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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2702

The CPJ projects ‘Freedom of Expression’ in a twist

By Palitha Senanayake

"I disapprove of every word of what you say; but I will defend to my death your right to say that." - Francois Marie Arouet Voltaire

The Sunday Times in its 15th June issue reported that the CPJ (Committee to Protect Journalists), the International watch dog on journalist wellbeing, has expressed concern about the disappearance and murder of journalists in Sri lanka and has written to President Rajapakse on the need to reverse the directiion the Government has adopted with regard to freedom of expression in the country.

In a press release on the current state of the Srilankan media the CPJ states, "Of particular concern is the fact that the Defense Ministry has repeatedly used its website to denounce and even condemn journalists, often individually by name and at other times as a group, for their reporting on the conflict and the activities of the Ministry and the armed forces. In recent weeks it has accused 8 media outlets of traiterous behavior- an incredibly strong term to use during a time of such intense conflict and one clearly meant to intimidate, given that no charges have been brought against any of the organisations.

The Ministry’s May 31 posting was exceptionally chilling. It clearly implies that anyone reporting negative news about the war or the Ministry activities is guilty of trechery or worse”. And then it goes on to quote the defense Ministry’s May 31 communiqué, “Whoever attempts to reduce the public support to the military by making false allegations and directing baseless criticism at armed forces personnel is supporting the terrorists organization that continuously murder citizens of Sri Lanka. The Ministry will continue to expose these traitors and their sinister motives and does not consider such exposure as a threat to media freedom. Those who commit such treachery should identify themselves with the LTTE rather than showing themselves as crusaders of media freedom.’

Since the CPJ’s criticism of the Ministry’s press release revolves around this particular posting made on the 31st May, what the ordinary citizens of Sr Lanka would wish to know is what really is so abhorrent that the CPJ finds in the above posting of the Defense ministry? We would like CPJ to please read it again. It states about ‘False allegations and baseless criticism against the armed forces personnel’ and goes on to say that such persons or institutes are traitors and hence they should better identify themselves with the LTTE rather than pontificate as crusaders of media freedom. Arent those who make false allegations against the armed forces personal at this decisive time of this long drawn out conflict not traitors?

If not what do they call such people in the countries that sponsor organizations such as the CPJ? What is that the CPJ finds so detrimental to the well being of this country and its media in a statement of this nature coming from the Government of a country that has grappled with the most ruthless terror outfit in the world for the past 30 years? And that is at the expense of 75,000 lives, most of them innocent civilians. Isnt the Government of a war ravaged country duty bound to ensure the safety of its citizens by identifying the sources that undermine its efforts to eliminate the scourge of terror from its midst?

The efforts of the Government should be evaluated in the light that it is fighting terrorism and not the conventional war where the enemies are more in the open. This war has dragged on this long because the Government has not been able to come to grips with insidious ruses and the guile adopted by these forces that nuture terrorism in the country. It is a fact that in the past 30 yers these forces have manifested themselves in the names of ‘Peace activists’ and ‘Free media crusaders’ with the sole objective of distablising the majority and the Government in this country.

What is worse is that this CPJ which is expected to hold the very ethics of journalism by virtue of it being the watchdog of those who are expected to conduct the business of the ‘4th estate’ is quoting this Ministry statement out of context. This appears intentionally done in order to give the contents of the statement a slight twist to make it ‘anti freee press’so that it can be targeted with ‘freedom of expression’ammunition. The Ministry statement does neither ‘denounced nor condemned journalist for their reporting of the conflict and the Ministry activities’ as claimed by the CPJ press release.

The Ministry statement has only denounced and condemned those who make ‘false allegations and baseless criticism against the armed forces personnel’. In this way it is glaringly unethical for an internationmally recognized body; and protectors of the journalists at that, to misquote the Ministry statement to make it what it wished it was, ignoring the facts and the spirit of that statement. Is misquoting news and facts for one’s own advantage contagious with journalists and their protectors?

