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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2739

Salvaging Sri lanka’s Media Freedom from the jaws of …...

By Palitha M Senanayake.

The Sri Lanka Press Institute distributed a missive among the South Asian Leaders, who attended the recently concluded SARC conference in Colombo, in a bid to influence them about the repressive nature of the current Sri lankan Governments media policy. The signatories to this brochure were Ranil Wickremesinghe, Wickremebahu Karunaratne, R Sampanthan, Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Somawansa Amerasinghe and V. Chandrasekaran.

The signatures of these political party leaders were obviously obtained for the purpose of giving this brochure a political face to convince the SARC leaders as to the bona fides of the exercise. Yet the ‘career records’ of the signatories and the initiators in the background would convince any reasonable person that this missive to the SARC leaders contain much more than just the need to salvage media freedom in Sri Lanka..

Of these signatories, Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Wickremebahu Karunaratne and V Chandrsekaran have no political clout in the Sri Lankan polity and their ‘Political Parties’ are confined to their party name boards surviving at the mercy of liberal registration methods adopted by the Sri Lankan election law.

R Sampanthan heads a party which is devoid of any moral credibility given the malpractices reported, nationally and internationally, in the electioneering process that got them elected in April 2004.

Ranil Wickremesinghe is the unfortunate leader of he oldest party in Sri Lanka who have established a record by keeping its party out of power for a record 14years due to his non realist vision of the problems that plague the nation.

Somawansa Amerasinghe is the former Government ally but now disenchanted due to the split in his party allegedly caused by the leader of the current government.

However, there is something in common among all these ‘political leaders’ and the Sri Lanka Press Institute itself. That is that all of them have a record of actively lobbying for the freedom of the LTTE to carry out their separatist mayhem in this country.

Somawansa Amerasinhgehe may be cited as an exception but given the antipathy he has developed lately with the Government, the leader of the fragmented JVP too, by putting down his signature, has cast a shadow of the party’s future political stand. The JVP could be soon walking back to the old fundamental principles of the Wijeweera era.

The initiators of this missive include Sunanda Deshapriya, Ranga Kalansooriya and Sanath Balasooriya. These are journalists who have a very clean record of twisting and turning national events and issues to benefit the Tigers and the putative peace lobby in Sri Lanka. The Sri Lanka Press Institute is an organization bankrolled by Norwegian and Swedish funds. Scandinavian countries are among the richest in the world and they have the habit of allocating funds for some of these ‘alleged causes’ in underdeveloped countries. Hence such funds invariably end up in the hands of unscrupulous parties who exploit such issues for their own sustenance.

Could any unbiased Sri Lankan believe that it is the lack of media freedom that is the cause of all the ills in this country? For that matter could anyone believe that whatever alleged restrictions that the media is currently made to put up with are more inimical to this country than shenanigans of the LTTE itself? Could these inveterate supporters of the fascist LTTE have any moral conscience to point out shortcomings in a democratically elected government?

Sanath Balasooriya a director of this Sri Lanka Press Institute took part in a discussion on media freedom recently over the electronic media. When it was pointed out to him that the list of ‘media men killed on duty’ that accompanied this missive to the SARC leaders contained names of ‘voice of Tiger’ men, he maintained that such people are media men by virtue of their job and are not combatants. If this is the stand taken by these media men no government on earth will be able to banish terrorism from within.

If America and Britain followed this policy there would not have been any prisoners in Abu Gharib and Guantanamo. The stand of these self appointed arbiters of media freedom tantamount to saying that, ‘ in a society of five star media freedom, terrorism is a necessary evil’. As for me I would rather have less media freedom and more control over terrorism.

Media freedom is a ‘sin qua non’ for democracy but that certainly does not mean that media has the right to justify serial killers and aid and abet suicide members. In fact media freedom is a luxury that any society should enjoy exercising an equal degree of responsibility. Those who are not worthy of that responsibility should naturally be not entitled to that freedom. Anything in this world could be good or bad depending on the use that it is being put to.

