Media in South Asia
PRIME MINISTER Ratnasiri
Wickremanayake addressing journalists from South Asia on
Saturday spoke of their collective responsibility towards
eliminating poverty in the region.
Speaking at the inauguration of the South Asia Free Media
Associationís sixth anniversary the Premier also expounded on
the role of the media while dwelling on the rapidly expanding
He also spoke of the need of mediamen to cultivate a social
consciousness. Premier Wickremanayake who is known not to mince
his words also touched on the concept of media freedom.
He said many Sri Lankans viewed media freedom as a licence by
some to cater to sectarian and anti-national interests. He
qualified his statement though by saying not all media
practitioners here belonged to this category.
Expanding further on the topic the Premier dwelt on tendency
of the Western media to amuse and titillate saying this should
not necessarily be the role of the Asian journalist who should
play a more serious and responsible role.
True, there are many common features where Asiaís journalists
could come together such as tackling poverty and the fight
What is therefore required is a watertight mechanism where
journalists in the region could share their knowledge and
resources towards such endevours.
Measures should also be devised to enable journalists of
South Asia to expand contacts so that common interests could be
Intra-SAARC Visa restrictions should be eased for journalists
and more exchange programmes must be initiated among the
regionís newspapers, some of which are world famous.
It goes without saying that the role of the media has
undergone a drastic transformation in the past two decades both
in subject matter and outlook.
While the Premierís contention that South Asiaís journalists
should form a bloc is welcome, the question is whether the
rapidly changing frontiers of journalism would permit such a
After all, journalism too has succumbed to globalisation,
with news becoming a commodity sold 24/7 on worldwide satellite
and Internet networks.
The end of the Cold War and the realignment of hitherto
hostile nations too has seen a shift in the overview of the
South Asian scribe.
Burgeoning global conflicts and political turbulence have
become our daily staple to such an extent that the modern
journalist is required to make several adaptations and veer off
the beaten track. It has thrust him into an unenviable role to
provide information to the public without losing credibility.
Members of the media are faced with multifaceted challenges
as never before and the quest for seeking information has even
put his life on the line on many an occasion while trying to
keep the public informed of unfolding developments.
Nothing has highlighted the plight of the journalist more
than the numerous abductions and executions of mediamen on
assignments in war torn Iraq and Afghanistan.
Like their colleagues the world over the role of the Lankan
journalist too has assumed a special significance in the context
of the ethnic conflict. With this paradigm shift the media in
Sri Lanka has been thrust into the forefront to play the role of
the fourth estate only behind the Executive, Legislature and the
By and large Sri Lanka has a vibrant media culture and the
preponderance of media institutions that are critical of the
Government speaks volumes for the free run enjoyed by media
practitioners to ply their trade in a climate of
Of course there had been abberations along the way and Sri
Lanka cannot be unique in this connection. What is needed is a
right balance between freedom and responsibility.
A free press is a powerful tool that shapes public opinion.
Thus there is a need for certain safeguards that should be
resorted to in the dissemination of sensitive information. Above
all it should be worthy of its description as the watchdog of