It was officially announced by the IMF on 01 September (2022) the SL government agreed with the IMF Staff on a Staff level Agreement for their 48 month “Extended Fund Facility” (EFF) package of USD 02.9 billion. Their official statement issued, says, “The agreement is subject to the approval by IMF management and the Executive Board in the period ahead, contingent on the implementation by the authorities of prior actions, and on receiving financing assurances from Sri Lanka’s official creditors and making a good faith effort to reach a collaborative agreement with private creditors. Debt relief from Sri Lanka’s creditors and additional financing from multilateral partners will be required to help ensure debt sustainability and close financing gaps.”
It thus means, the promised USD 02.9 billion would be released only after “the implementation by the (Sri Lankan) authorities of prior actions, and on receiving financing assurances from Sri Lanka’s official creditors and making a good faith effort to reach a collaborative agreement with private creditors”.
Interestingly, “prior actions” are not clearly stated in the statement that mentions (i) major tax reforms (ii) cost-recovery based pricing for fuel and electricity (iii) raising social spending and improving social safety net programmes (iv) restoring price stability through data driven monetary policy and stronger Central Bank autonomy (v) rebuilding foreign reserves through restoring a market-determined and flexible exchange rate (vi) safeguarding financial stability (vii) Reducing corruption vulnerabilities through improving fiscal transparency and public financial management, introducing a stronger anti-corruption legal framework, making the total list of key elements in the programme.
These have many contradictions and serious limitations. What would “cost-recovery based pricing” mean to the poor? It would mean increase of fuel prices and electricity charges. Fuel and electricity prices decide prices of every service and consumer product leading to a chain effect of price increases. The 90 percent food inflation prices the WFP calculated for the first half of 2022 would shoot beyond 150 plus at a minimum with this “cost-recovery based pricing”. Thus “restoring price stability” would mean nothing for the poorest 40 percent.
On tax reforms proposed, in Sri Lanka “indirect tax” is 84 per cent of annual inland revenue with VAT contributing a major share. Indirect taxes burden the poor and the vulnerable far more heavily than even the middle-income population. The richest hardly feel a pinch with indirect tax increases. In pre-Covid SL indirect tax paid through food consumption by the poorest 10 percent accounted for over 16 percent of their income while the richest accounted for a negligible 01.8 percent. Any increase of VAT would further increase the burden of the poor.
The key element “raising social spending and improving social safety net programmes” is stillborn with Wickramasinghe’s interim budget passed in parliament on 02 September, the day after the IMF Staff level agreement was announced, axing the school mid-day meal allocation from Rs.06.2 billion to 02 billion, completely halting the mid-day meal programme. This despite 35 percent of households struggling to feed their children one meal a day and malnutrition in the rise. Contrast this with increasing defence allocations that was Rs.177 billion in 2009, the year the civil war was concluded and the 2022 defence estimates of Rs.371 billion that goes untouched. Is this “raising social spending and improving social safety net programmes?”
Of all “key elements” proposed the last on “Reducing corruption vulnerabilities through improving fiscal transparency and public financial management,….”. is the most hilarious when neither party to the EFF assistance would make details public. They yet stand for “improving fiscal transparency and public financial management”.
Governor of the Central Bank (CBSL) Mr.Nandalal Weerasinghe, onetime IMF employee as an Alternate Executive Director representing SA countries, went public saying Sri Lanka had IMF funding 16 times before but agreements have never been made public or presented to parliament. “There is no practise like that” he told the TV anchor and added even debt restructuring cannot be made public as they include sensitive information related to “trade secrets”.
That there was no practise of making IMF agreements public in the past is known. What is not said is, details of IMF agreements kept out of public scrutiny had been adversely effecting SL. That is all the reason to break out of that non-transparent practise of the past. Reason to make all agreements and commitments public before they are officially accepted.
