How can we cheer up our PM?

The blues of the Greens (Original Title)

Island Editorial 

It is reported that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is troubled by what he calls unfair media criticism. Having released his party’s report card on Monday at Sirikotha, the PM said the media were critical of the yahapalana leaders, especially him, in spite of the considerable progress the country had made under the present government. The predicament of our government leaders has saddened us beyond measure!

How can we cheer up our PM? Well, there is a pithy local saying which roughly rendered into English means ‘it is only at trees full of fruits that stones are thrown’. Perhaps, the unofficial motto of the Sri Lankan public service may also be of some solace to the harried PM, who is wondering why he draws all the flak—vedi veda vedi leda, adu veda, adu leda, ne veda ne leda (‘more work, more trouble; less work, less trouble and no work no trouble’). Some of the yahapalana leaders who don’t do a stroke of work are free from criticism. That is why they never attract any media attention. Nobody cares whether they are dead or alive!

Moreover, let the PM’s attention be drawn to a saying attributed to Mao Zedong. The great Chinese leader reportedly said one should be happy if one was criticised by one’s enemies and one had to be careful if one was praised by one’s enemies. Government politicians, more often than not, indulge in thunderous philippics against the independent media which they consider hostile to them. So, logically, there is absolutely no reason why any government leader should worry about barbs from their ‘enemies’ (read the privately-owned media, which refuse to toe their line).

The PM accused the media of abusing the new-found freedom under the present dispensation. Opinion may be divided on the government’s claim of having restored media freedom, but the situation has improved considerably where attacks on journalists are concerned. Under the previous regime some of the journalists who got under the skin of the then rulers did not know what hit them. That regime practised what may be termed the stick-and-laptop policy to control the media.

But, simply because the present administration is better than the Rajapaksa government as regards attacks on journalists it cannot be considered media friendly. It has to have zero tolerance of such incidents. Last year the then Navy Chief, roughed up a journalist who was covering a workers’ protest at the Hambantota Port. A few weeks ago a senior police officer slapped a journalist in full view of the media at a demonstration conducted by the Opposition in Hambantota. The government leapt to the attackers’ defence on both occasions, making a mockery of its much-touted commitment to ensuring media freedom.

Some of the prominent members of the Rajapaksa government which earned notoriety for violence against the media are today in the yahapalana government, holding key positions. It may be recalled that in 2008, the UNP accused a person of being in charge of a special army unit responsible for harming journalists. He is currently in the yahapalana Cabinet. A few months ago, an attempt to abduct a medical student involved in a protest campaign failed. We hope the government won’t learn from its SLFP allies it once condemned for violent suppression of democratic dissent, how to carry out abductions without making a botch of them.

Meanwhile, as for the yahapalana leaders who are troubled by bouts of the blues because of adverse media criticism, here is a surefire way of lifting their spirits. Whenever they get depressed because of bad press they can always forget about the independent media and turn to the government propaganda organs which have mastered the art of singing hosannas as well as painting a rosy picture of anything bleak. That way they will be able to read, hear and see what they like and be happy.

Hakuna matata!