Harsha defensive after social media backlash on request for austerity

September 29, 2018 (LBO) – State Minister of Economic Affairs Dr. Harsha De Silva has been embroiled in a firestorm of backlash over comments suggesting that Sri Lankans restrict foreign travel and vehicle purchases in order to curb the drawdown of foreign exchange.

In a situation where the general perception is of incompetence with regard to the Government’s management of the sluggish economy, the comments requesting austerity triggered an aggressive response on social media.  The State Minister is yet to retract his comments, however he has offered an explanation on his Facebook page.

It has been reproduced below as published by him (Warning – profanity present in the post):

“Oh my gosh! Has Harsha lost his marbles?! Clickbait headlines: Is it responsible journalism?

So, I got whacked on social media. What did I say or do so terrible to be called a ‘fucking idiot’ and be abused so much? The reason is supposedly asking people to tighten their belts while I, along with other MPs, was presumably living it up; selling permits, buying luxury official cars, taking family on official visits on state expenses etc.

But the fact is that I have never sold a permit, never bought an official car, never taken my wife on any visit on state expense. In fact there many are others who do the same.

I do understand that there is a certain amount of displeasure towards the government. But why was all this anger directed towards me? Where did it come from? Did I deserve all of the filth?

Those who understand media told me what seem to have happened: The storm was created by a ‘clickbait’ headline. The mischievous and exaggerated headline on a widely read site sensationalized a rather matter-of-fact post on my Facebook. The headline related to perhaps 3 percent of the argument at most.

It was clearly misleading. Sad irony of our journalism, others, including a national newspaper copied it verbatim (until it was amended later) with not even usual courtesies extended.

Many only read the headline. Others clicked but were not interested in reading the article. Some did read, but were biased.

The fact is that in a long and analytical post I explained the reasons for the sustained pressure on the currency and took trouble to detail what has to be done by government. I reasoned out what went wrong and what has to change. I had figures and even a chart to show ten years of movement of the LKR.

I proposed a number of things we as a government must do. I credited the Central Bank for being responsible but also criticized part of its strategy. It was just one sentence that I devoted to social consciousness saying ‘perhaps’ high income people could postpone certain luxury purchases for two months.

It was well meant.

True, websites need to get traffic in to their sites. But I urge them to be fair by the subject of the article they may bait readers with. During the previous regime leave alone calling a sitting minister ‘fucking idiot’ most shuddered at the thought of visits by officials in convoys of defenders. Some outlets were fire bombed and burnt down, some were stoned, some were just taken out. Journalists were killed, maimed or just spoken to, and they shut up. State media was vituperative, they went after those who they didn’t like until they finished them off. As an opposition MP I was kept out of state media all five years.

What a change we have made. Media freedom is at the maximum. Personal freedoms are available to all. But, please extend professional courtesies when reporting and commenting.”

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