Calling “business deals” as “trade secrets” do not make them decent and clean. All huge unpayable dollar loans heaped on Citizens during the past carried with them “trade secrets” never made public by any means. Professionals and top bureaucrats have always been party to mega corruption with undisclosed information. State owned Lanka Marine Service privatisation in 2002 August and the 2015 April Bond Scam are clear proof. What confidence and trust can People have in bureaucrats handling debt restructuring with “trade secrets” entrenched?
It is therefore pertinent to ask the CBSL Governor, “will the best solution to restructure loans borrowed with no details made public leading to this massive tragedy be in the same way, keeping the public blind on trade secrets?”
It is also important to ask,
1. how does “secret” debt restructuring help pay back dollar loans?
2. will the “publicly unspecified” key elements help generate forex earnings to meet external trade cost without any more borrowings?
3. how will key elements help reduce the yawning income gap in society that keeps growing?
4. what is there in this IMF assistance for the rural poor to improve their lives?
Ground preparations for IMF assistance is already proving this economic revival is aimed at creating a society without basic human rights and with unrestricted labour exploitation. Amending labour laws have begun without any dialogue with trade union representatives. Minister of Labour is violating ILO Co-Convention No.144 by totally ignoring the tripartite forum “National Labour Advisory Council” (NLAC) established in 1994 to (1) promote social dialogue (2) provide government a forum “to seek views, advice and assistance” of worker organisations and employers on social and labour policies, labour legislations and international labour standards (3) promote good relations between stakeholders for the benefit of economic development and improving working conditions.
As media reports indicated, regulations enacted with restrictions on night and overtime work for female workers to ensure workplace safety have been either relaxed or reduced for the benefit of employers. Minister has instructed the Secretary to initiate reforms on labour laws including the Termination Act. Incidentally the Secretary to Ministry of Labour handling such reforms is one who was removed from the post of Commissioner General of Labour (CGL) and sent out of the department in 2020 October by then Minister of Labour on allegations of total bias for employer interests and corruption involved.
Arguments go on the basis Sri Lanka needs to attract more foreign direct investments for export manufacture to earn more dollars and that requires “free labour” for investors to come. There are around 1,700 factories operating with BOI-SL approvals enjoying everything from custom duty waivers to tax holidays, free infrastructure and more as incentives. BOI also has guidelines that allow investors to deny worker rights including organising trade unions in total violation of the Constitution of the country and ILO Conventions 87 and 98 signed and ratified by the SL government. Of all those factories, not more than a dozen and a half have allowed workers to organise trade unions. Of them, only about 05 factories have signed Collective Agreements (CA) with trade unions.
There is no forensic audit done to compare tax revenue forfeited and infrastructure expenses provided as incentives for foreign direct investors (FDI) for 40 years that in fact was public revenue as against what the People gained from FDIs in return. I will not be surprised if what we gained was a complete loss as against incentives provided.
What more are they asking for? Right for bonded labour? Labour law reforms carried out outside the NLAC without trade union representation would create an environment for bonded labour, though not in direct legal terms. It’s a flawed perception that non-unionised labour with packed incentives attract massive FDIs. While BOI creates the ground for non-unionised labour, increasing incentives have not been the issue for major investors to ignore SL.
Reputed major investors need labour in millions for large scale hi-tech manufacture. While China is beyond comparison, SL is nowhere close to countries like Bangladesh and Vietnam too. With adult populations of 104 million and 68 million respectively, they have large factories with workforces far exceeding the total at Katunayake FTZ that in pre-Covid era was only 31,000 employees. This in fact was half the number employed in the single multi-storey building Rana Plaza in Dhaka Bangladesh, that collapsed in August 2013 killing over 1,132 workers.
