MR’s selective amnesia | Daily News

MR’s selective amnesia

Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa has apparently taken the Sri Lankan public for imbeciles. Addressing yet another Temple gathering in the south, over the weekend, Rajapaksa says that the state media which is being maintained by the tax payers’ money should not be used by the government to sling mud at its political opponents. With the private media it was different and they (private media) can be left to their own devices, since these institutions are financed by the private ownership, according to Rajapaksa.

The former President, as the public only knows too well, is the last person who can point the finger at the government for alleged abuse of the state media. Rajapaksa’s concern for the waste of tax payers’ money, through use by the government for political purposes, can be justified if he himself took the trouble to prevent this wasteful expenditure that made state media institutions incur losses. It was Rajapaksa who defaulted on a massive Rs 115 million to the ITN as unpaid for advertisements for the promotion of his candidature during his third attempt for the Presidency, causing a not inconsiderable loss to the state owned TV channel.

Rajapaksa, certainly, has shot his foot and placed it in his mouth when he says the government has no right to abuse the state media to attack its opponents. One has only to hark back to the last Presidential Election campaign to realize the hollowness of this remark. The Common Candidate was subjected to the most base and degrading form of humiliation by the selfsame ITN which was under the full control of Mahinda Rajapaksa. Not only mudslinging. State television was used to spread blatant falsehoods and misinformation during the entire duration of the campaign. On election day, Rupavahini and ITN interrupted their regular programmes to announce that Sajith Premadasa had withdrawn from the Common Candidate’s campaign and thrown in his lot with the Rajapaksa camp. Only the intervention of that intrepid Election Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya, who threatened the two TV stations with dire consequences, it was who saved the day for the Common Candidate.

A similar incident was played out during the 2010 Presidential Election when, on election day, Rupavahini and ITN aired the news that Sarath Fonseka was disqualified from contesting since he was not a registered voter. This time too it was the Elections Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake who had to clear the air in this regard by recourse to a private TV channel. Being a mild mannered individual in contrast to Deshapriya he would not have dared challenged the state run TV channels. Not only that. The state television also withheld the paid for advertisements of the Common Candidate and distorted the statements made by him on the campaign trail. Handpicked journalists were deployed to sully the image of the CC.

When Rajapaksa says that the private media should be left to their own devises, unlike the state media, which is responsible to the masses he fails to mention that most of the private media, both print and electronic, are firm backers of the Rajapaksas (one private TV channel is owned by a Rajapaksa). It is a clear attempt to show the state media in poor light to the public so that they will switch onto the other channels supportive of the Rajapaksas who then will hog the entire limelight. Two such TV channels are wholly dedicated to Rajapaksa propaganda following the former President’s every step. In one of these channels the individual hosting the morning programme that brings to the viewers the news of the daily newspapers gives his own personal views and interpretations to the happenings on the political scene that is grossly one sided, while another channel gives free rein to selected individuals who are fierce opponents of the government to attack the leaders of the government, perhaps out of pique, having failed to obtain a Presidential pardon for the release from death of a sibling of the owner of this channel.

True, like Rajapaksa says, the state media should not be abused to sling mud at political opponents. All governments are responsible in this connection and it differed only in degree. However, given the present circumstances where the government is being virtually under siege by the private media on a scale unprecedented, it ought to have some means by which to defend itself. It is apparent that the private media does not give the whole picture to the public. This is more so with the ongoing development programmes of the government which gets little coverage on private television. The recent train strike showed to what extent private TV channels would go to embarrass the government. In one instance a group of Advanced Level students going for their exams, who were inconvenienced by the rail strike, was interviewed by a TV channel in such a way so as to elicit an answer that was uncomplimentary of the government.

Hence, the need for the government to have exclusive use of the state media, particularly state television, to put across its point of view to the public and bring them up to date with the development programmes undertaken on their behalf.

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