| by Pearl Thevanayagam

(October 01, 2014, Bradford UK, Sri Lanka Guardian) Reading some social media websites from Sri Lanka is like eating three day old bread with four day old coconut sambal. Given the golden opportunity like never before, websites have easy access to news which are current and should be in essence displayed, broadcast or telecast in nano-seconds.

With the advent of email and internet, various mobile devices and technology fast developing by the minute, one would think we are on the cutting edge of modern media providing news such as the colour of the saree Shiranthi, the first lady, would wear for her New York trip one week before she left. Or that Sajin Vaas Gunawardene would kick Nonis in the butt long before it happened.

Many Sri Lankan news websites in provide news which are regurgitated from vernacular media and foreign agencies are at least two day old. Comparatively print media, both state and private (the latter cannot be called independent by any stretch of imagination), which comes out daily or weekly provide current with on the spot reporting however biased they may be.

At any given moment most Sri Lankan websites carry the same story verbatim. They are quite blasé into not bothering to rewrite. The social as well as mainstream media’s obsession with our politicians begs belief. The populace which voted our politicians into power has more earth shattering and human interest stories rather than those about which restaurants or massage parlours politicians, their offspring and henchmen frequent.

In his famous essay, A hundred years in 1921, in which his inimitable quotation Comment is free; facts are sacred, C.P.Scott, the legendary Manchester Guardian (now The Guardian) editor for almost 50 years , has this to say:

A newspaper has two sides to it. It is a business, like any other, and has to pay in the material sense in order to live. But it is much more than a business; it is an institution; it reflects and it influences the life of a whole community; it may affect even wider destinies. It is, in its way, an instrument of government. It plays on the minds and consciences of men. It may educate, stimulate, assist, or it may do the opposite. It has, therefore, a moral as well as a material existence, and its character and influence are in the main determined by the balance of these two forces. It may make profit or power its first object, or it may conceive itself as fulfilling a higher and more exacting function.

Politicians may come and go but the people who vote them into power remain a constant. Politicians are worse than beggars. Watch them canvassing on their hands and knees during election time and their arrogance after being elected. Their rise and fall in politics is mercurial and is comparable to the green shoots of paddy which stare at the sky in all its splendour and once ripe the golden grain laden paddy bows its head. Our politicians remain the green shoots and are out of the door before they deliver anything resembling a golden harvest to their people.

So why is it that the media bend over backwards to highlight every move of the politicians and hardly anything to do with the masses? There is a wealth of stories out there if you get off your butt and go into the villages; go to places of worship, visit factories which serve fat-cats and foreign investors in FTZ where impoverished youth from the villages are exploited.

Write about the drought caused by over-use of our war resources to feed hungry chemical factories to the detriment of depriving our farmers of irrigating their paddy lands and other crops which feed the nation. Tell about the mother who is sending her children to work breaking stones instead of attending schools.
What earthly use is modern technology if the user has no inkling on how to use it.

Could it be that these are run by the same lazy bums who used to draw salaries from state media institutions just for twiddling their thumbs and visiting the canteen for subsidised meals even when they are off duty. These media bums are the ones who form media organisations, trade unions and fight for media freedom by gathering outside Lipton Circus and Fort Railway Station. It is far easier to do the above than bring in a decent bit of news item fit to be published. They are not exactly the Occupy Movement or Flower Power.

When the government clamps down on some websites they cry fowl that the government is shaking in its boots for their earth shattering revelations and investigative journalism which earned them laurels from Burkino Faso and Pitcairn Islands.

Social websites are run by these goons and need we say more.

(The writer has been a journalist for 25 years and worked in national newspapers as sub-editor, news reporter and news editor. She was Colombo Correspondent for Times of India and has contributed to Wall Street Journal where she was on work experience from The Graduate School of Journalism, UC Berkeley, California. Currently residing in UK she is also co-founder of EJN (Exiled Journalists Network) UK in 2005 the membership of which is 200 from 40 countries. She can be reached at pearltheva@hotmail.com)


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