Sri Lanka therefore attract mostly runaway investors. They come for economic incentives in imports and exports. This was evident with 721 BOI approved companies closing down in 07 years by 2016 at an average of 103 per year. “Of the companies that closed down, all had received BOI concessions such as tax exemptions while 103 had leased BOI land” the investigative exposure confirmed. (https://www.sundaytimes.lk/170903/news/721-boi-companies-closed-down-from-2010-to-2016-257726.html)
All that said about preparing the ground for EFF assistance, the total approach of President Wickramasinghe is to revive the “free market economy” that for 40 years played the “ruthless devastator” of everything decent and progressive in society. As most have accepted, this “historical tragedy” allows Sri Lanka an opportunity to navigate itself towards a decent and an inclusive future. That demands “development” to be defined to begin with.
The shortest explanation would be, “a new path towards a decent, civilised society that treats all as equal, leaves no one behind and improves quality of life within a secured and a diverse environment creating a rich culture of human values”. Free or neo-liberal market economy within the global market during all its 40 plus years, was everything contrary to that.
Globally neo-liberalism is a disaster with Climate Change and Global Warming “wreaking havoc across the world and threatening lives, economies, health and food” according to UNEP’s “Climate Action Note”. In SL, we need no extra proof of what this free-market economy dishes out for the People. During the past decades a new breed of “filthy rich” dealers emerged within the free-market economy. With them social values, ethics and morals were completely deformed and destroyed leaving an extremely selfish “consumer” tirelessly running round to earn what is impossible for the larger majority. We are helpless with all State agencies going corrupt and inefficient leading to heavy trafficking and peddling of drugs, increase of extortions, minor and grave crimes, and also rape and child abuse turning into a daily occurrence. All political parties now depend on the “filthy rich” for funding. With all such barbarism around, the whole society is left at the mercy of unrestricted industrial pollution, illegal deforestations, sand mining, manmade floods and major landslides.
Is this the economic model we are planning once again to revive with IMF assistance? Is this the economic model that is marketed showcasing “massive growth” in China, Vietnam, South Korea, India and in few other countries where the majority are as poor and deprived as the poor in SL?
In China, average per capita GDP in coastal provinces is 113,365 Yuan with provinces like Shanghai enjoying a per capita GDP of 157,279 while in poor Central and Western China their per capita GDP is less than 44,000 Yuan. What is also not spoken of is the rich growing richer despite the pandemic. Forbes recorded world “dollar billionaire” number as 2,755 in 2021, an increase of 493. China now have 698-dollar billionaires, second to USA with 724 and above India with 237 billionaires.
Strength of all economies are spoken of forgetting the majority poor who are deprived of access to facilities and opportunities and a huge disparity in income. “Oxfam briefing paper – 2017” says “Today the world is facing an unprecedented inequality crisis. Over the last 40 years, there has been a vast increase in the gap between the rich and the rest”. That in fact is what the free market economy is about, apart from being an inherently corrupt city based economy. It is also about politically holding the poor and marginalised majority within the free market economy on a racist ideology created for electioneering.
EFF assistance of IMF has nothing that can guarantee, SL of negating these cancerous anti-social growths. Nothing that can reduce social crime, environmental disasters and massive corruption. Publicly unspecified activities in IMF assistance will not support improving social space, social dialogue and strengthening democratic structures, a fundamental necessity for decent social development.
Sri Lanka needs a different route out of this economic tragedy. This package Wickramasinghe is obsessed with would only marginalise more as poor and deprived under an increasingly authoritative and repressive regime. That will not make it easy for Wickramasinghe, heading a government on borrowed parliamentary majority. That may provide more clout for the Opposition call for a parliamentary election in February 2023. His advantage would still be an Opposition with no alternative programme for saner resolution of this crisis,
In short, call for tabling all EFF loan related IMF documents including proposals for restructuring of debts in parliament immediately for serious social discourse is now the responsibility of social activists outside parliament. Call for elections should be thereafter. As often stressed by me, the final demand, in this instance an election, should never be made the first. An election with none offering an alternate programme is not going to make any difference, though with different names and faces.
– Kusal Perera
21 September 2022
The consequences brought about by the political and economic crisis occurring in Sri Lanka
It is very important to carefully see how the course of action of events played out and their essential impact on the country’s system. All this, while we observe the commemoration of Sri Lanka’s Politics and its budgetary crisis. In appearing to hate its excellent ordinary environment and wide social legacy, Sri Lanka is overseeing a multifaceted emergency.
