The Sunday Leader

Pariahs of the fourth Estate

Given the deafening silence the local media greeted the news of two death threats received by two editors at this newspaper last week we reached just one conclusion. That The Sunday Leader is seen to be the pariah of the fourth estate – and its editors and staff are easily expendable.

It is in the same manner that the local media pontificated and almost justified the brutal killing of Lasantha Wickrematunge  – whispering amongst themselves that he was no journalist.  That he in fact tarnished the very image of this August profession – trashed the altar upon which it stands by prostituting “quality” journalism for “petty and personal political gain.”

Thus convinced, the Editor’s Guild, The Sri Lanka Newspaper Society, Free Media Movement and the Sri Lanka Press Institute decided it was good enough reason not to pay tribute to him — not to  honour him or even remember him on a night when The Journalism Awards for Excellence was held in all its glory on Tuesday, July 14, this year.

Brow beaten to complacency and mediocrity the local media will not dare rear its head or stand tall – too afraid anymore to voice solidarity or condemn a cowardly and dastardly act as the sending of death threats to two women editors in this country.  Two colleagues – who obviously the local press, believe — do not matter – if they are indeed killed.  That we were threatened we were told was our fault – for having “upset” the sensitivities of a person or persons who remain paranoid, jittery, trigger-happy of any adverse publicity.

A senior editor of another English language weekly in fact said that if indeed anyone did want to kill us they wouldn’t warn us in advance.  Perhaps, Lasantha too was of similar thought which is why he discounted the deadly but all too real threat that came to him three weeks before he was murdered.

A written threat which elsewhere on our pages today a professional graphologist maintains when compared with the two death threats sent to us on October 22, could have been written by the same fist.

But none of this is of importance. At least, not to those institutions and press organisations which lobby and receive millions of rupees by way of foreign funding, pontificating to foreign donors, professing to fight and stand up for freedom of expression and media rights which includes protection to journalists under threat. Not a single one of these organisations issued a line last week condemning the death threats sent to editors at this newspaper.

Not a single member from any one these organisations bothered to even telephone the offices of The Sunday Leader and express any kind of concern or solidarity – despite the fact their phone bills are met by foreign donors to do just that.  Publishers and editors in fact went a step further, barring their newspapers from reporting the issue.  Actions which speak volumes as to where the threat even the media believe originated.  Which is why, they dare not speak his name. As they cower – glad that The Sunday Leader continues to be picked out as – for the moment at least – they all remain safe. It is not their turn yet. And will never be as long as The Sunday Leader even when it crouches would still continue to stand taller than all the horses in this trade.

But this is nothing new. When The Sunday Leader was sealed on an arbitrary order issued by former President Chandrika Kumaratunga none of these institutions bothered so much as to issue a statement condemning her unlawful action – which was subsequently overruled by the Supreme Court.

As a result, Lasantha resigned as a member of the Editor’s Guild followed by his brother and Chairman of Leader Publications Lal Wickrematunge who also tendered his resignation from the Newspaper Publishers Society.  Up to the day that Lasantha was killed he never returned to the Editors Guild as a member despite repeated requests from the latter to do so – ultimately even relinquishing any and all ties with the Sri Lanka Press Institute too, before he was killed.

Of course the fact that The Sunday Leader continues to stand alone in its fight for freedoms and democratic rights must make the current political administration delirious with joy.  After all, when a couple more journalists need to be picked out for slaughter there is no guessing as to where the die will be first cast.

While the rest of the media fraternity can whisper little self-congratulatory messages to themselves content they can no longer be seen nor heard — never mind the fact that 11 journalists have been killed in the last two years and more than 30 attacked – the media fraternity have acceded to an unseemly pact – they will simply play ball.

At least at The Sunday Leader – we remain unbowed and unafraid. We stand proud that we do not bury our head ostrich like in the sand. Lasantha was only one in a long line of journalists who have laid down their lives for their profession. The threat facing the country’s media continues. Any event and/or organisation that represent media professionals must take a stand to defend a profession that continues to being terrorised into submission.   And we are not afraid to take that stand.

The Sunday Leader will continue to function courageously. We are convinced that being so will finally allow the media in this nation to survive as a meaningful and moderating influence on this country’s society and governance.

