Comment is Free, But Facts Remain Sacred
Ceylon Toady publication on 10 August 2016
Constructive criticism can easily be taken for granted as being intolerable and odious. In reality, of course, independent voice of the people needs to be heard whether it is bared through the media or by an independent journalist's scoop or even coming out from the odd person in society, which boils down to the fact that impartial views need to be heeded. Comment on the other hand can also be subjected to self- imposed limitation, yet it is always better to be frank rather than be fair. In western complex societies constructive criticism is appreciated as sound advice; which even the heads of governments respect, the majority, decide and act in a gentlemanly manner, whereas, in Sri Lanka, which has a civilization spanning over centuries (long before westerners became civilized), many seem to harbour petty and narrow-minded ideologies, suffering either from acute persecution or delusions.
In Sri Lanka, since achieving independence from the British, and whatever the government was in power, politicians and administrators were very sensitive to constructive criticism and interpreted such as ' personal attacks'! After all, very basic logic tells us that any criticism or compliment arises out of an individual or a government's activities. Politicians in this scenario will be more prone to public scrutiny as to how they perform, once they come into power, from public vote, promising the voter to serve faithfully prior to an election! However, once they come to power, and if they begin to exhibit bouts of Alzheimer's disease (most common form of dementia), it would be natural for the public who voted them to office to get disappointed and frustrated and start criticising their failures and flops, objectively. Depending on the level of democracy that prevails in the country, people have a natural tendency to react to failed promises and performances of the authorities. This is how this country has had to face a number of problems in the bygone era, which undoubtedly have hampered its progress.
When a newspaper comes up with a scoop, which may embarrass a government, should nationalization of that establishment or sealing off the offices of the newspaper, be the answer to the problem? Or, if a particular TV station comes out with an exclusive exposé supported and cemented with factual evidence, does burning down of the whole television studio be the treatment for such exposed ills, rather than trying to put the house in order? What people in this country faced in the past were demoralizing and 'demonizing' activities undertaken by former administrations and responsible government ministers and their henchmen. This is evident from those who are now being summoned to various fraud investigation committees for alleged heinous crimes, used their might on personal vendetta, pilfering millions of tax payers money as a means of exposing the amount of skullduggery during their heyday.
When there is a climate of frustration, disappointment and fear, the voters who elected parliamentarians and helped them to be upgraded to Cabinet Ministers, Prime Minister or even as the President, has a right towards the truth and towards their country with a conscience to throw light on injustices or broken promises by those elected rulers. Voluntary silence in the face of oppression or when society gets the feeling that their appointed rulers are beginning to go haywire and off the rails, a process to undermine the foundation of the brotherhood they seek seemingly and definitely begins. In the absence of objective criticism, how are the rulers to be helped if this is not done? How do the ruled find hope if no one does it? Therefore, it works towards a mutual advantage!
Passing the Buck
When the entire society is pushed towards hardship by the policies and actions of a government by introducing excessive taxes, for example, which naturally becomes a burden on the public, and when the government machinery turns a Nelsonian eye to bring immoral traders who violate marketing ethics due to improper planning to tackle such calamities, the public and the media institutions have a bounden duty to make a hue and cry, openly, by challenging the authorities for their failures. In such dilemmas should protest marches be subjected to Police force and water cannons, the answer to solve problems of that nature in a democracy or a yahapalanaya, which Sri Lanka is boasting about today?
On the other hand, even to suggest and demand tax free luxury vehicles to politicians costing millions to the tax payer while these ' super breeds' are provided with free housing costing over a million a month (Rs 80,000 per month in the most sought after residential areas in Colombo) with Ministers' other allowances such as fuel subsidies, free electricity, water and telephone bills, secretary's and office staff salaries including chauffeurs wages; foreign trips, medical expenses for treatment in Singapore and others, which the yahapalanaya promised to do away with, prior to their coming to office, is bound to dismay and offend the public at large. Should such things highlighted as constructive criticism, be termed as criminal propaganda, except they are only meant as eye openers for the demented administrators to get their priorities right, rather than starting to criticise the public and blame the media for such exposures.
Today, some of the TV stations such as Derana and Sirasa are engaged in yeoman service, to help the suffering folk in neglected rural areas. TV teams visit, film and expose their tragic plight, campaigning for help by way of public donations in improving such areas and peoples' lives and health. These are the areas that have been neglected for years by the so called elected members of Parliament. Derana TV's charitable service to help those who are affected by Kidney disease as much as Sirasa TV's many programmes including the latest operation Gam Medda programme; in operation for hundred days, needs to be admired and appreciated for taking over the responsibilities of the elected members of the Parliament and the government; by exposing the amount of suffering of those doomed and helpless villagers, who have been going through a rough time for a long time. Should such meritorious deeds be considered as criticising the rulers? Certainly not, but it has helped to bring the miseries of unsophisticated, poor and helpless citizens of this country to the attention of President Maithripala Sirisena who has taken immediate steps to resolve such tragedies.
Some MPs have been making a big hue and cry in safeguarding their claims recently to have duty free Mercedes Benz cars to travel quickly to long distances in order to serve the people! The amount of misery and suffering by those who are doomed are seen only when the TV teams visit these areas on those rugged pathways, where no vehicle could travel, school children having to take off their shoes to wade through muddy patches on these tracks and having to wear shoes back once they get to the other side of muddy pools, poor mothers having to carry children on piggy back for want of motorable roads. In such a scenario demands to have luxury top of the range Mercedes Benz cars can only be treated as jokers' selfish dreams! Thank heavens, at least temporarily; such notions had to be postponed by the government, due to natural disasters that took place at the heat of such arguments by parliamentarians, as a means of nature's punishment!
How can such heartbreaking and tear- jerking information be categorised as negative criticism aimed at toppling a government? On the contrary, such information will only help those abandoned human beings and neglected areas, by opening the eyes of the rulers, before Sri Lanka could be transformed into the 'Miracle of Asia'!
It is indeed a tragedy when Sri Lankans are regarded as quite intelligent folk compared with other Asian or countries of the world, majority of our voters still appoint representatives to the august assembly to expose themselves to be a obtuse and dim-witted lot, who qualifies to be seen as, in British Pub-Language, "we are only here for the beer"!
"Man is not, by nature, deserving of all that he wants. When we think that we are automatically entitled to something, that is when we start walking all over others to get it" – Criss Jami,