The crisis began in the year 2022, enveloping the nation in an all-encompassing obscurity that brought to light the weaknesses within Sri Lanka’s political and economic spheres. The merging of challenges spanning politics, economy, and society coalesced into an ideal tempest, prompting worries about the nation’s stability, prospects for regional cooperation, and the possibility of extensive consequences. This piece delves deep into the crucial occurrences during the crisis, its roots, its aftermath, and the steps undertaken to initiate recuperation.
Unfolding of the Crisis
One year earlier, the emergence of the crisis in Sri Lanka stemmed from an intricate interplay of political instability, regulatory uncertainty, and economic adversity. The power struggle among key stakeholders needs clarification, as it rendered the government incapable of making informed decisions. Simultaneously, economic indicators plummeted, leading to a surge in unemployment, inflation, and strained fiscal circumstances.
The economic crisis gripping Sri Lanka is deeply intertwined with the fusion of its political and economic elements. Political disagreements, corruption allegations, and a lack of cohesive governance have strained the foundation of the nation’s democratic structure. Financial mismanagement, high inflation, escalating debt, and a weakened currency compounded the situation, intensifying public discontent and hardship.
At the heart of this crisis lie longstanding issues that have simmered beneath the surface for years. Ethnic and religious tensions, bureaucratic inefficiency, corruption, and ineffective governance mechanisms have all contributed to the maelstrom. The once unifying factors of the country have now become potential fault lines, widening divisions and impeding efforts at reconciliation.
Consequences and Impact Unveiled
The aftermath of the crisis rippled across a wide spectrum, yielding intricate and far- reaching effects. In the realm of politics, the erosion of public faith in Sri Lanka’s democratic framework has bred discontent and skepticism among citizens, casting shadows of doubt upon their leaders’ competence to navigate the nation toward stability. Economically, the nation’s global standing suffered a blow, deterring foreign investment and straining its balance of payments.
The human toll exacted by the crisis is substantial: job security is disrupted, and individuals find themselves enveloped in social unrest and a fog of uncertainty. Many, particularly those in vulnerable situations, bear the aftershocks of the crisis.
Political upheaval: Sri Lankan politics has been characterized by power struggles, shifts in government, and a dearth of political cohesion. This instability has hindered effective decision-making and eroded public trust in the governance.
Financial turmoil: Escalating inflation, unemployment, and a weakened currency have impacted households and eroded investor confidence. Mounting government debt and discrepancies in public finances have constrained the government’s ability to implement growth-oriented strategies.
Social turmoil: Owing to economic adversity and ethnic divisions, social tensions have contributed to widespread protests and demonstrations. Left unaddressed, this discontent threatens to escalate further.
Impact on the South Asian Region
The repercussions of the Sri Lankan crisis transcend its borders, exerting a broader influence on the South Asian region in manifold ways. Given Sri Lanka’s strategic position within the Indian Ocean, its internal instability has the potential to disrupt regional equilibrium, impacting trade routes and maritime security, particularly concerning neighboring nations like India.
Moreover, the interdependence of economies across South Asia implies that Sri Lanka’s economic challenges could reverberate among trade partners, potentially impeding economic progress across the region. The instability and financial hardships linked to the crisis might also trigger heightened migration, posing dilemmas for neighboring countries grappling with refugee inflows and integration issues.
Furthermore, the crisis might strain Sri Lanka’s relationships with other South Asian nations, potentially hindering collective efforts on vital regional matters such as climate change, and trade. Concerns also arise over the potential exploitation of the crisis by external entities, potentially exacerbating existing regional rivalries and geopolitical tensions.
