Victor Ivan breathes fire on corrupt, unethical media

Chastising the mainstream media for its allegedly unethical conduct, veteran journalist Victor Ivan yesterday (17 July) warned that the country’s journalistic fraternity is in danger of facing public retaliation.

At a panel discussion organised by the Free Media Movement on hate speech and freedom of expression held at the Sri Lanka Press Institute, Ivan said that today, more than the politicians, it is the media that is standing in the way of liberating the country from its current predicament.

“Even at the village level, at community meetings I have personally attended, there is consistently serious criticism raised about the conduct of two groups: the media and the clergy,” he said.

Accusing the press of causing more damage to the fabric of Sri Lankan society than the political establishment ever did, Ivan said that as long as the media remains uncivilised, there can be no hope that the equally uncivilised political landscape will undergo any kind of positive transformation.

The former editor of the independent Ravaya weekly newspaper was bitterly critical of the mainstream media’s reporting of racially sensitive issues, particularly in the wake of the Easter Sunday bombings. 

Charging that the mainstream press had in the 1980s and ‘90s dehumanised young women entering the garment sector for employment with unresearched, sensationalist stories leading to the stigmatisation of an entire profession, Ivan said it was now doing the same thing to Dr. Shafi Siyabdeen. The Senior House Officer of the Kurunegala Teaching Hospital’s Obstetrics and Gynecology Unit was accused by sections of the media of performing forced sterlisation of Sinhala Buddhist women, an allegation that has been all but disproven.

“Stories about garment workers were packaged and marketed without any analysis. Of course, there are various social issues in the sector, but many of the women who go to work in garment factories are often the sole breadwinners of their families. The media laughed at them, highlighting and embellishing a handful of isolated incidents. They are now doing the same with Dr. Shafi,” said Ivan.

“As journalists, we must be ashamed. We must ask for the public’s forgiveness. We have a duty to change this system,” he added.

The senior journalist also criticised the Editors Guild of Sri Lanka, accusing its Code of Ethics of being powerless against widespread unethical journalism in the country.

“There is an Editors’ Guild; there are ethics formulated by the industry itself. This is all one big lie that goes to show how far we have sunk as a country,” he said. 

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Ivan drew a link between the controversy surrounding Dr. Shafi to the apparent Sinhala Buddhist revivalism in the aftermath of the passing of popular Buddhist monk Gangodawila Soma Thero.

“This didn’t begin with Dr. Shafi. It began with the passing of Ven. Soma Thero. A well organised campaign that rode the wave of popularity [of the monk] all the way to nine seats in Parliament. Unlike that particular episode, however, the Shafi case has proven to be an embarrassment to them,” he said.

Arguing that respect for journalists must be earned, Ivan said the media community now finds itself in the same place it had so carelessly and unprofessionally put the garment workers in.

“We have to change our ethics. We are a country that swam in blood for 30 years. We have to liberate the country from that. It’s the media that can do this by transforming itself, more than the politicians,” he said.

“Society, too, can transform along with the media. However, this is a task that is now up to the people; and I have no doubt the people will take it upon themselves to achieve this goal soon. There is no need to take to the streets. All they have to do is to refuse to tune in,” he added.

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