Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The immense responsibility placed on Journalists in Sri Lanka today

We are again confronted by a fracas in Parliament where the “Head Lines” of an article published in an English Language daily had been used to accuse an opposition parliamentarian. Despite the clarity of the article in the papers, the inaccurate insinuation made in Parliament by a government with a two thirds majority is a forerunner of a very grave crisis in the country, where every wrong of the government is turned around by the wrongdoers and blamed on the hapless, yes hapless opposition. I reiterate hapless, because if anyone of the readers have been to parliament and listened to a debate, one can be sure that the opposition is hardly ever allowed to finish a sentence, without a cacophony of whistles boos and boorish conduct. It is ironic that some members choose to speak in English. The reason being that many don’t understand what is being said, and when they listen to the translation, by the time they get it on their headphones it is too late to boo at the point. This allows the English speaker to get his point across uninterrupted.

In light of this I appeal to the journalists, if they have any self respect left to understand the ethos of journalism, where one has to be clear to report facts, and then if there is interpretation, clearly attribute it to the source or event and not imply it is fact. This is especially so where there is self censorship of opinion for fear of retribution. Sadly the latter is commonplace in Sri Lanka at present.

To belabor the point, a minister stated that bus fares (presumably only in Colombo) would be reduced during peak hours. The context in which it was made was not clear in any of the reporting. Was it because there was too much traffic in during this time and the intention was to get people who use cars to get onto the buses?

I don’t know the answer but if it was this issue can be argued in many ways. There is no question that it takes longer each day to come to Colombo from the suburbs as 500,000 commuters to every day. I should know because I am a part time delivery driver of a lorry laden with agricultural produce that I bring into the City. How then can we improve the traffic situation? We experimented with a parking lot in Ratmalana, with buses to take people into the City. It did not work, but instead of honestly looking why it did not work, we automatically assume that is not an answer.

Was it because of the lack of safety of the car park, where a person’s second biggest asset is parked unattended all day? Was it because the buses ran infrequently so it was not an option? These issues must be elaborated upon by the journalist, because the minister making the statement is non specific.

What happened to the much touted Airport Express that in total has carried 80 paying passengers to date? Where is the investigative journalist on this? Are you afraid of exposing a half baked execution of a theoretically excellent idea?

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