The other allegation of the media men is that the Government media restrictions prevent them from highlighting corruption in the Government. But coming from persons who have extended unbridled support to terrorism during the past years, could the average reader in this country view such allegations by these people with any degree of credibility? If a particular media institution could stoop down to the level where it white washes rabid terrorism, could people view other criticism emanating from the same media institution to be constructive criticism of the Government? Further in a war situation the logistical supplies, their quality and price, is the prerogative of the Government in power. The bottom line is whether the Government is winning or losing the war. As long as the war operations are conducted successfully the ‘price of a mig’ peters out to be a detail and they could all be considered as being ‘fair’.

Media men also accuse the Government for lawlessness in the society and the ‘disappearances’. Indeed it is the responsibility of the Government to maintain law and order in the country and any Government shaking this responsibility is not worthy of its governance. The principal reason for this lawlessness is the existence of the most ruthless and dangerous terror organization amongst us It should be realized that the Government does not even enjoy its writ in certain parts of this country. And that is precisely why the war is on. Further in a war situation it is difficult to hold the Government accountable for all its activities for such a situation creates a milieu of lawlessness. In fact a Government is more powerful at a time of war than at a time of peace. Hence it is the LTTE and their knowing and unknowing sympathizes that have prolonged this war and bestowed an extraordinary amount of power on the Government. In the final analysis it is these very signatories and initiators who have ‘white washed’ the LTTE over the years protracting the war and thereby making the Government in power enjoy all the prerogatives of a war situation. What an irony!

The most unfortunate factor of this scenario is the blessings the leader of the UNP, the oldest political party in Sri Lanka, has offered to this document by putting down his signature. In a way his signature legitimizes the campaign of other questionable parties to this document who are more or less fugitives by virtue of their open violation of the Sri Lankan constitution through their active patronization of separatism and LTTE violence. It is the international pressure again that prevents the Sri Lankan government from taking action, within the provisions of the constitution of the Democratic Socialists Republic of Sri Lanka, against these terror supporters in various guises. Ranil Wickremesinghe on the other hand has tried his utmost within him to come to power in Sri Lanka during the past 14 years unsuccessfully.

Today with his party facing fragmentation and his leadership under increased threat RW appears to be running desperate with ‘power by any means’ outlook. In fact such political opportunism has been the bane of Sri Lankan politics since independence and it is such political expediency that is responsible for spawn the most brutal terror outfit of the world in the Sri Lankan soil.

Therefore considering the proven ideological inclination of these signatories/initiators of this crusade with the LTTE and its campaign to destabilize the current Sri Lankan government through alleged ‘denial of fundamental rights’, it is increasingly evident that this document was circulated more for the purpose of garnering momentum to this international campaign by the LTTE and their like minded NGO sympathizers than on any genuine concern for the love of media.

However, the irony of this whole situation is that, how on earth could an organization, that has proved its fascist tendencies time and again, denying democratic rights and press freedom to the people in its occupied territories and also after having earned the title of ‘the most brutal terror organization in the world’, work itself to a position where it accuses the democratically elected Sri Lankan government of impinging upon fundamental rights of the people. That of course is the continuing paradox of the Sri Lankan conflict which will require a lot of writing with reason.

In a nutshell, even though the Sri Lankan conflict, prima facie, is between the LTTE and the Government troops, the reality is that the LTTE is only the armed wing of a plethora of vested interests operating in Sri Lanka. Media is only one of them. But media being what it is, every other interest element interacts through the media. Therefore this call for media freedom is a loud and clear, but disguised call to the International forces to save the LTTE.

The danger however is that terms such as ‘human rights ‘ and media freedom’, the pre requisites of modern civilization, are increasingly earning a bad taste in public palatability. Hence in the present context of things, it is from the jaws of the tigers that Media freedom in Sri Lanka has to be salvaged.

- Asian Tribune -

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