Many people suspect that The Sunday Leader has a political agenda: it does not. If we appear more critical of the government than of the opposition it is only because we believe that  there is no point in bowling to the fielding side. Remember that for the few years of our existence in which the UNP was in office, we proved to be the biggest thorn in its flesh, exposing excess and corruption wherever it occurred. Indeed, the steady stream of embarrassing exposés we published may well have served to precipitate the downfall of that government.

Neither should our distaste for the war be interpreted to mean that we support or have supported the Tigers. The LTTE are among the most ruthless and bloodthirsty organisations ever to have infested this planet. There is no gainsaying that we applaud this government for having eradicated its menace from our shores. But to do so by violating the rights of Tamil citizens, bombing and shooting them mercilessly, is not only wrong but shames the Sinhalese, whose claim to be custodians of the Dhamma is forever called into question by this savagery, much of which is unknown to the public because of the self censorship carried out by the local press.

It is indeed opportune to reproduce a favourite quote that inspired Lasantha during his career as a journalist.  That of the German theologian, Martin Niem”ller.

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

If you remember nothing else, remember this: The Leader is there for you, be you Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, low-caste, homosexual, dissident or disabled. Its staff will fight on, unbowed and unafraid, with the courage to which you have become accustomed. Do not take that commitment for granted.  Let there be no doubt that whatever sacrifices we journalists make, they are not made for our own glory or enrichment: they are made for you. Whether you deserve our sacrifice is another matter. God knows – we try.

10 Comments for “Pariahs of the fourth Estate”

  1. Randy Mathew

    Congratulations to all at Leader Publications. You guys are a beacon of light and hope amidst all odds. While I look forward for many more writings from you, please do take extra care of yourselves.

  2. Dr. Roshan m

    I appreciate the role played by Sunday Leader in exposing the public funds at any level. You were courageous in higlighting without fear. We want more newspapers and journalists like you save Srilanka.

  3. Mike

    We have no democracy without a free, diverse and fair media. Please keep up the good work.You have an important role to play to maintain the checks and balances required to have a robust democracy. Your wok is greatly appreciated.

  4. Your on;ine edition is the only one many of us read every week for trustaed news about Sri Lanka.
    May you continue with yor couragous work.

  5. BRIAN PERERA

    every single employee of your very courageous news paper are blessed & protected by god almighty at all times.Every single news report of yours,send jitters down the spines, of all selfcentred & shamelessly corrupt President,his kith & kin & thug friends & associates who are only there for their personal benefit.Exposing their activities to the world,will undoubtedly bring out their deeply inclined murderous inclination to the forefront,which is the only way they feel they could stop being EXPOSED.WRONG!,they will burn in hell for all eternity after this life. BE ASSURED DEAR SUNDAY LEADER,YOU ALL IN MY DAILY PRAYERS.I SALUTE YOUR BRAVERY.

  6. R.Mohideen

    Courageous, you Leader. This is a bitter pill for the corrupt, inept, putrid & putrefying head and his cohorts. Carry on and expose these rotten guys at every available opportunity to this nation which is yet to come out from slumber!

    Three Cheers for the Sunday Leader and would like to see the fire ignited by the indomitable late editor burn as ever.

  7. Want to be a Lankan

    Editors guild! my God! They are a bunch of hyenas, puncing on the rotten material fed by government. Lasantha is one guy whom I respect along with Sivaram

  8. Rev. Daniel Paul Raj

    Sunday Leader keep your good work done. I daily see you paper online. We need courages and bold media to keep the lamp of democracy lighting. You doing well. I take my hat off for you.

  9. Brian Turner

    On behalf of my Family in Canada thank you to all the Leader staff, as you guys are doing an amazing job. Keep in mind Seeya (Lasantha’s Dad) is still a reader of the paper and he also thinks you guys are doing an amazing job. Once again thank you. You are truly Unbowed and Unafraid

  10. Pearl Thevanayagam

    Lasantha was awarded the Frontline Club prize this year on Nov.27,2009. But Lal could not be contacted to receive the prize since he could have been asleep given the fact the event was held from 7.00 to 9.00pm GMT.

    Lasantha will never be forgotten and no matter how much the new editorial berates foreign media he is still remembered.

    It was a poignat moment when the chairman of frontline Club John Owen and the owner Vaughn Smith who is a descendent of Graham Greene (a war reporter who left his trust earned from his books such as The American during WW2) read out his last editorial written posthumously.

    It is a sad irony there were just two Sri Lankans including myself (who Lasantha invited to work for him from Daily News) and not a single other journalist who are domiciled in the UK t ocommemorate the occasion.

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