Ranjan’s ire justified

Daily News Editorial

Even his worst critic would concede that Deputy Minister Ranjan Ramanayake, like the many roles he has played in the celluloid world, is a staunch defender of the oppressed and a doughty fighter on the side of righteous causes. Above all he is a newsmaker and quite a favourite with certain TV channels. However he has taken exception to the coverage of one particular news channel which he alleges has cast him in poor light. Taking advantage of the recently enacted Right to Information Act, the movie star turned politician had availed himself of the opportunity to ferret out the criteria applied by the Media Ministry in handing out frequencies to TV channels.

Ramanayake contends that a certain TV channel was relentlessly targeting him and wants to know how this channel obtained the frequencies and under what criteria. He is particularly incensed by the fact that he has no opportunity to respond to the channel concerned. He says he has been a victim of this media channel for expressing his forthright views in parliament and being critical of the soil mining incident in Divulapititya “Unlike with the press in a similar case in which the affected party can go to the Press Complaints Commission for redress I find that there is no place to go when the matter is between a person and a TV channel”. Hence he has decided to explore the yardstick applied when issuing TV channel licensing and the frequency allocation procedure.

The Deputy Minister is not alone in his predicament. Certain TV channels have got into the business of deliberately targeting prominent government ministers. Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka is one such victim, although, unlike Ramanayake, he has chosen to keep his own counsel.

However, the most obnoxious attacks are being reserved for Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who like Minister Ranawaka, continues to ignore the barbs hurled at him by a particular TV channel on a daily basis. This attack on the PM was not of recent origin. Special segments were reserved by this TV channel for attacks on Wickremesinghe from days he was Opposition Leader in his final stint. This channel today has descended to the level of even stage managing news conferences to get those hosting them to personally attack the integrity of the country’s Prime Minister. Presently it has seized upon the Central Bank bond issue to cast aspersions on the PM with interviews strategically arranged with persons known to have axes to grind with the Premier. Hardly a day passes without special interviews being hosted by personnel from this TV channel where “full tosses” are being bowled to those interviewed in order to cast the PM in poor light vis a vis the bond issue. There is also another channel where the host of a morning programme dealing with news in the press giving his own interpretations of the news stories which are brazenly anti government.

We are here in no way suggesting that TV channels and the Press go soft on government misdoings. On the contrary, all anti-people acts, waste and corruption in government should be exposed as a matter of duty. The Press has got to live up to the tag of being the watchdog of the nation. What is objectionable is targeting individuals against whom the particular media institution has an axe to grind. It is in this context that Ramanayake’s act of trying to unravel the criteria adopted in issuing TV licensing and frequencies should be viewed. The government has to think seriously if it is going to permit TV channels to target individuals in the government in the guise of relaying news and at least adopt some safeguards in this regard. Individuals so vilified should be given the opportunity to counter this malicious propaganda of the type that is being directed at the Prime Minister. As noted by Ramanayake, the victims should be provided a mechanism whereby the TV channels concerned are brought to account.

It goes without saying that the television medium is a powerful one that creates a lasting impact on the audiences. Negative views portrayed on the government and individuals via television therefore could make indelible impressions on the public. This is in no way suggesting that the TV channels sing hosannas to the government. Neither should they play favourites with certain politicians, like some channels do presently, while targeting others.

True, heavy competition sometimes make certain television channels go overboard in painting the government in negative light. This is because the public yearn to lap up news and information exposing government misdoings. Hence at times certain channels look overtly anti-government. However, there are also deliberate ploys adopted by certain news channels to paint the regime black. This may or may not be at the instance of the one time political bosses who ran these channels by remote control.

Be that as it may, the Right to Information Act appears to be having the desired impact, with the public now allowed to venture into realms which were hitherto no go zones. Hopefully others too will follow Ramanayake in unlocking doors that were shut from the public.