| by Shelton A. Gunaratne

( January 18, 2015, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The recent presidential elections showed that the majority of Sri Lankans are well versed in distinguishing between propaganda and unbiased news. They paid little attention to the Goebbelsian propaganda spewed out by the Lake House press and the state-owned broadcasting and television networks and toppled an arrogant regime that was heading toward authoritarianism instead of ruling by the principles of dasa raja dharma.

The first thing to do is to transform its cadre of “professional” journalists from propagandists to kalyana-mitta (spiritual friends) who can teach mindful journalism based on the Middle Path (or magga), which contain principles approved by almost all religious and ethnic groups. If everyone can become a journalist in the digital era, this training should be available to anyone irrespective of caste, creed or education level. They could be the passing parade of reporters, writers, subeditors, cartoonists and photographers constituting the voluntary labor force that runs all the publications.
However, the politicians in power tend to believe that a manipulated press will enable them to cling on to power in spite of the plain fact that in this digital era people can actively participate as both consumers and publishers of news by turning to alternative media like laptops and smartphones.
Laozi, the legendary Chinese sage, who lived in the sixth century BCE and was a contemporary of the Buddha, described the characteristics of the rulers thus (quoted from the Daoist text “Dao de jing” as translated by Peter A. Merel) :

The best rulers are scarcely known by their subjects;
The next best are loved and praised;
The next are feared;
The next despised:
They have no faith in their subjects,
So their subjects become unfaithful to them.

When the best rulers achieve their purpose
Their subjects claim the achievement as their own.

This quote aptly describes the transformation of the Rajapakse clan from the “next best” to the “feared” or the “despised.” The reason was their failure to understand the Four Noble Truths though they professed to be Buddhists. They simply disregarded the ti-lakkhana of existence—dukkha (suffering), anatta (no self) and anicca (impermanence) and in their greed (tanha) for power and wealth mistakenly thought the ruling clan had a static self or soul. They misused public property to do propaganda for the clan claiming to serve the public good.

In Laozi’s view, the best rulers do not need cutouts and propaganda to do their job. They need not muzzle the press—a useless endeavor in the era of citizens’ journalism. They will not impose unnecessary laws and will use their mind consciousness to resist the temptations offered by the Five Aggregates, which are in a constant state of flux. Citizens’ journalism cannot be controlled through “professional” codes of ethics. but they are most likely to abide by a bottom-up voluntary code of ethics.

I suggest that Lake House should cease to be the propaganda factory of the government in power because it has completely lost credibility. An alternative would be to transform it to a training institute for mindful journalism—a truly Buddhist approach to produce news as a social good, not as a commodity as practiced in the West.

The first thing to do is to transform its cadre of “professional” journalists from propagandists to kalyana-mitta (spiritual friends) who can teach mindful journalism based on the Middle Path (or magga), which contain principles approved by almost all religious and ethnic groups. If everyone can become a journalist in the digital era, this training should be available to anyone irrespective of caste, creed or education level. They could be the passing parade of reporters, writers, subeditors, cartoonists and photographers constituting the voluntary labor force that runs all the publications.

These citizens could practice a variety of journalisms—including developmental, peace, and civic/public—on the explicit understanding that they adhere to the three dimensions of the magga—discernment (panna), virtue (sila) and concentration (samadhi).

The magga (also called the Noble Eightfold Path) provides a universally applicable normative code of ethics. Therefore, I urge Karu Jayasuriya, the minister for Buddha Sasana, to persuade the government to declare it as the prerequisite for good governance. Mr. Jayasuriya should first convince the minorities that the magga is a phenomenological roadmap to alleviate dukkha, which is coterminous with cyclic existence (samsara).

In fact, the magga reinforces the Ten Commandments of the Abrahamic religions and the Hindu dharma. No one can attain perfection in the magga until s/he leaves samsara. But the joy is in the journey toward that end—the progressive alleviation of unsatisfactoriness. Mindful journalism can lead the hoi polloi toward reaching the specified norms.

Mindful journalism will emerge if citizen and “professional” journalists would apply panna (right view, right resolve), sila (right speech, right action, right livelihood), and samadhi (right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration) in their daily work routine. In my latest book Mindful journalism and News Ethics in the Digital Era: A Buddhist Approach (which I wrote in collaboration with Mark Pearson and Sugath Senarath), my colleagues and I describe the operational dynamics of this genre of journalism with an Eastern touch.
Routledge (London and New York) will release the book on March 13, 2015.

I commend the book to Gayantha Karunathilake, minister for mass media, and call on him to collaborate with Mr. Jayasuriya to make the magga Sri Lanka’s normative code of ethics.

The magga complies with Laozi’s criterion of the best ruler—the least intrusion into the affairs of an interdependent and interconnected community that can exist in relative harmony by respecting one another’s rights and responsibilities.

(Dr. Gunaratne is professor of communication/journalism studies emeritus at Minnesota State University Moorhead.)


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