I’ve been to MTV a few times. Security’s not great.
The main independent TV station (Sirasa/MTV) was just set on fire by an armed gang. A few days ago the President himself took over the media ministry. This tells you how important the media war is, and right now the Rajapaske regime is winning. They’ve marketed and packaged the war to perfection, covering the human suffering with a pancake of make-up. The fall of Kilinochchi was very important, but it was packaged as a ‘Mission Accomplished’ moment, which it’s not. However, the fall was announced in advance and made official just in time for a 4 PM press event. At the same time, the military spokesperson declared that Prabhakaran would be captured by February 7th, though he didn’t name the time.
At some point one has to realize that they’re lying to us. Or, at the least, that news should be verified. However, the systematic silencing of the independent media has been so complete (and Sri Lankan amnesia so deep) that we believe what’s going on and forget how corrupt the media has become. The major defense columnists at the Times and Nation were threatened with dire violence, and Keith from the Nation beaten by thugs in the Narahenpitiya streets. The editors have been called and threatened, and even the editors of the government papers sacked at least twice. The journalist Tissanayagam is still in jail without proper charges. The website TamilNet was blocked without any documentation or process. The Sunday Leader press was burned. Now the Sirasa TV station has been burned. Oh, and Fashion TV was banned.
This is just stuff that I remember off the top of my head. Got knows what horror lies beneath common memory. Mahinda and Gotabaya Rajapakse have systematically emasculated the free press and made the media into a wing of the war effort.
Now, there’s a panel at the Galle Literary Festival on this subject, whether journalists should ‘change’ things. Now, Mahinda is using media to change things, as a part of the war effort. And defeating the LTTE is a commendable task. However, if there is one thing this century should have taught us is that morality, ethics and reality are important. That doing the right thing is important, and that bending perceptual rules leads to the inevitable crash of reality.
I wrote earlier in The Case For A Free Press:
In order to improve the nation and win the war we need to see clearly whatâ€™s going on, even if that hurts the Secretary of Defenseâ€™s feelings. Client servicing is hard in any industry, but every professional swallows their pride and does it. The Ministry of Defense serves us, and we have a right to know whatâ€™s going on. Not because of any abstract principle, but simply because it makes our nation safer and stronger. And that is a case for a free media. This is a war for our nation and our security, and it requires the effort and support of every Sri Lankan. A free press gives us information, free expression gives us input, and free elections give us power. Called democracy. Itâ€™s great. And it helps us win.
I strongly believe that a free press is not a luxury, it is a tool for the very existence of a successful democracy. And by successful, I mean one where life doesn’t suck. You can control the media, you can use it to change perceptions, but that to me is the dark side. And even if you think you’re Luke Skywalker, the dark side still corrupts.
At the end of the day, you’re lying, and you’re hurting people, and you’re doing wrong. And whatever short term benefits you get will come tumbling down because they’re built on lies and suffering. And I don’t think ethics is a luxury either. All these short term perceptual tricks (the financial bubble, the marketing of the Iraq war) have come tumbling down because their foundation was rotten. That’s why doing the right thing is important. It keeps us safe, it keeps us strong, and it keeps us whole.
Changing reality is harder than changing perception. Building a future for the Tamil people is harder than burning presses and TV stations. It’s also more worthwhile.