Media “Freedom” vs Responsibility

The “Reporters Without Borders for Press Freedom” released the World Press Freedom Index 2008 and Sri Lanka ranks at the bottom 10 at the 165th place, barely beating Iran, China, Vietnam, Cuba, Burma, Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea.

Zimbabwe – where BBC and a host of other international reporters are banned – is ranking at 151. Saudi Arabia, where an individual cannot even take a picture or look at a woman in public ranks above us. United Arab Emirates where journalists and photographers need clearance papers ranks at 69th place. Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq offer better press-freedom, according to the report.

I love my country – with all its imperfections. Most people who live here take our freedom for granted – they should live in countries like Saudi Arabia or Russia to understand what we enjoy here in this paradise isle. Journalists here enjoy certain privileges that ordinary tax paying citizens don’t: their “Media ID” is the immunity from traffic violations, curfews, road-blocks and it opens doors that are usually shut for the rest of us. They enjoy the occasional banquet with the President while the rest of get to sit in road blocks cursing, and watch him go whizzing by.

Our media freedom extends beyond what’s painted by the Reporters Without Borders. Most countries and most governments control news from sensitive areas and issues – but we often see our media personnel walking through bomb-blast sites contaminating would-be critical evidence and clues while paying no attention or respect to the authorities. The recent Madrid plane crash site was closed to the media until the investigations were over – the only news footage media received were from the government. If a situation that is not a national threat is handled in such manner in a country which ranks at 36, I wonder what takes us to the bottom of the list.

I for one, totally agree with the government controlling the battle news for the sake of our own forces and security. Matters of national security and military secrets are not for general consumption, the Media must learn to act responsibly understanding the fine line between the greater good and the harm. Publishing a picture of a bomb-laden vehicle is not warning to the general public, but its a warning to the bomber – our media doesn’t seem to understand the “effect” of such simple matters; let alone more complex and sensitive military information. The Ministry of Defence updates the media on a regular basis, and the national television is reporting from the battlefront all we need to know. BBC doesn’t get access to American military sites and operations; they get access to British Forces in Afghanistan. So is Sri Lanka: the national media is in the battlefront with our forces in Kilinochchi; there’s nothing wrong in keeping the independent media personnel out of sight.

So what makes us rank amongst the worst 10?

If it is the media personnel being threatened by certain “dark” elements, they should think again. It is not only the media personnel that gets harassed by the mob, beaten up or thrown in jail in our country, the common man faces the same situation and endures it every day.

If it is the the government not opening the gates of our military bases and sensitive locations to BBC et al, they must place USA at the bottom of the list for not opening up Gitmo bay and hundreds of other sensitive locations.

This is a country where anyone has the freedom to report the truth from anywhere. This is country where one can even publish a newspaper against the government, let alone an article. As a direct result of this media freedom, the market is flooded with menacingly useless radio channels, television stations and newspapers that lack substance and discipline.

Our media personnel need to understand their responsibility in this society. They are the ones who paint our image black or white in the eyes of the international community. People in other countries read what our journalists write about us, its our contribution that creates our image. I think it is the prime responsibility and sole obligation of our media personnel to look at countries like Saudi Arabia or Russia and understand the freedom we enjoy; and ensure that our image internationally is uplifted, not vandalised.


  1. War is the main reason for Sri Lanka to hit the 165th place. Due to the situation in the country, media personnel are subject to risk from both sides, so we are at 165; sliding from 51 in 2002.

    Less media in the battlefront, less media casualties, less media freedom: we climb down the list.
    More media in the battlefront, more media freedom, more media casualties: we climb down the list.

    This catch 22 situation is not fair for Sri Lanka, is it..?

  2. Agree.
    I'm sick of our media bitching about "not having freedom" while enjoying ALL of it.