Unlike Lasantha I
do not intend to write my last editorial and have it
published after my death. I know this is a dramatic
statement to make but the need of the hour calls for
Apart from my
professional work, I have a life. I am a good parent. I
have tried never to let my work stand in the way of my
being a good mother. I laugh. I show up. I listen.
I am a good friend
and them to me. I am loved and I love in return. Without
my family and friends I would have nothing to say to you
Ever since I took
over from Lasantha at The Sunday Leader I am
frequently asked why I do it. My response is similar as
was Lasantha’s. It’s not that I am stuck for options. My
entire family are British passport holders – only I and
my two sons remain on Sri Lankan passports. I am proud
to do so and have never wanted or tried to change my
citizenship. Even the hassle of securing visas does not
deter me. I love this country – this is my motherland –
and my eldest son who is 16 insists that while he may go
overseas to university he will come back. "This is my
home" he has told me – "And I love it."
In similar vein,
nobody at The Sunday Leader is stuck for options.
Yet, we do it. Why? We all have a conscience. We all
remain committed. To all of us at this newspaper
journalism is not just a job. It is a vocation. We all
approach our work with passion and commitment. For none
of us is journalism merely a means to a pay packet.
We all are clear in
our minds that one day we can go to meet our Maker –
with a clear conscience.
In all the years
that I have associated with The Sunday Leader –
for all of its 15 years – I was one of the first to
write for the paper when it began in 1994 – there is a
single factor that has never failed to impress me. It
has humbled me. Sometimes it has moved me to tears. And
that is the team spirit which has bound the staff of
this newspaper for a decade and a half.
The many occasions
this newspaper has come under attack has failed to dent
that spirit. In fact, it is just that which has bound
staff at The Sunday Leader – strengthened ties
and firmly secured bonds.
newspaper began there has been a culture of impunity and
indifference over killings and attacks on journalists.
The Sunday Leader has lived through trying times
as successive governments attempted to stifle its voice
– crush its spirit and literally burn the very edifices
upon which it functioned.
When Lasantha was
finally shot dead in January this year it was not the
first time he had been fired at. On a previous occasion
his house was shot at – but he and everyone else in his
home escaped unhurt.
But perhaps it is
the first in the 20 years that I, as a journalist have
seen a total paralysis of the media community after the
Sirasa/MTV station at Depanama, Pannipitiya was burnt
down on January 6th this year, followed two days later
by the killing of Lasantha.
The culture of
impunity – propagated by the fact that in all the cases
of attacks against the media and assassinations of
reporters (11 in the last two years) there have been few
if no serious investigations by the authorities and none
of the killers have been brought to trial.
This has led to an
almost total blackout of independent and objective
reporting in this country.
I for one, having
covered the ethnic conflict for 20 years – having
repeatedly reported from the north and east – from the
battlefront, from the Tigers former lair and from almost
every horrific suicide attack – am tremendously grateful
to this government for having finally wiped out the
scourge of terrorism from this country.
As a mother of two
sons, the youngest of whom is only three years old – I
constantly fretted that my children would be compelled
to grow up in a country that was wracked with civil
strife – and worse – terrorism. I used to have dreams
and worry myself sick that my older son would get caught
up in a bomb blast, to or from school.
That the Rajapakse
brothers actually did it – they effectively managed a
military onslaught against the Tamil Tigers, is not only
heroic but a success I for one will be eternally
I may not fully
agree with the methods they resorted to – but I can be
no judge or preach military strategy. Certainly not,
when it is a fight against terror.
But what I fail to
comprehend and find tragic is that despite a heroic and
successful military victory against terrorism, the top
political leadership of this country has propelled
forward a hostile environment of intolerance which has
created a culture of impunity and indifference making
each day a hunting season for attacks on media staff.
This, I will
continue to fight against. And I speak with one voice
for all at The Sunday Leader. Our differing
viewpoints do not make me or any of the journalists at
this newspaper traitors. In fact, it is our patriotism –
our love for this country — tested over a period of 15
years – that make us continue to do what we do.
I firmly believe
that journalists who report the facts as they are known
are not subversives. When reporters can work and report
freely, society is not threatened. In fact it is made
stronger and more confident.
On Thursday, June
25, all the local newspapers of Jaffna that defied
publishing an anonymous and defiling notice against the
LTTE came under attack by an armed group in the early
hours. The notice was brought out in the name of ‘Tamil
Front Protecting the Country’ allegedly linked to a
paramilitary group operating within Colombo. Thousands
of copies of the local newspapers, Valampuri, Uthayan
and Thinakkural (Jaffna edition), were burnt in
huge flames by an armed group at Aanaippanthi and
Kannathiddi junctions at 5 a.m. Thursday, while the
newspapers were being taken for distribution. The
distribution workers were also brutally attacked.
Again on Thursday a
freelance contributor who wrote the astrological column
in our sister paper the Irudina was taken in by
the CID and questioned for over 24 hours. His crime,
allegedly predicting a bad period for the government and
a good period for Opposition Leader, Ranil
Wickremesinghe. A prediction, one would think, that only
Ranil Wickremesinghe would have believed.
It appears that
anyone believed or suspected of conveying messages that
are critical of the government are not only "traitors"
but "terrorists" too. Government ministers have not
ceased to use inflammatory language against journalists
and media institutions. This has led to widespread
self-censorship among journalists in order to protect
For example, Iqbal
Athas, Defence Correspondent for The Sunday Times
says he stopped writing his weekly column as a result of
threats. Athas also reports from Colombo for CNN and is
a correspondent for Jane’s Defence Weekly.
Even if this
government is not directly responsible for the attacks
on journalists, it has created the conditions for such
persecution with impunity. Government spokesmen continue
their attacks on journalists naming them as "traitors"
and "security risks."
It was in February
this year that Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake
in a local TV news bulletin referring to the prospect of
capturing the LTTE leader alive said, that if
Prabhakaran had been a "girl" the soldiers could have
"touched" or "fiddled with" her body! What is absolutely
frightening here is that not only is the Prime Minister
of the country in a position to make comments of this
nature in public but that no one seems to have seen
anything wrong in the Prime Minister’s remarks.
This is the crux of
the matter. Civil society in this country is dead. The
main opposition United National Party is yet to awake
from the long snooze it is in. There is a general sense
of apathy – the majority stakeholders in this country
will do nothing to ensure that freedom of expression,
democratic rights, fundamental and human rights are
In this backdrop,
no journalist perceived to be contradicting the work of
the Establishment will be tolerated. Even if such
contradictions lead towards a better, more stable and
This maybe the
practice in lands such as Israel, whose cruelty in
anti-Palestine offensives is well known to the world. In
the post 9-11 context, the fight against terrorism and
the concern over national and international security
have resulted in detention centres, torture chambers,
sexual abuse of prisoners and many other brutal
violations of basic human rights.
If we are to look
for comparisons, military reporting all through the Iraq
war was identical to war reporting in Sri Lanka. Any
alternative voice or voice of dissent was never
We could only
surmise that this government best understood the rash
strategies of the war against terrorism adopted by the
former Bush administration.
We can only hope
that they did not forget to look at what happened
thereafter. There were repercussions, the benefits of
which are being reaped today in the United States of