The scurrilous websites issue
Despite the state making
it amply clear that all that local news websites need to do to
function in this country legitimately is to register themselves
with relevant state agencies, such as, the Media Ministry, some
of these entities are persisting in operating in a clandestine
fashion. They need to operate in a covert manner, probably
because they are in the sordid business of character
assassination and other seamy operations which violate the law
of the land.
However, there is no bar to those news websites which need to
engage in the legitimate task of informing the public, provided
they register themselves with the authorities and make a full
disclosure of who owns and operates them.
This is the way the law operates in a democracy. This, the
state has been right along saying and there is no reason why any
party should fight shy of adhering to these conditions unless
they intend to infringe the existing laws which govern the
operation of these media outlets.
Some local celebrities had their say on this issue yesterday
on our front page and it is plain to see that they have suffered
terribly at the hands of these clandestine websites which have
chosen to operate outside the bounds of the law.
While it is being argued in some quarters that the these
websites are merely exercising their Freedom of Expression or
Right of Speech by probing, mainly, the private lives of these
personalities, which, strictly speaking, should be the business
of no one, it should be pretty obvious to sensible sections that
what is being unleashed by these websites is the proverbial
'freedom of the wild ass.'
We would be stating the obvious by saying that what is meant
by Free Speech or the Freedom of Expression is not the 'freedom
of the wild ass.' Newspaper or media freedom is an essential
element of democracy, but democracy does not and cannot permit
unbridled and irresponsible use of the Freedom of Expression.
The media should be used with a high degree of discipline and
sense of purpose and there are ample opportunities for this in
Sri Lanka. But the media cannot act outside the bounds of the
law and it is the need for this that the state is emphasizing.
Inasmuch as the Lankan state is obliged to permit the full
functioning of those websites and media organizations which
adhere to the law, it is compelled to bring to justice those
sections of the media which violate the law unconscionably and
grossly misuse their Freedom of Expression.
Some media outlets, while having failed to register
themselves, have been severely violating the law over the past
few months, by character-assassinating some public personalities
and such bodies need to be brought to justice. For, justice must
be afforded the aggrieved and harmed parties.
If these outlets were registered, and their operators and
owners publicly known, the aggrieved parties could have sought
justice in the courts of law by citing these persons and groups
as respondents. But this cannot be done in the case of
clandestine websites which have not disclosed the identities of
their owners and managers.
Thus, justice is denied these affected persons and it is the
responsibility of the state to ensure that those websites which
do not comply with the law are made to account for their
transgressions of the law.
The affected persons must be given the opportunity of
clearing their names of any mud-slinging and this would be made
possible if the websites in question have registered themselves.
Therefore, no case could be made for those websites that
operate in violation of the law by not disclosing who operates
them, but churn out the most scurrilous and harmful of material.
The report we carry on page one highlighting the pronouncements
of a US court on issues of a similar nature could be instructive
in this connection. Freedom with responsibility should be the
motto of the media.