Sri lanka has been battling the ruthless LTTE terror for the past three decades and with the experience the country has gained over the years the ordinary citizens in this country are convinced beyond doubt that it is not the LTTE’s fire power that has sustained the LTTE over the years but the support it receives from insidious forces that have a vested interst in this conflict. There sre forces that wish to denigrate the majority Sinhal Buddhist in this country and thereby to prevent them from taking over the reign of power in the country.

The Christian INGO’s and NGOs have been in the forefront, supporting every activity of the LTTE justifying its murder and mayhem, thereby excarcebating this conflict to a point of preventing the legitimate Government from enforcing its writ through the legth and breath of this country. The fact is that most of these INGOs’ and NGO’s are funded by ex colonial masters and hence they have consistently supported the elements of vested interests who took over the control of this country from the British back in 1948.

These NGOs are therefore anti Sinhalese and anti Buddhist and there agenda and propaganda is aimed at creating an image to infer that it is the Sinhalese Buddhist values that is at the route cause of all its problems, post independence. This strategy is very cleverly designed and subtly executed with its aim to preserve the pre independent status quo of political and commercial power. That way these forces are inclined in doing whatever is necessary to prevent the Sinhala Buddhist in the country from making any further uinroads in to the colonial vested interests.In that light it would not be inappropriate to call the LTTE as the ‘armed wing’ of these vested interests for if not for them the LTTE would be an organization of naked criminals operating in an underworld situation.

The point however is that these forces of vested interests in their quest to maintain their status quo have made the maximum use of the country’s liberal Sinhhala values and the democratic traditions. In doing so they have used the country’s public media, specially the English speaking media, very surreptitiously over the years to justify the heinous crimes of the LTTE and make the victims of such crimes apologetic. In a way it suited the interests of certain sections of the English speaking media because the ES media itself is a constituent party of this vested inetersts. In this situation, persons like Gehan Perera of the Natioanl Peace Council (so-called) have been using the coverage of the English media quite liberally to white wash the LTTE crimes and elating those to the position of ‘retributive justice’. In fact the civilian killings by the LTTE with impunity has gone unabated for years for the simple reason that writers like Gehan Perera justified every killing by LTTE as being the effects of a socalled ’83 Black July’.

Nearly 383 persons (Sinhala and tamil) perished in July 83 riots in this country, the cause of which was identified by the Sansoni Commissin as being the separatist campaign launched by the then Tamil extremist including the Tamil United Liberation Front. But the anti Sinhala journalists in English media turned the ‘effects’ of that separatists campaign into a ‘cause’ and helped Prabhakaran launch this separists war bringing untold misery and absolute agony on the peace loving people in this country.

Funnily enough this war is being made to continue in the name of certain ‘unspecified’ and ‘untenable’ historical ‘grievances’ that the Tamils are alleged to have been subjected to. What is the cause that is so sublime under this universe that can be justified by the deaths of 75,000 innocent people? Read the English media even today and it is quite normal to find journalists justifying the recent bomb attack either at the crowded passenger bus at katubedda or the office commuter train at Dehiwela.

The whole country knows that this so called ‘Free Media Movement’ is only a front organization of the LTTE and its convenor Mr Sunanda Deshapriya is only free to criticize the legitimate Government and its forces and never free to criticize the LTTE for all its activities. The former ‘Leader’ Editor, Mr Lasantha Wickremetunge attended the Geneva peace talks in 2006 as a journalist from Sri Lanka. But he stayed, dined and wined with the LTTE delegation during his stay there and during the Talks everytime when Anton Balasinghem, the LTTE theoritician, scored a strategic point over the Government delegation he raised his thumb towards Balasingham in appreciation. There are also other journalists like Tisaranee Gunesekara who berates any Government that attacks the LTTE and invent pseudo reasoning to lay the entire blame for the current state of affairs squarely on the Sri Lankan Government and the Sinhalese since independence refusing to be educated on the recent history of the country and the conflict. The criticism of the Sri Lankan Government is indulged upon for the simple reason that it does not appear tenable to defend the LTTE in the face of its proven criminal record but yet her writings are designed to achieve the same effect at the end.

