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A Lone Voice In A Volatile North

By Waruni Karunarathe

Highlighting issues faced by the public in the North, particularly when they are sensitive issues, is not easy. But there are some newspapers which have continued to be the voice of the voiceless despite facing threats and intimidation.

The northern based Uthayan newspaper was recently awarded the prestigious International Press Freedom Award for 2013 by the France-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Uthayan Editor Vallipuram Kaanamylnaathan and its proprietor Eswarapatham Saravanapavan received the award last month from the RSF at the award ceremony held in Strasbourg, France.

Reporters Without Borders had also nominated Uthayan for their bravery in continuing to report in the year 2006 despite an incident where some gunmen entered the Jaffna newspaper office and killed two of their journalists. The very next day, the paper reported the incident and continued its work. The RSF award was given to Uthayan for its years of resilience during and after the war and promoting media freedom in a volatile environment.

Speaking to The Sunday Leader, Chief Editor of Uthayan, Villipuram Kaanamylnaathan said, “It is indeed a prestigious international award. However, I cannot say we are proud to receive that – because it is a negative remark of the atrocities that we as media had to endure in this country.” According to Villipuram, who has served as a journalist in the field more than 52 years, the responsibility of a journalist would be to speak on behalf of the people against the misdemeanours and Uthayan had always acted on behalf of its readers.
According to Uthayan newspaper, the police squad of seven policemen were deployed to provide security to the institute after the incident in 2006. However the amount was gradually reduced to one unarmed policeman.

Following the incident on 13th April 2013, where their main printing machine was burnt down by three unidentified gunmen, two armed policemen were deployed at the security gate.

Between 2009 and 2013 the Uthayan newspaper has been subjected to several attacks that included a grenade attack in 2009, several assaults directed at their journalists and media workers, burning incidents of newspapers and the printing machine. No one has been charged for any of these crimes.

“After 2010, murders related to media personalities have not been reported. Yet assault and threats directed at the media continue especially in North and East. For example, there have been several attacks directed at a Jaffna-based newspaper. Burning stacks of papers and assaulting journalists continue in this area,” Convenor and Media Spokesperson of the Free Media Movement Sunil Jayasekara said.

Jayasekara also said some websites registered under the Ministry of Mass Media have been censored and are regularly monitored which places a barrier on media freedom. He added, “No explanations are provided for such actions taken against those websites. On the other hand, there is fear among journalists that the government could be tapping their phones and computers which is supported by several incidents.

The government has done nothing to promote media freedom in the country. No charges are being made yet to any of the previous incidents where journalists were murdered and attacked.”

“We have constantly and consistently brought up these issues related to media freedom and communicated them to the government and requested relevant authorities to help promote media democracy. When the government acts against certain agreements signed in international forums violating media freedom, we highlight the incidents. There is nothing else we can do other than making requests. The socio-political context of the country needs to be changed. In the existing system, we cannot expect much,” he said.

The government, however insists there is no issue with media freedom in the North or the South. Speaking to The Sunday Leader, Secretary to the Ministry of Mass Media and Information Dr Charitha Herath said the government is ready to face constructive criticism.

“Media is completely free in this country. There are no threats to media. When we were fighting against the brutal terrorists before 2009, there had been a few issues which we could not quite figure out as to what really happened. Media is a common platform which is important for democracy,” he said.

He also said that 50 percent of the electronic and print media in the country belonged to the private sector and the government could take pride in that. While welcoming criticism directed at them, Dr Herath emphasised that the media should also be able to take criticism directed at them and act unbiased and impartial.

With reference to media freedom, he said that there were three things to look at – developing a good ethical framework among media institutes and media personnel, giving proper training to media personnel and understanding the real context while being a part of the development.

He added that the government had invested in giving proper training to government media workers while many private media had neglected the matter, which he says had deteriorated the professionalism in the field.

5 Comments for “A Lone Voice In A Volatile North”

  1. mayurwnE

    Media is free in this country ?, are you on something Dr Charitha Herath ?

  2. gamarala

    Dr.Herath should explain the attaks on Uthayan, instead of saying that “media is completely free………………………..”
    He thinks that all of us are fools.

  3. Sangaralingham

    Voices must be heard openly directly y each and everyone to safeguard open communications public opinions not cowardly acts by selected groups in each and every part of the country. Country not going anywhere but people do due to all the atrocities I this for thAt dealing no where only suffering for the rest of the society

  4. gamarala

    The truth is not allowed to be pulished,and doing so is a ‘crime’ – only in sri lanka.
    So far no reports on investigations of assaults/killings of Uthayan staffers.

  5. Sri

    Real credit belongs to the brave media personnel. The Director is working for his bread and butter!

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