An article published in The Daily Mirror on 30th July 2020 sparked much debate for its potential to cause detrimental and harmful effects on minority communities in Sri Lanka. The article, titled “An unusual increase in Muslim Student at Law College in 2012” was published in the print and online editions of the newspaper, but the online edition subsequently edited the title to read “An unusual increase of students belonging to one community at Law College in 2012” Screenshots of the print and online editions can be seen below:
Journalism of this nature in a national context where inter-ethnic relations are at an all-time low can have potentially dangerous side effects. Further, the objective of the article itself and the editor’s call to publish such an article needs to be brought into question.
The Daily Mirror piece references a State Intelligence Service (SIS) report from July 2015 which stated that there were 5 Muslim students from the total intake of 203 students to the Law College in 2003. However, in 2012 the had number increased exponentially to include 78 Muslim students which made up 25.24% of the overall intake. The report had been brought forward by former SIS Director, SDIG Nilantha Jayawardena who believed it was “part of an attempt to invade key positions by minorities”, and called for an investigation.
Such reporting violates several points laid out in the code of ethics for journalists by the Press Council and put into action by way of Gazette order No. 162/5A on Wednesday, October 14, 1981. Let’s take a list of the specific dictates of the code of ethics that are violated within this article.
Point 2.C of the code states that: Every journalist shall refrain from distorting the truth by any act of commission or wilful omission. By only focusing on the intake of a minority in the country and not presenting the total intake of students which would indicate a different picture, the writer has wilfully distorted the facts.
Point 10 of the code states that: A journalist shall not report or cause to be printed or published any matter for the purpose of promoting communal or religious discord or violence. The Daily Mirror clearly violates this point by attempting to cause communal discord towards a minority in the country, especially at a juncture where misguided Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism has already caused tremendous damage to minority communities in the country.
Further, the Code of Professional Conduct (code of ethics) of the Editors Guild of Sri Lanka has several points that need to be addressed with reference to this article. Point 1.4 states that Newspapers and Journalists, while free to hold and express their strong opinions, should give due consideration to the views of others and endeavour to reflect social responsibility. Again we see a clear violation where there seems to be a lack of social responsibility in the reporting.
Point 2.1 states that: The media must take all reasonable care to report news and pictures accurately and without distortion. By focusing on one community’s numerical representation instead of presenting all the facts, the article is distorted and leans towards the opinion of the interviewee. An accurate representation would ideally quote the interviewee but present the entire set of information including the intake of all communities.
Based on the facts presented here, it is necessary that the newspaper print a retraction and apology to the Muslim community of Sri Lanka who has been victimized by poor reporting and editorial oversight.