Sri Lanka: Journalism Sold – Credibility of Paid News

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“I believe in equality for everyone, except reporters and photographers.”

– Mahatma Gandhi

Let’s ask ourselves a few questions. If media is an employable entity, where from editor down to journalists and columnists are paid and the media outlet publishes news in keeping with their agenda or conforming to their point of view only, can we call the output unbiased, impartial and transparent? Obviously not but that unfortunately is the reality of all media. We are victims of paid news. News that is paid for and published – News that is very much biased and fits an agenda.

Paid news has become an influencer to such an extent that media has spearheaded campaigns that have given false information to the people who have been made to think that their government was doing right in invading nations. Yes, Iraq invasion is one good example of how media purposely fed lies to the public because media was collaborating with those that took over post-invaded Iraq. The lies have continued through all other invasions as well. Years later, some journalist in retirement comes out with a book about the ‘whole truth’. By that time the damage is done but the book becomes a best seller!

What we can say is that paid news has destroyed the spirit of journalism, it has diminished the standards and respect for media companies and those in the profession. The very entity that accuses and splashes in print ‘corruption’ is guilty by its own conduct having begun an ugly trend of accepting money from corporate entities, governments, organizations and individuals to run the news according to what is favorable to them. This translates to mean the more money pumped into the media the likelihood of a politician getting wider publicity is not because of any popularity or good governance, it is simply because the politician has placed more zeros against the cheque written. Then there is also the media itself siding with parties. We are well aware how a Sunday newspaper took a board decision to side one politician vying for Presidency. How does that fair against morality and ethical conduct when running up to the election the entire newspaper circulation and publication was structured to demonize all other candidates except their chosen man?

Thus, the oft quoted ‘for the people, of the people and by the people’ notion cannot be attributed to the media at all.

If the newspapers in India is owned by non-Hindus the story is not different in Sri Lanka. Hindus are almost always at the receiving end of accusations by their ‘unbiased media’. The same story prevails in Sri Lanka.

Media is recipients of funds from sources they do not disclose. Journalists are sent on ‘training’ by foreign aided funds obviously with a larger intention. Now lawyers and even opposition politicians are going for such ‘training’. It doesn’t take an Einstein to derive conclusions.

Media is the most prostituted public service entity next to the profession of politics. Anyone can do anything if they throw in some cash. People can be bought over easily and thereafter it is a matter of time that news becomes structured accordingly and the public end up the gullible fools falling for the lies and distortions. The handful of good journalists have to silently bear up or leave that profession altogether.

The scenarios should not be too difficult to fathom.

A media entity owned by people with political inclinations to one camp will obviously push their news towards that goal.

A media entity owned by non-politically aligned persons but susceptible to handsome donations again peddles a line favorable to the donor.

Similarly journalists, columnists and editors in particular end up doing the same. The zeroes play a major role.

Those in doubt still need only to take a sample of newspapers and look at the major headlines, then take the general writers paid and those contributing as guests and then compare the topics they handle and the topics that the newspapers enjoy highlighting. The bias will slowly start to fall into place. Even the opinion posts are almost always dedicated to the same set of people while newcomers with views that challenge the regular writers are never or hardly entertained or receive the chop of the editors axe so that the meaning gets jumbled. The subtle ways media subjects its ‘ethical’ behavior is nothing we are not aware of. These media, together with their paid journalists and foreign funded columnists take pride in name calling referring to the majority race as chauvinists, radicals, extremists and fundamentalists and when they are called lascoreens and sepoys they take offence.

The number of ways that these politically motivated monetarily compromised media in Sri Lanka and elsewhere are functioning has sabotaged the role of media and the integrity of journalism.

Journalism today is all about fixing stories, running scripted news that undermine all ethics and attempting to denigrate an entire country with malicious news items without defending the nation. And its all because media are receiving handsome handouts that means far more than doing what is right by the nation. The same can be said of politicians as well. Having been voted in to serve the people we certainly question some of the bonafides of Ministers for they too find themselves in the same boat as the media. The lobby of human rights activists and NGO proponents are also guilty too. On the payroll of foreign funded organizations and representing their objectives, these local advocates cannot boast of functioning without bias. They are all paid to say and do what their paymasters tell them to do. Therefore, there is nothing that gets said or published that is not paid for and when anything is paid for it is almost always fitting an agenda. Then walks in the PR companies “Advertising is what you pay for, publicity is what you pray for.” who does the rest!

In such a scenario where does that leave the public? The public must take every item released by the mainstream media with more than a pinch of salt and draw their own conclusions. The public should not accept anything that the mainstream media releases in particular editorials that clearly shows a naked bias. Sri Lankans must read the 1964 Press Commission Report to get an idea of the nature of bias and the tactics used. That report is very much relevant in today’s context of how the media and those employed by the media function.

The public need to also spend a little time finding the truth for themselves instead of relying on what paid news wants us to believe. Mainstream media is so monopolized that they do not give entry to opinions that counter their views and so writers whose views run contrary never get space. However, there is also the alternate media available for people to see the other side that is often kept blacked out or buried by mainstream media and their columnists who are paid to downplay or add twists to confuse the public. The social media has also become a useful tool to generate counter opinions but there are organizations set up to manipulate social media too so people need to be alert to the gimmicks too.

NGOs, paid media, funded human rights activists have no business to dictate how the country should be run. Sri Lanka’s civilizational history cannot be delinked from any efforts to create a wonder of Asia. Ours is not a created country, it is a country that has a history and a history that cannot be compromised simply because locals paid to destroy that history and heritage are using media to fast forward their objectives.

The public must be alert to the mechanizations at play.

‘You must be the change you want to see’

Note: This writer does not take any remuneration of any kind or is paid to write on any topic.

– by Shenali D Waduge