In whose interest?

A study of journalists’ view of their responsibilities and possibilities within the mainstream press in Sri Lanka

Abstract Titel: In whose interest? A study of journalists’ view of their responsibilities and possibilities within the main stream press in Sri Lanka. Author: Anna Bolin Supervisor: Phil. Dr. Ingela Wadbring Course: Master Course, Media and Communication, Spring 2006 Aim: The aim is to investigate the journalists’ image of what role the press should have and could have in the Sri Lankan society. Method: Eighteen in-depth interviews with journalists (news editors and reporters) at six main stream newspapers in all three languages in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Three state-owned newspapers; The Dinamina, Thinakaran and Daily News. Three private newspapers; Lankadeepa, Virakesari and The Sunday Leader. Main result: Generally the journalists expressed the same opinion of the press as formulated in the policy documents they are said to follow; the Code of Ethics and the Media Charter. These stresses the press should be sensitive to the needs of the reader, work in the public interest, take social responsibility and generally uphold a high international standard. This is the ideal role the press should have in the society, though the reality looks different. Some of the journalist, especially working in the state owned newspaper thought they were rather working in the interest of the politicians than the public. Many also do not think they are taking social responsibility they could. When it comes to what role they could have the picture is more scattered. The interpretations and examples of what it means to work in the public interest and to take responsibility. Also the obstacles differed between the newspapers. This could be a political agenda, threats, lack of access to correct information, a strong tradition of self-censorship, appointments of unqualified personnel, early deadlines and a tradition of “telephone journalism”. This raises problematic aspects of a free and independent press, which is seen as necessary if it ought to work for a democratic process. To sum up, there were several issues that need to be highlighted and brought into discussion in the news room, such as community feelings or the definition of truth. There is also an urgent need about how rather than why public interest and social responsibility is taken. Finally there is also a need for a raised understanding and discussion about the public’s wants and needs.

Anna Bolin
MKV, MKV-Magisteruppsats , vt06
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