Media Responsibility: Lessons from African Counterparts for Sri Lanka

The recent tragic incident in Kenya demonstrates how journalism and reporting can be carried out with a greater degree of social responsibility.

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Coast Regional Commissioner Rhoda Onyancha addresses the press on May 11, 2023, following exhumations on land linked to cult leader Paul Mackenzie, in Shakahola village, Kilifi County, Kenya [Credit: Wachira Mwangi / Nation Media Group]

Editorial

Recently, one of the state-run daily newspapers in Sri Lanka printed and circulated a picture of a deceased man who allegedly committed suicide in his rented room, on its front page. Although this newspaper does not have a significant demand in the market, it has been circulated in many schools, public libraries, and other state and private institutions at public expense. Therefore, by default, it carries a social responsibility. In its prime, readers bought it to learn something new and valuable for life, but now it has turned into a collection of rants from whoever is at the top.

The newspaper portrayed the young man as heavily involved in “Aragalaya,” which they identified as an act of treachery. This portrayal was nothing but an attempt to propagate pathetic political propaganda of whoever is in power. The feeble behaviour of the editor of this newspaper proves that he is deeply obsessed with dead bodies of whomever they can portray as anti-government or anti-state.

Unfortunately, the state authority has once again shown indifference to such inhuman actions, and the editor does not seem to feel guilty or accountable for himself. If this had occurred in any other country, not only would the editor have been immediately dismissed from his position which he attained through political patronage, but also been held accountable under the country’s laws.

It is deeply concerning that manufacturing shock and trauma among the general public through crime reporting has become a trend in Sri Lanka. This is not just limited to state-run newspapers but also certain private media outfits, which plant shocks and sorrows through their reporting by exhibiting dead bodies and the tears of their loved ones. This practice needs to stop immediately.

It is time for journalists in every media house, as well as social media superstars who often portray themselves as true social reformists, to reassess their conduct and implement appropriate ethical standards. The media has a responsibility to report truthfully and objectively, without using human tragedy and suffering to manipulate public opinion for political gain. It is high time for Sri Lanka’s media to realize this and uphold the dignity and respect for human life and privacy.

The recent tragic incident in Kenya demonstrates how journalism and reporting can be carried out with a greater degree of social responsibility. The tragedy that occurred at the Good News International Church, where hundreds of people starved to death due to the cult leader Paul Mackenzie’s false promises, is a stark reminder of the importance of responsible reporting. When the exhumation process started, the government and other officials strictly advised all media outlets to adhere to higher degrees of norms and ethics in their reporting. They were advised not to display dead bodies of their fellow men and women, and the areas were declared crime scenes.

It is remarkable to observe that most media channels in Kenya followed these general ethical principles in reporting on this shocking event. This is a valuable lesson for fellow editors and journalists in Sri Lanka. It is time to stop selling sorrows and dead bodies of our fellow men and women, no matter what caused their death. Sri Lanka may be the only country that telecasts dead bodies during times when most households are having dinner. It is a barbaric media practice that needs to stop immediately.

Furthermore, it is important not to provide any CCTV footage to telecast on media on crime scenes as it can have an extremely negative impact on the general public. Footages of this nature should be retained by law enforcement agencies, who can use them to prevent future occurrences and increase public awareness. Allowing media channels to broadcast such footage with the sole aim of increasing ratings or printing it to sensationalize and cause trauma only highlights our society’s lack of ethical standards.

Sri Lanka Guardian

The Sri Lanka Guardian is an online web portal founded in August 2007 by a group of concerned Sri Lankan citizens including journalists, activists, academics and retired civil servants. We are independent and non-profit. Email: editor@slguardian.org

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