“The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.” – Malcolm X
May 3 marks World Press Freedom Day, a day dedicated to highlighting the importance of press freedom and the need for governments to protect the right to freedom of expression. However, amidst the celebrations, it is essential to pause and reflect on the state of the press itself.
The concept of freedom of expression has become increasingly abused in modern times. The media industry, once known for its responsible and accountable conduct, has become a battleground for political propaganda and corporate interests. The press, which was once considered the fourth estate and an important pillar of democracy, has lost its credibility and public trust.
In Sri Lanka, the media has been used as a tool for political manipulation and extortion. Journalists are often threatened or paid off to withhold stories, or conversely, to publish stories that favour a particular business or individual. This type of media is not only damaging to the credibility of the press but also to the wider society as it misleads and deceives the public.
Therefore, it is essential to strike a balance between freedom from press and freedom of press. The media must have the freedom to express itself without fear of censorship or persecution. At the same time, the media must also be accountable for the content they produce and the impact it has on society. As a French Novelist, Marguerite Duras says, “journalism without a moral position is impossible. Every journalist is a moralist. It’s absolutely unavoidable.”
Journalists and media organizations have a responsibility to report the truth in a fair and unbiased manner. They should be free to criticize those in power, but they should also be held accountable for the accuracy of their reporting. The media must also avoid any conflict of interest that may compromise their integrity and objectivity.
Governments, no doubt, have a crucial role to play in protecting press freedom. They should enact laws that promote freedom of expression and protect journalists from harassment or violence. At the same time, they should also hold the media accountable for any false or misleading reporting.
The sad reality is that we are commemorating World Press Freedom Day at a time when the subject has been severely abused and assaulted by its so-called “messengers”. It is disheartening to see that genuine journalists and editors who conduct their duties for the betterment of society and public benefit are few and far between. The profession has been taken over by a selected group of people who have manipulated everything from writing to publishing stories and offering awards, thereby destroying the norms and values of the subject.
The credibility of newspapers, radio & television channels has been irreversibly damaged, and most of them have become puppets of certain powerful elements. It is unfortunate that no one in the industry wants to talk about this bitter reality, as the responsibility, credibility, and pride of this profession have become things of the past. It begs the question, what do we have to celebrate on this day?
The development of social media and Artificial Intelligent tools has further worsened the situation.
In Sri Lanka, it is commonly said that there are two professions to which you need no qualification: one is to become a politician, and the second is to be a journalist. The continued misconduct of the profession and the lack of oversight procedures have led to the weakening of this once noble subject. As a result, ordinary folks are now not talking about how to celebrate freedom of the press, but rather how to escape themselves and their kids from the press. Unfortunately, the slogan of freedom of the press has been replaced with freedom from the press.
It is imperative that we restore the integrity of the press and the trust of the public. Journalists and media organizations must strive to report the truth in a fair, unbiased, and ethical manner. They must be accountable for the content they produce and be free from any conflict of interest. Governments must also play their part in protecting press freedom by enacting laws that promote freedom of expression and protecting journalists from harassment or violence.
On this World Press Freedom Day, let us not only celebrate the importance of press freedom but also reflect on the current state of the media industry. The media must be free to express themselves, but they must also be held to a high standard of accuracy, fairness, and impartiality. Only by striking a balance between freedom from press and freedom of press can we ensure that the media remains a trusted and credible source of information for the public. It is time to acknowledge and address the issues plaguing the profession and work towards restoring its credibility and integrity. Only then can we truly celebrate freedom of the press and ensure that it remains a cornerstone of democracy and progress.