A Sick Media, A Sicker Society

By Kshama Ranawana

 An advertisement in Sinhala, posted on twitter shows a travelling bag. But the advertiser sells vehicles.  The content of the advertisement roughly translated goes, ‘Travel in a bag or travel in a car?  Give up your illicit relationships. For a marriage that works, get a car.”

The twitter post is accompanied with a message, stating that when contacted the man who had answered the phone had justified it, stating that the murdered woman deserved the fate that befell her, as she had had an affair.

The affair, the woman; it is all about the headless body, found stuffed into a travelling bag in Dam Street in Colombo at the end of February.

Her killer, later identified as a 52 year old Sub Inspector of Police, was found dead, when police went looking for him.  He was a married man and a father.  The victim was thirty and single.

Video footage showed the man bringing the bag to Dam Street.  Other footage showed him board a bus at Hanwella.

It was a horrific act.  Whatever the reason, the SI had no business killing her.   But he did.

Yet society and the media do not see his vile act as a horrible one.  Rather, they choose to malign the woman.

We are told we have a 2500 year old culture.  We are told that we are a compassionate people.

Yet the memes and jokes doing the rounds since the discovery of the body, shows not, a society that is cultured or compassionate.

Rather, it seems Sri Lankan society has normalised such despicable behaviour.  Culture and compassion have flown out the door, nay the country!

Granted, people had questions and concerns when first the body was found.  Was there a serial killer around?  Why was there no blood?  Where is the head of the woman?

But nary is a word of anger against such a dastardly act expressed.  There is no public outrage.

Both society and media are complicit in this uncivilised behaviour.

A phone call to the number on the ad, on March 11 evening, found a man vehemently denying placing the notice.  He had received several phone calls he said, and had lodged a complaint with the police.

Whether he placed the ad or not, is, at this juncture immaterial.  Someone did.  Someone created that insensitive advertisement.
The fact of the matter is that we are a sick nation, with a sick mind and attitude.

If this was just a one-off incident, it could, perhaps be ignored.  But, ever since the discovery of the body, social and mainstream media have been busy; posting photos of the woman and casting aspersions on her character.

Photos of the SI were shared too.  Yet, it was clear that society and the media preferred to cast her in the proverbial role of Eve.

Photos of the killer included those of him in uniform, and posing with a pistol. He appeared to have a military background and had a Rambo-like post on his Facebook page.

A newspaper report on March 12 had described how the SI had told his young child that the woman was making a nuisance of herself, wondering whether he should opt for supernatural powers to get rid of her!

Throwing media ethics to the wind, social media shared photos of the body of the woman, laid out in the morgue.  And some newspapers published a letter purportedly written by the killer to his wife.

Both were obviously leaked to the media by the investigators, calling to question the actions of the police and their non-adherence to privacy and confidentiality.   This is not the first time the police has been lax in their duties; an apparent letter written to his family, by Rajeewa Jayaweera just before he took his life early last year was posted on social media.

Who else but the investigators could have released it to the media?

The headless body has resulted in many jokes and memes too:  ‘If your woman is too troublesome, said one, just take a travelling bag home.’

A Tik-tok video showed a woman running out of her house and telling a neighbour that her husband had come home with a travelling bag.

No one, not the media nor society cares about the families of the deceased.   The dead are gone, but the surviving family members must face a wicked and sick world.

Media broke the rules of the Code of Professional Ethics; society forgot that it is the bedrock of the supposedly true Sinhala culture we often boast of, the inheritors of a two thousand five hundred year old civilisation.

Sri Lanka’s Code of Ethics on journalism is known as “The Code of Professional Practice (Code of Ethics) of The Editors’ Guild.   Yet many who ignore the rules belong to media establishments represented by the editors.  The baby in the field, the Broadcasters Guild of Sri Lanka too seems unperturbed by the non-observance of ethics and standards by the electronic media.   Not only do they turn a blind eye to the many violations, it is the very media houses they represent that ignore professional ethics and misrepresent facts.

Is it surprising then that no action is taken against violators?

In fact, there has hardly ever been a statement from either the Editors Guild or the Broadcasters Guild condemning unethical reporting.  But the Editors Guild in neighbouring India, which is courageous enough to take on any administration that interferes with media freedom, is equally critical of media houses that fail to follow the rules.  Here’s what it said on December 4, 2020:

 ‘The Editors Guild of India has issued a Media Advisory on the news coverage of the ongoing farmers’ protests in the national capital

The Editors Guild of India has issued a Media Advisory on the news coverage of the ongoing farmers’ protests in the national capital

The Editors Guild of India (EGI) is concerned about the news coverage of the farmers’ protests in the national capital, wherein certain sections of the media have been labelling them as “Khalistanis”, “anti-nationals”, and other such terms to delegitimise the protests without any evidence or proof. This goes against the tenets of responsible and ethical journalism. Such actions compromise the credibility of the media.

EGI advises media organizations to display fairness, objectivity, and balance in reporting the farmers’ protests, without displaying partisanship against those who are exercising their constitutional rights to express themselves. Media shouldn’t be complicit to any narrative that derogates dissent and stereotypes protestors based on their attire and ethnicity.”

But here in Sri Lanka, neither society nor the media seem to care a jot about being sensitive to someone else’s grief or misfortune, as long as they have something to titillate its readers and consumers.

In this so called culturally rich and ancient society, they simply feed off of one another.

 

 

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