These are the very journalists who are so vociferous about the lack of media freedom in this part of the country and they do not for a moment seem to realize that this media freedom that is so sanctimonious to them is not even herd of in the area under the LTTE which they admire, support and justify. The LTTE is an organization that receives US $ 300,000 million every month from its Diaspora in addition to the taxes it imposes on its subjects and therefore it is rich enough to buy even the highest paid journalists in Sri Lanka for its propaganda work. At what point does a journalist cease to be a promoter of his discipline and begins to become a supporter of terrorism? The CPJ however seems to think that the journalists in Sri Lanka are the noblest of them all and they should be placed even above the policy on national security of the Government elected by the people.

The subject statement of the 31st May nevertheless signifies Government’s frustration in its inability to enforce guidelines on the media that has been so much a part and parcel of this conflict. The problem is that Sri Lanka never had a cohesive national policy on media and that lacuna is increasingly felt in situations as decisive as the present one. The Tamil Diaspora has been so effective over the years in propagating to the world falsehoods about the country and the successive Governments in their improvidence never envisaged that situation and made a concerted effort to negate such propaganda. The present Government however is now beginning to realize that it is not Prabhakaran’s fire power that is behind this conflict but the propaganda power of forces that ensconsed terrorism.

The other factor is that the Government lacks teeth in law to effectively handle those peple who nurture terrorism because it never introduced fresh legislation after the Anti terror act was banned at the behest of the peacenicks in 2002. Moreover since the LTTE is also not proscribed as a terrorist movement Sri Lanka, as the Government did not desire to earn the wreath of the western powers by doing so, it would be difficult to frame charges even against those who caught in the act of helping the LTTE. Therefore the needs of the hour are a comprehensive National media policy that cans accoimodate the responsible members of the fourth estate and banish those who seek the blessings of ‘freedom of the wild ass’ to achieve their personal agendas.

The abductiosns and murders as alleged by the CPJ should be inquired in to and such acts may not augur well for the Government in power. Yet this situation is more due to the absence of law and order in certain areas and the war situation in the country than to Government persecutions. These LTTE friendly journalists however is not helping the Government to establish its writ and thereby the accountability but rather are complicating the situation with their propaganda on ‘Fighting for a cause’, ‘Homeland concept’, ‘Violation of human tights’ etc.. Their writings often refuse to accept the Government writ on the so called ‘LTTE controlled area’ but when things go wrong they always hold the Government responsible. This way these journalists with their propaganda have been able to create a vicious cycle of violence where innocent people suffer. It is because of the crimes of LTTE that the Government has declared war: and it is because of the war that human rights get violated; it is because the human rights are gatting violated that these journalists and the NGO’s get paid by their donors; and it is because the NGO’s and the journalists get paid that they eapouse the cause of the LTTE. This is the vicious cycle that these journalists and NGOs have created. It helps the NGO’s / Journalists and the LTTE to make money while allowing the Government to shirk its responsibility and accountability.

The fact that a free media is a pre requisite for a democracy is beyond debate. When Voltaire said that, “I disapprove of every word of what you say; but I would defend to my death your right to say that”, the media in Europe was in its infancy. Voltaire belong to the ‘enlightened era’ and that was the era that catapaulted the free press by the strengths of all those intellectual and ethical journalists to the position of the ‘forth estate’in a country’s governance. However when Voltaire expressed his willingness to die for freedom of expression he would never have thought that some day the freedom of press would sink to such depths of corruption that it would be used as a guise to justify death and destruction against the very civilized norms that it was meant to uphold.

- Asian Tribune -

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