By Wijayananda Jayaweera –
The new clause 26 of the proposed constitutional amendment permits private broadcasters to ignore the Election Commission’s media recommendations if the broadcaster informs the EC in advance of its intention to assistance a distinct a political celebration of its decision. The very first version of this text even allowed the state broadcaster to take a partisan position throughout the election, but now the new text has restricted the partisan broadcasting only to private broadcasters. Irrespective of this alter what this provision makes it possible for is a completely ill advised practice which has all the potentials to undermine the conduct of a free of charge and fair elections. The need to go into such operational details about election associated media functions in a constitutional text is also unheard of.
Let me explain as to why this provision is an ill conceived 1.
I have no quarrel if a national newspaper requires a public stand to support a particular candidate or a political celebration during an election. The newspapers are published entirely by private enterprises without utilising any frequently owned public sources for its sustenance. The readers who wants to reinforce their personal electoral positions would free to obtain the newspaper which publicly assistance their preferred political position or the candidate.
But broadcasting is a fully different matter. Theoretically, each and every person of Sri Lanka can establish his or her newspaper, but scarcity of broadcast frequencies allows only few privileged persons to own and operate the broadcasting solutions. As a result, permitting private broadcasters to turn out to be partisans in the course of an election is certainly an abuse of that privilege. The private broadcasters, though are organised as private enterprises can not operate with no use of the spectrum, which is clearly a public property. The spectrum is allocated to both public and private broadcasters, below a licence, on the understanding that they have to supply must carry solutions in the public interest. A fair and extensive coverage of the election is a single of those have to carry solutions which should be provided by broadcasters, irrespective of their ownership sort.
This would imply that all broadcasters ought to give due weight to the coverage of main parties throughout the elections with suitable coverage to other parties and independent candidates with significant views and perspectives, thus enabling the voter to make a well informed choice.
Allowing private broadcasters to become partisan broadcasters throughout elections would skew the election benefits due to the fact it engages far a lot more significant financial interest and significantly more effective messaging from the strong groups. A biased report in a newspaper is just not the very same as biased manifested via Television. Following all selection of media does not operate in the very same way. If I am a proper wing supporter I only buy and study correct wing newspapers, so my selections are respected. But considering that Television is primarily an entertainment medium I watch the entertainment shows I like, whatever channels they are on. Thus, permitting private Tv channels to take sides during an election will be a excellent disadvantage to these parties and candidates who cannot retain the support of private broadcasters. This will produce a very uneven playing field for the contestants who are not supported by private broadcasters.
None of the current private broadcasting institutions are owned by means of a transparent and justifiable licencing method. As a result they are not really accountable to the audiences and there is no independent oversight authority to see that broadcast media functions in the public interest. On top of that, the proposed exemption which permits private broadcasters to ignore the suggestions established to make certain a fair coverage of elections, would make it even constitutional to skew the elections via partisan broadcasting by the strong.
Election is a time in which voters are expected to make properly believed out informed choices, largely based on the political experiences reflected through news media. Allegations of media bias are really common at election time and usually they are tough to either prove or disprove. But it is crucial to have a method of checks and balances specifically for broadcast media to look out for and right any imbalances in coverage. Were the camera shots and angles manipulative? Were the queries balanced? Have been the substantial viewpoints covered? Have been the opinion polls credible and expert ? and so on?
We know that the much more commercialised a particular media method is, much more probably it is that politics will be framed as a game rather than troubles. This sort of framing needs much less interest and expertise from the audience. It is precisely for that purpose why we require media guidelines which would compel the private broadcasters at least for the duration of the election occasions to engage their audiences much more as citizens than mere customers.
Can we truly assure a fair and honest coverage of electoral politics if we make it completely legal for the private broadcasters to turn into partisan and ignore the Election Commission’s media suggestions?. It is true, that in the US the first amendment disallows regulating media behaviours in the course of elections, regardless of any objectionable or irresponsible election coverages they may do. But in all other established democracies obligation of fair, impartial and non partisan approach to election coverage is ensured across all variety of broadcasting media by way of guidelines on election coverages issued by an independent Election Commission.
For that reason, we must request the legislators to withdraw the proposed exemption which exclusively allows private broadcasting solutions to turn out to be partisan broadcasters for the duration of the elections, which is entirely unwarrented and undemocratic.