“The interrelated nature of these challenges emphasizes the requirement for joint endeavors, encompassing stability and economic approaches, to benefit both Sri Lanka and the wider region. This contemplation underscores how the crisis serves as a crucial juncture for Sri Lanka’s revival and the progress of the entire South Asian arena” Kamil Kuthubdeen, Chairman of Global Business Trust LLC, Dubai said.
“In a bid to curb inflation and foster a degree of political and economic stability, President Ranil Wickremesinghe has implemented much needed fiscal reforms” Kamil Kuthubdeen added.
Initiatives encompassed the establishment of institutions, combating corruption, reinstating investor trust, and fostering social unity. The global community, too, contributed by providing aid and technical proficiency. In the following years, Sri Lanka embarked on a challenging journey of reconstruction and resurgence. Its objectives included fortifying democratic structures, fostering amity among ethnic communities, and pursuing sustainable economic advancement. Despite gradual strides and hurdles, the unwavering determination of the Sri Lankan populace remained evident.
Sri Lanka stands at a pivotal juncture in its narrative. The lessons assimilated from history should navigate the country toward a future characterized by stability, prosperity and harmony.
– Luxman Peiris
Disclaimer : The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of www.srilankamirror.com
NHDA’s controversial actions cast a shadow on new investments in the country
The National Housing Development Authority (NHDA), established with the aim of accelerating housing development in the country, finds itself entangled in a web of controversies that has become a major deterrent for new investments into the nation. Despite its mission to expedite progress, the NHDA’s actions have raised concerns and led to legal battles, hindering the growth of vital projects. This article delves into four specific cases where NHDA’s high-handed approach has resulted in legal disputes and examines the potential impact of these actions on the country’s investment climate.
Projects in Limbo
1. Darley Road Project: In a puzzling turn of events, the NHDA seized possession of land despite the developer holding the title deed and fulfilling financial obligations. The developer, having paid the full land price along with a profit share to NHDA, was still subjected to forceful eviction. The matter reached the Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of returning the land’s possession to the developer until the case reaches a conclusion.
2. Eco Homes Project: The NHDA’s actions cast shadows over the Eco Homes Project, where the developer had completed piling work and paid the necessary land costs to NHDA. Despite these efforts, NHDA assumed control of the land, leading to a legal battle that now resides in court. This incident underscores the complexities arising from NHDA’s intervention in project ownership.
3. Bambalapitiya Flats Project: Another troubling instance comes from the Bambalapitiya Flats Project. NHDA’s attempt to terminate a public-private partnership (PPP) agreement was met with opposition from various quarters, including the Attorney General’s department and NHDA’s own legal team, who advocated for a settlement with the developer. Disregarding these recommendations, NHDA’s decision has now escalated to International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) arbitration, with the developer seeking substantial damages.
4. Edmonton Flats Project: The Edmonton Flats Project further exemplifies NHDA’s turbulent track record. By prematurely terminating an ongoing project, NHDA compelled the developer to resort to arbitration. The recent shift in stance by NHDA to seek a compromise demonstrates the agency’s inconsistent handling of critical development projects.
Stifling Investment Prospects
The NHDA’s actions not only jeopardize ongoing projects but also present a significant challenge to attracting new investments into the country. The development landscape is marred by uncertainties and disputes that make potential investors wary of committing their resources. The prevalent atmosphere of harassment and roadblocks faced by existing developers raises concerns about the government’s commitment to providing a conducive environment for investment.
The Need for Resolution
If the country seeks to attract and retain investors, it must address the concerns raised by existing developers. The unresolved issues surrounding NHDA’s actions highlight the need for clear and consistent policy directives. Without transparent guidelines and prompt resolutions to disputes, the country’s investment climate is likely to remain stagnant, with investors hesitant to engage in projects that could potentially be marred by bureaucratic hurdles and legal battles. A thorough examination is underway by our team.
