-free. “Unfortunately, where law enforcement is concerned there is widespread impunity in this country.