Media freedom should not be abused | Sunday Observer

Media freedom should not be abused

16 July, 2023

The basic necessity and fundamental duty of the media is to provide accurate and credible information to the public irrespective of any differences. Sri Lanka became a colony of the British Empire in 1815 and thereafter British rulers too continued the same system for some time.

The first Sinhala newspaper Lankalokaya (Light of Lanka) was published in the country in 1860 and its editor was a bhikkhu and the contents were basically centered around Buddhism and its propagation.

The second oldest Sinhala newspaper was Lakmini Pahana which was registered in 1862 and it carried a variety of news and articles for the readers for quite a long period. The Daily Observer, the precursor to this newspaper, was established in 1834 while the Times of Ceylon came into being in 1846. They became popular among the elite class of the country.

The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited (ANCL) was set up by media baron D.R. Wijewardene in the 1920s and he took the Ceylon Daily News, Sunday Observer, Silumina, Dinamina and Thinakaran under his wing. With the passage of time many other newspapers were introduced in all three languages and the newspaper industry became a competitive business. During the freedom struggle launched by local leaders from the early 1940s, Wijewardene performed a yeoman service through his print media to regain independence.

With the introduction of the Soulbury Constitution, freedom of speech and expression of ideas were enshrined in the Constitution and newspapers started playing a bigger role in the social, economic and political fabric of the country.

From the time of independence up to 1977 there had been mainly two parties in power i.e. United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) led coalitions and both these parties had their own newspapers Siyarata (My Country) and Eththa (Truth) in addition to the national newspapers who supported and opposed the Government in power based on their political affiliations.

There had been instances where the ruling party was uncomfortable with the continuous criticism by some national newspapers. Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s United Front Government from 1970-1977 was heavily criticised by Dawasa (Today) and she sealed the Dawasa press and stopped the publications. When Bandaranaike’s Government planned to take over Lake House in 1974 there was tremendous pressure from the Opposition and the public.


It is interesting to recall an obituary notice that appeared in the Daily News just after the takeover of Lake House by the Government. The notice read: “The death occurred under tragic circumstances of D.E.M. O’Cracy, beloved husband of T.Ruth, loving father of L.I.Berty, brother of Faith, Hope and Justitia. Interred Saturday 20th instant – “Araliya Medura”, Panagiyawatta, Anduruwala.”

The writer of this Obituary notice was Dr. Riley Fernando of Dehiwala who was summoned by the CID on the directive of powerful Minister Felix Dias Bandaranaike, interrogated and released with no further legal action being taken against him. After the above incident Lake House authorities made it mandatory to produce a copy of the death certificate to publish an obituary notice in any of their publications. This “obituary” got wide publicity and appeared in the Washington Post, London Times, Sydney Sun and Hindustan Times.

As for electronic media, Radio Ceylon commenced transmission in 1925 from a small office in Welikada and broadcast news in Sinhala and English. With the passage of time Radio Ceylon streamlined their operations and provided a number of programs in the fields of education, entertainment, religion, current affairs and development activities of the country. In 1967, under the premiership of Dudley Senanayake Radio Ceylon was institutionalised as Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) and provided an enhanced service.

The most significant achievement of SLBC was the live broadcast of the first ever landing on the Moon by three American astronauts in 1969. The SLBC with its long years of experience as a main media organisation is providing a great service to the nation with its multifaceted programs. There are a number of other broadcasting establishments in the country but it is rather doubtful whether their services are adequate for the propagation of development activities. They are mainly concerned with making money through different entertainment programs.

Independent television

Television was introduced in 1978 by media veteran Shan Wickremesinghe, brother of President Ranil Wickremesinghe with the establishment of the Independent Television Network (ITN). The ITN was later taken over by the Government and the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC) was established in 1982.

Sponsored by the Government and known to be state owned organisations.

Both these organisations provide an immeasurable service to the nation with their daily programs from early morning to the very late hours of the day.

Starting with religious rituals, they telecast a number of programs to cater to the needs of the public.

The main purpose of both these networks was to provide accurate and credible information to the public while adhering to the utmost standards in their trade in order to maintain harmony, peace and national unity among all Sri Lankans.

There are also a number of private television channels owned by companies that promote their own agendas based on their political affiliations.

Sometimes it is very sad and discouraging to see that some private channels distort facts in order to rouse the feelings of the public against the ruling party. Whenever some important and sensitive issue is discussed in Parliament, some private channels immediately arrange discussions with politicians and others who hold different views and talk only about the minus points and negative repercussions, completely evading the positive aspects and advantageous to the public.

Thereby they attempt to generate discord against the Government. Also, some private channels try to boost the image of political figures with the sole intention of getting benefited if and when they come to power.

Social media

Social media is a very effective mode of transmission of information to the public.

It empowers the users to promote their interests and achieve the desired results. It entails a wide range of benefits to all people irrespective of any differences.

It is however disgusting to note that some people misuse this facility for various types of nefarious activity.Social media is mainly abused by unscrupulous politicians and their cronies to create chaos in the country. Some individuals also try to destabilise the unity and peaceful environment of the country through religious conflicts using social media.

It is imperative that the Government should formulate a strict regulatory framework to mitigate the misuse of all media.

No doubt media institutions and specially Opposition politicians may not agree with such a move but it has become an absolute necessity to maintain harmony and a peaceful environment of the country. There should be no freedom of the wild ass when it comes to the media.