The NHDA’s role in promoting housing development in the country has come under scrutiny due to its controversial actions that have culminated in legal battles and a lack of investor confidence. The cases of Darley Road, Eco Homes, Bambalapitiya Flats, and Edmonton Flats projects underscore the urgency of establishing a conducive environment for investment. By rectifying these issues, the government can demonstrate its commitment to fostering growth, encouraging both existing and potential investors to contribute to the nation’s progress. Clear policy directions and a transparent dispute resolution framework are imperative to pave the way for a thriving investment landscape in the country.
– Lakshman Fernando
Disclaimer : The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of www.srilankamirror.com
Media ‘regulation’ is people’s business not Government’s
Except in Opposition political party leaderships, there is not much interest in the ‘Broadcasting Regulatory Commission Act’ the Government plans to present for parliamentary approval. Most vociferous media activists and media organisations are not very conspicuous in protests against this piece of law that reads terribly nasty on democratic life of people and society. In summary, the Act would provide the “commission” the power to act against any broadcaster through its “investigation committee” on its own initiative or on a complaint that claims violation of the act itself, violation of the code of ethics prepared under this Act, violation of conditions laid in the license and in anything that threatens “national security, national economy and ethno-religious amity.”
To consent to these clauses, one should first know what the “code of ethics” contain, what conditions are laid in the license and most importantly definitions and demarcations of “national security.” There can be no justification also in keeping anything labelled as “national economy” outside the scrutiny of the people. Media therefore should have freedom to review, critique and report any protest against economic policy of the Government. Ethno-religious amity in present day Sri Lanka can be anything the law enforcement authorities would wish to understand as, and interpret as they interpret ICCPR provisions. Thus to have them with no clear and precise definitions in the Act would leave massive discretionary space with the authorities in applying the Act as they wish.
That noted with heavy resentment, more disturbing is how the Opposition in parliament avoids the question whether “broadcasting” should be regulated or not. Major concerns raised by Opposition ranks are about provisions of this Act, and not on “regulating broadcasting”. On what was berated in parliament by some Opposition MPs on this proposed regulatory commission, it is quite evident they know nothing about broadcasting and digital frequencies.
Quite different to “print media”, all broadcasting that includes telecasting, is solely dependent on “digital frequencies”. It is therefore important to know the difference between “printing paper” used in print media and “digital frequencies” used in broadcasting. In print media, everything from the whole establishment, editorial resources, printing and printing paper to distribution and sales is owned and managed by the investor(s) with the exclusive right to decide what type of a newspaper s/he would publish. The investor(s) also has the right to decide “editorial policy” of his or her newspaper.
Newspapers nevertheless have to be within accepted journalistic ethics and within the law of the land. For instance, when “criminal defamation law” was in force, newspapers had to abide by that law, while they had the freedom to campaign against it. They have the right to decide whatever political party they would wish to support or any social issue they would stand for. But they cannot for instance, contribute to ethno-religious hatred and divisions in their newspapers. That being the theoretical and legal position, what is practised in this Sinhala-Buddhist Sri Lanka is quite the opposite.
In theory, that freedom of a newspaper owner is not allowed for broadcasters. Fundamental reason being “printing paper” used as conveyor of news and information in print media is privately owned, while “digital frequencies” are publicly owned. They are neither owned by the “State” nor can they be sold. The State is only the “custodian” of frequencies on behalf of People. The Government as the political leadership that manages the State becomes decision makers in how frequencies could be used for public good and benefit. It is for that reason the Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (TRC) was legally established.
Yet, the TRC cannot sell licenses outright for use of “permitted frequencies” or issue on long-term lease. Nor can licenses be transferred, leased or sold to others by license holders. Licenses issued therefore have to be slapped with “terms and conditions” on use of the license and on conditions for broadcasting. As property of the people, everything about licenses including conditions, should be made public no sooner they are issued.
Once again this being Sri Lanka, nothing regarding issuing of frequencies and license holders are being published. Everything about issuing of frequencies are held secret by the TRC itself. Reality being, people nor the parliament is aware how many licenses have been issued for what frequency bundles, who holds them and on what conditions. Thus broadcasters have come to treat frequencies as owned by them and use them as they wish. This has led to a pathetic breakdown of rights and ethics within media itself, including the State owned.
