The Sunday Leader

Justice For The Hunted And Hounded Journalists And New Role For Media

The remarkable coincidence of the dramatic fall of the Rajapaksa regime on the fifth anniversary to the exact day of the horrendous killing of Lasantha Wickrematunge cannot be airily dismissed in this land of astrologers, devil dancers (kattadiyas) and light readers (Anjanam practitioners),necromancers etc. The day of the elections (Jan 8) was determined by royal astrologers, agreed to by the highest in the land and approved by the Commissioner of Elections, and before the day of the 5th Anniversary was over, President Mahinda Rajapaksa had quit Temple Trees.

This columnist is not a believer in the jiggery-pokery of any of the above mentioned practices or those associated arts but in this land where everything from the times of signing on the dotted line, declaration of war and peace, fertility ceremonies etc except the times of birth and death are determined by these learned seers an explanation is called for.

More important however that justice has to be done in the case of the brutal slaying of Chief Editor and journalist Lasantha (also a lawyer) and many other journalists who fell victim to unidentified assailants and killers.

There was Siva Ram a friend and colleague of this writer (when we edited another journal), Prageeth  Eknaligoda, cartoonist and journalist who took on the  Rajapaksa regime head- on and walked out of his office the day before the 2010 presidential election to disappear forever and many  more. Other journalists like Keith Noyar,  Sonali  Samarasinghe (married to Lasantha just days before his killing) and others left the country while the great majority who remained thought discretion was the better part of valour and sought refuge in self-censorship.

In Jaffna the tremendous sacrificial poojas made by journalists have not yet been fully quantified.

Uthayan the only Tamil Language paper surviving in Jaffna since it commenced publication in 1985 had gone through a history of publication that deserves the world’s highest award for independent journalism.

Attacked by Tamil political groups, bombed by Sri Lankan and Indian war planes, offices set on fire, forced to quit its premises along with its printing machine to another location, its editor arrested without a warrant and many other atrocities it faced makes up a tremendous saga for the fight of a free press.  At least over 50 of its employees had been killed according to Wikipedia.


Maithree’s challenge

President Maithripala Sirisena simply cannot investigate even a fraction of attacks and harassments for ten years alleged, in his 100 day programme of action. But he has to take immediate positive action, at least to get the wheels turning to convince the people at the next parliamentary elections that he means business

For ten years we have heard high ranking policed officials, police and government spokesmen mouthing inanities about crack investigating teams, special teams and CID teams being appointed to investigate crimes against journalists that had shocked the public, such as the cold blooded murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge.

In cases like Lasantha, the crime was committed in broad day light, on a main public highway, a few hundred yards from a security checkpoint. The assailants were on motor cycles carrying automatic weapons. Even a school kid will name their particular security organisation. No James Bond or Sherlock Holmes was needed to track down the criminals and who instructed them.

As things stand, we have to presume that the crack investigating teams are still investigation after 5 years! President Sirisena should attempt to get at least one or two crimes committed against journalists investigated to completion before the 100 days elapse.


Role of the Media

 What happens during this 100 day period will be a factor in his success or failure at the parliamentary polls. No doubt he will have to implement some of his key promises such as the hike in salaries to public servants and reduction in the prices of essential commodities and attend to grievances of minorities.

But beyond this the people have to see that the Maithri era (yugaya)  is different to any other yugaya Rajapak, Premadasa, Jayewardene or even Bandaranaike.

That can be projected only through the media. The Media has to go through a radical transformation: press, TV and radio. Sirisena has to show that the media are not just mouth pieces of the government but organs of   impartial news dissemination. Maithri yugaya should not mean replacing huge pictures of Mahinda with huge pictures of Sirisena or the syrupy panegyrics.

This is a tough assignment because the reflex action of the media down the years has been to throw mud and insults at the predecessor and glorify the new incumbent as the saviour of the nation.

Of course the predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa has to be criticised for his failings but it should be done fairly and in accordance with the law. Charges made have to be in accordance with the due processes of the law. The media should be used as a reflector of good governance and not a mud-slinging machine.

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