Q – What is the responsibility of a professional journalist between political and capitalist operations?
A – First we need to understand who the journalist is in a fair way. Clearly, 99% of today’s media outlets are owned by private entrepreneurs. One of the main objectives of those institutions is to make profit. All the employees in those institutions have entered into this capital-based struggle.
Then the basis of these institutions is advertising. However, no program or news item will be aired without the intention of making profit out of it. Then a professional journalist is a person who is paid by these profit-making institutions. He engages journalism and he serves his employer. The same goes for other professions.
This is just like the professional bond between the doctor and the patient. Journalists cannot stay away from it. So, we have to look at this fairly.
Then the professional journalist has a dilemma to deal with both the ethics he has learned, the professional responsibility he has learned and the ratings, advertisements, awards, the politics of the boss, the politics of the channel.
If you ask me what is the responsibility of a professional journalist today, my answer is to deal with both sides in a creative way. Moving ethics forward in a way that people can see and read. That innovation is the challenge faced by professional journalists today.
Q – At a time when social media is decisively influencing people’s decisions, how can the mainstream media overcome this challenge?
A – In my opinion, there is no such conflict between the two to overcome each other. We call it a media transition. In the past, newspapers were the only media we had. And then the radio came along, and then the television. The TV came and said the radio was over. Now, people have come to a new media space. How does people read newspaper today?
On TV or from a computer. Instead of printing and broadcasting, there is another platform today. The same thing seen on newspapers can be seen, heard and read on this platform. To survive in the new era, you have to adapt. We have to move with the time.
Newspapers will not be affected. They will be not printed. There is no crisis between the two platforms. Everything keeps changing. Today the radio program goes live on Facebook. That’s it.
Q – Everyone becomes a source of information through social media. How can a professional journalist who is involved in the agendas of media owners become a challenging informant under these circumstances?
A – In my opinion, the role of a professional journalist is not challenged by sharing information with each other on social media. It is not a challenge to share news with each other or on their own personal accounts.
For example, I can’t break the news for the role of Chatura de Alwis. It will not be a challenge to Chatura. A Journalist is determined by working in a media institution. Others are just distributors of information. Although Chamuditha or Chathura Alwis worked on Facebook or YouTube, their place is with the media company.
There is only an extension of that role, none of the journalists do anything else on social media. But the news has been challenged. News has been challenged on incoming speed, confirmation time, speed of delivery, and fake news. Because an accurate news is an issue today. That’s another topic.
Q – What are your suggestions on how to move the media industry forward ethically and positively with the above challenges and the role of media owners?
A – In my opinion, media institutions need to absorb good things from other institutions, or companies. For example, MAS, the largest sewing factory in Sri Lanka. How many people work there? For many years, these sewing factories were at the forefront of pollution in the world.
Look at the different paths they have taken today, and today it has become the foremost institution for sustainable development in Sri Lanka. They reduce the electricity usage by producing solar panels. They make eco-friendly new products. They work to conserve wildlife, coastal environment.
That is how they have solved the crisis in their field. Think in a new way. They didn’t keep just clothing forever, they progressed. The media should think the same way. Now they have taken their media to new media spaces.
And they need to think, because of this capital, because of other influences, their responsibility to society, their ethics are being challenged. They need to find another way to solve it. For example, if we take one of the world’s leading media houses, the Editorial Board has more power than its ownership.
The reason for that is the personality of those journalists. One of the main reasons for the demise of the media in our country is that journalists do not maintain their personalities. They have lost it in their activism. Now look at the salaries of journalists who write about the problems of garment workers.
Do they have sick leave? Do those journalists have the guts to talk about it or speak against it? To speak for their rights? They have not created the ability or power to speak like that. Where are all the media organizations like the Free Media Movement? They became NGO projects and melt away.
You can’t build professionals by teaching just ethics in universities. Who are the reporters now? Are those who run carrying cameras behind politician’s vehicles journalists? Is it possible to build professional ethics without making professionals?
Professionalism in any industry is preserved by protecting rights as well as qualities. There are people in those newsrooms who can’t decide if it fits or not to report or telecast. That’s a total mess. So, what else is there to talk about media ethics?