(Media must) Give priority to truth

Give priority to truth (Original Title)

Daily News Editorial

Fake news is a term that we hear often these days, especially in the context of social media such as Facebook and Twitter. But sometimes even mainstream news outlets can get the facts wrong, either deliberately or inadvertently. This has the effect of misleading the public at large, unlike the social media sites which are accessible to only a certain percentage of the population.

There are a lot of misconceptions floating around the proposed new Constitution. Among these rumours are: it is federalist in nature; it will divide the country; it will take away the foremost place granted to Buddhism. President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have persistently denied these rumours and accusations and even a cursory glance at the first drafts vindicate their position.

In a vibrant democracy, it is not surprising to have a raging debate on a matter as vital as a new Constitution. However, certain opportunistic politicians have used this platform and opportunity to spread falsehoods about the new Constitution. Some politicians have been going around the country “educating” the Maha Sangha and other members of the clergy about the “dangers” posed by the new Constitution.

Theme Cartoon googled and addedImage result for media cartoons

However, when a group of politicians led by Joint Opposition MP Dinesh Gunawardena met the Most Venerable Thibbotuwawe Sri Siddhartha Sumangala Mahanayake Thera of the Malwatte Chapter, the Thera pointedly told the delegation that the President and the Prime Minister would never allow a divisive Constitution. He said the MPs should have raised their concerns during the Constitution making process itself, having participated in the deliberations over several months.

So when certain newspapers (not of the Lake House group) carried the banner headline “Malwatte and Asgiriya prelates oppose new Constitution”, something seemed to be out of place. It has now been revealed that the Most Ven. Nayake Thera had told the Prime Minister that some privately-owned newspapers and TV networks misled the public into believing that he had objected to a new statute being formulated. After seeing the headline news item, the Prime Minister said he contacted the Chief Priest who assured him that he had not made any comments opposing the reform process. It has transpired that the Chief Priest has not even been in the country at the time. Most Ven. Dimbulkumbure Wimaladhamma Anu Nayake Thera of the Malwatte Chapter has also confirmed that their Chapter does not oppose the formulation of a new Constitution.

However, the Prime Minister said the basis for the newspaper report appeared to be a press conference given by the Diyawadana Nilame (chief lay custodian of the Temple of the Tooth), based on a “Kaaraka Sabha” (Ex-Co) meeting of the Asgiriya and Malwatte Chapters. The said news item has apparently been given a “spin” to give the impression that the Malwatte Chapter itself was against the new Constitution.

Obviously, that would have been marked departure from the Most Ven. Thera’s stance on the new Constitution, which the public already know about from his interactions with politicians and public pronouncements. Such an apparent turnaround is an obviously sensational piece of news for any newspaper or TV station.

This is one danger opposed by the highly competitive nature of the media industry, where sometimes the ethics of journalism and the truth itself fall by the wayside to make way for headlines that sell. Sensationalism works, but the media has to be more responsible in a country like ours, emerging from a 30-year-old conflict and seeking reconciliation among different communities. The media can build and mould opinion and also inflame communal passions, so the gatekeepers in the media, essentially the editors, must know where to draw the line.

This was also the gist of President Maithripala Sirisena’s address at a separate function held in honour of the late doyen of local journalism D.B. Dhanapala. Journalism’s first obligation is to tell the truth, President Maithripala Sirisena asserted, adding that journalists should use their pen to give accurate and truthful information to the public without resorting to biased or false news reporting. He noted that journalists should not pander to the whims of politicians but rather reports the facts.

(What an irony! The “couple” my3 and rw must ask themselves whether they tell the truths to the people.   Have they fulfilled their promises made to the people when they took office in 2005.  My3 , just within a month, set an “example” by appointing his brother as Telecom Chairman followed by Arjuna appointed his brother to the ports authority, Ranil appointed his business woman aunt as HC for UK and the list is endless.  These were the people who cried about nepotism during the election campaigns.  Of course media have never been saints. )

Thanks to the proliferation of social media, news is not what it used to be. One has to do a double take on almost everything that appears online masquerading as news and not to be outdone, mainstream outlets also tend to perpetuate some of these untruths. One recent example was the uproar over “plastic rice” which turned out to be a total fabrication. Another viral social media post alleged that the Government intended to appoint teachers representing another community to leading Buddhist schools, which also turned out to be a totally false.

Unfortunately, some people tend to believe these made-up stories and share them online without realising the great danger they pose to society. It is impossible to control such online material, but Internet users must think twice about sharing possibly controversial posts that can possibly harm us all. We must consume news in the true sense of the word and not allow false news to consume us.