As with every State owned entity, State owned media institutions are treated as political property of the government in power. Neither the minister in charge nor the personnel placed for management of State owned media know, frequencies in use are public property and they are bound to respect social impartiality and independence of broadcasting.
All private broadcasting owned by the filthy rich in this nauseatingly corrupt free market economy, are far worse than even the State. No private broadcaster allows his/her employees the fundamental right of forming a trade union and becoming a member of a trade union as guaranteed under Article 14.1(d) and ILO Conventions 87 and 98 ratified by the GoSL. Worst is the role of the Labour Department that behaves as if they are not aware of such violations of fundamental rights.
To make everything bad in media far worse, no media organisation, no media activist group demands the right to form trade unions and be members of a trade union of their choice. This timid acceptance of a grave suppression of rights, has turned media personnel into caged parakeets of colour. They are definitely not aware they are also bound by social responsibility in using frequencies owned by the people. Instead they believe their role is to serve the owner of the media company and may be achieve some popularity as a “screen face.” This slavish mentality especially in electronic media has denied professionalism in our media.
Media workers with no professional ethics sitting in front of cameras and microphones owned by private dealers cannot in any society contribute to social awareness and to decent entertainment with aesthetic and educational value. The result is quite evident. All “stations” compete with each other in broadcasting cheap and primitive programs; on astrology, feudal traditions and primitive values, bull fights like political brawls, fancy imitations of reality shows and the like with racist campaigns in between. Over decades of such broadcasting has left a selfish society with warped attitudes and devalued mentalities. In brief, media, especially the broadcasting media that is exceptionally penetrating is part responsible for the political and social rut this country is in.
That is ample reason for “regulating media”. Especially “content” regulation in Sri Lanka. Regulating does not mean “controlling, suppressing or throttling dissent.” It only means laying down specially demarcated areas the media, especially the broadcasting media should be cautious in handling “content” with responsibility. Lest they trespass forbidden ground as ethno-religious frictions, ignore or being negative towards marginalised and vulnerable social groups, social ethics and such.
In the UK and in France with far more advanced societies not only economically but culturally too, “regulating media” is in practice. In France, even commercial advertising comes under strict regulation with media owners required to publish their charges; “global price of advertising campaigns and the unitary price charged for each advertising space.” Copyright regulation is another with provisions for far more regional access allowed within the EU.
In the UK to quote Article XIX, “The print media is entirely self-regulating in the United Kingdom and operates free of any specific statutory rules. The profession has established the Press Complaints Commission on its own initiative, and this body has developed a code against which to measure journalistic standards. For the broadcast media, two broadcasting acts set out broad categories of material which should be covered by codes of conduct but leave detailed elaboration of these categories to regulatory bodies. These acts provide for the establishment of various independent regulatory bodies which undertake a variety of roles visà-vis broadcasters, including monitoring and applying the codes.” (Article XIX – Media Regulation in the United Kingdom)
Here lies the difference. Deciding parameters for media regulation is not the responsibility of the Government and the State. If the Government and the State is allowed to decide “regulation of media” as they wish, the important active presence of the media as social “Watchdog” over governance would be completely lost. Why “regulation” of media is necessary is to guarantee its independence in playing such a role.
Moreover, as frequency owners the public has the right to decide how frequencies should be used by those who obtain a license for broadcasting. Conditions and restrictions relevant for monitoring and regulating especially broadcast media has to be therefore agreed upon in a healthy social discourse. That should be the ownership all media activists and organisations must work for, instead of demanding amendments to what the Government has proposed in draft form. What it means in short is, the proposed Act for establishing a “Broadcasting Regulatory Commission” should be rejected in whole with media activists and organisations taking over the responsibility of drafting a new “media regulatory” statute through social dialogue including all social partners, accepting the fact digital frequencies are owned by the people, and therefore have to be “leased” in an open process.
– Kusal Perera
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