Government's long face short messages
Daily Mirror Editorial
Mar 15, 2011

Short Messages eliminated love letters, generated a new language and instigated revolutions. At present, the SMS news alerts have become the most convenient and concise news source with an affordable price tag. At a time when the country’s media freedom is pushed against a wall, Short Message Services (SMS) were the only messengers that could fly freely above the heads of the regime: However, not anymore…

Today, the mobile news alert service was placed along with the other wing-clipped information sources operating in the country due to the latest move by the government in a possible attempt to suppress further the already oppressed media.

With the announcement by the Director-general of the Media Centre for National Security (MCNS), Lakshman Hulugalle that all news agencies should obtain the approval of MCNS before issuing any news alert on security and defence forces, he, deliberately or otherwise, tries to drag the country back to a time where censorship was justified in the name of national security.

In the recent darker days, war was the readymade excuse, repeatedly used to keep people in the dark, from whom numbers of casualties and the magnitude of the damages were conveniently kept hidden. Those were the days when every war news article, defence column, informative graphic and illustration was sent for approval before publication.

Yet, the country’s free media fraternity thought it was a momentary obstruction; a boundary which would vanish with the end of terrorism. However, their common aspiration has evolved from a wish to wishful thinking. Thanks to Mr. Hulugalle and the institution headed by him, country’s free media, in the third year after concluding the war, has come under a newly imposed military news censorship; the objectives of which are beyond the comprehension of those in the fraternity as well as the public. Was this a move to make known the existence of the MCNS or a reminder to the independent media institutions and journalists that, for them, freedom is yet to come?

What Mr. Hulugalle has not understood perhaps is that a news alert is an instant message, which has the tendency to go stale by the time it completes the recommended circle. Such message cannot be an ‘alert’ anymore.

True enough, with the advancement of mobile phone technology and the emergence of social media, states around the world find it difficult to keep tabs on civilian activities and the sentiments that are expressed among communities. It may be true that such technological advancements were instrumental in fanning the flames of the recent revolutions that toppled a few governments. Hence, was monitoring SMS’, an action originated from fear of such an upheaval against the government that is growing unpopular in the eyes of the public? And what is next in the government’s ‘grey’-list –Google +, Facebook or Twitter?

Media, with each attempt to throttle its voice, has risen stronger and made its voice heard louder and clearer. For a fraternity such as that, a move of this nature would not be a new heartbreak. Yet, it is the people’s ultimate right to information that is violated; a provision, though made clear in the constitution, has been often belittled and trampled by the powers that be. Yet, such hindrances should be promptly uprooted for the comfort of a citizenry who deserve to enjoy fully their freedoms in a post war territory; for their sacrifices during the hard times cannot be compensated with anything less worthwhile.

Source: Daily Mirror - Sri Lanka