by Yudhanjaya Wijeratne

“They allege that I have stolen $18 billion, but if they find evidence of even $1, I will cut my throat.”

– Mahinda Rajapakse

Two years ago I used to wonder why more people didn’t really discuss the news.  I wondered why we, and my generation in particular, were largely content to ignore everything happening around us and focus on mundane things like what to wear and who to hang out with on Friday.

I think I now understand why.

Our media is a joke. 

Oh, I don’t just mean the quality of the writing: I think that’s a lost cause. After all, the Daily Mirror published an editorial  claiming that “ ‘Kimbula Banis’ will kill you slowly, your toes first then your feet and may be blindness also.” The Sunday Times recently ran an editorial footnote footnote in print. Back to the Daily Mirror, which printed “printed “Son assaults mother and fires house”.

We must resign ourselves to the fact that our media will always produce news like this:  making the Queen do barrel rolls in her grave is probably our way of getting back for being colonized.

My problem is with the way the news is presented, with the topics that are selected. Consider the front page of the Island today:

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Today’s salient points: Jacqueline Fernandez has pissed off a bunch of Sikhs regarding a Bollyword film she’s acting in. And India’s airlines are important; these get more space than the fact that the head of the Mt Lavinia Special Crimes Investigation Bureau has been nabbed. All of these are collectively more important than what Ranil has to say about the new Constitution.

Coffee lovers, here are some fun facts about coffee.

I turned the page. Sri Lankan beckons with tourism jewels. ‘I will certainly retrieve Kachatheevu’ says Jaya. Four Indians from Mumbai donate blood to save Bangladeshi’s life in Dhaka, screams page 2, which for some bizarre reason is titled ‘home news’.

It’s funny. It really is. Customs Ordnance is being amended: the electoral register is being prepared; a monk is being indicted for the first time over possession of an elephant: bus fares are going to rise; the Army and the media are having a spat over information on the Lasantha Wickramathunga murder case; the police is updating its Code of Ethics. RTI? Nada. And yet Indians donating blood to a a Bangladeshi is more important.

Government Printer Fonseka requests for retirement 

– Ada Derana

Other papers are similarly disappointing. The Daily Mirror front page is a mess of political gossip; politician’s opinions on politicians, Mahinda threatening to cut his own throat, and ‘an Adam and an Eve’ ‘breathing fire’ ‘when they come face to face’ – which I assume means two unnameable politicians are taking the piss out of each other.

I finally see why people don’t read the papers. Daily News, Island, Mirror, DailyFT, they’re all the same. News snippets are interspersed with meaningless advertisements and puff pieces. To get to the news one has to wade through endless reams of bullshit. There’s none of the intelligent critique that you see in papers from other countries. Instead, we just mindless copy-paste every other politician’s words; no debate, just spam; no signal, just noise.

Worse, we steal articles wholesale from foreign news sources. If the BBC or Daily Mail happened to read a week’s worth of dailies from Sri Lanka, they’d probably rack up enough copyright infringements to sue to GDP out of this country.

The only commentary is political, an is indistinguishable from the Colombo Telegraph’s anything-goes brand of journalism. After all, Daily FT just ran an article on President Premada’s urban commitment which took over 1,500 words to go from obituary to something relevant to the Megapolis plans that everyone wants to know of.  You might as well stop bitching about CT; everything’s the same.

If this is the free media we’ve been fighting for, take it back, I say: there’s no difference. Startups like Yamu TV and Roar.lk are producing content that’s far saner, far more relevant, far more readable, and the tragedy is that the platforms with actual reach are spewing out tripe.

‘Beware! Economic Crisis Ahead’, (Praweshamen! Mulya Agadayak Idiriyen) authored in Sinhala by Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka will be launched at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute, tomorrow, June 20 at 3.00pm.

– the Sunday Observer

Perhaps it’s time these old dogs were buried and new ones took their place.

To all the editors out there: if you haven’t done this already, go online. Read the Guardian. Read the New Yorker. Read the Hindu. See the difference – not just in writing, but in presentation – and seriously, do a better job.  Your staff might be underpaid and overworked, but you do make enough, don’t you? Give us value for money.

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