t sucks being ignored when you badly need attention! DIG Ranjith Perera, the commandant of the Police Special Task Force (STF) could not have agreed more. Last week he unleashed a tirade against the media for allegedly ignoring the role of the Special Task Force in the recent multi-billion-rupee cocaine bust.
The STF chief’s outburst, which has now landed him in hot water -- the IGP has ordered a disciplinary inquiry against the former- was more a lament than a threat. And he smacks a bit of Mervyn Silva, the discarded Kelaniya politician.
Then there was perhaps the unintended swipe at the other branches of the security forces. DIG Perera took the higher ground to assure that STF would not break limbs of their critics like other branches of armed forces would do. He was invoking memories of Poddala Jayantha, Keith Noyer and many others who fell foul with the mighty authorities in the not so distant past. But, since that is something that the security forces want the media to forget, the military top brass might not have been impressed with DIG Perera’s remarks.
“Why isn’t anything being written against the Army, Navy or the Air Force? If you write against them, they will send a team and break your limbs.” he quipped. “ We don’t do such things,” he added.
Like any other public and private institutions, various security and law enforcement branches compete for resources, influence and publicity. Perhaps, the Police Commandos are not getting enough of them, and its chief is angry with media for not helping out. The usual dilemma associated with journalists is that if you write too much, you are in trouble, now it seems, if you write too little, still you are in trouble.
Reportedly, it was a tip-off by the STF, which had been alerted by an intelligence agent that led to the cocaine bust. The suspected sugar container had to be checked manually on the insistence of the STF, as the scanners could not detect the cache of narcotics concealed with sugar. And STF has been instrumental in many of the recent high profile detections of narcotics. On most instances, it was their tip-offs that led to the detections by the custom officials.
The STF chief could even be right to feel a sense of entitlement for media hype. However, the point that he missed was that journalists did not exactly do a public relations job (of course, some do, but then they are not so much the journalists) - nor should he expect the journalists to do that for him. The best thing he could do, if he survives the disciplinary inquiry is to expand the media unit of the STF and try to get his and his institution’s message across.
However, the feeling that the journalists ought to be beaten up to keep in line is deeply ingrained in the psyche of those who wield power. And the government does not help mitigate those impulses that stem from a culture of impunity in the past when it, despite all its pretensions of media freedom, is continuing with its predecessor’s unholy tradition of silencing the messenger. The latest incident involving the Warden of the Yala National Park, who spoke out to media against the interference of Minister Sajit Premadasa in the management of the wildlife sanctuary is a case in point. The subject minister Gamini Jayawickreme Perera has threatened to conduct a disciplinary inquiry against the warden Suranga Ratnayake over his remarks to the media. And interestingly, as the Minister Jayawickreme Perera confides, he is waiting till the media storm dies out to take action against the errant official.
Also, the Director General of the Wildlife Conservation Department (WLCD), a respected ecologist who gave up his position at the World Bank to take up the offer to protect wildlife back home, has now tendered his resignation due to routine political interferences points to a bigger problem that the Yahapalanaya is gradually following suit of its predecessor. The former regime turned much of the officialdom into unashamed stooges. And those stooges expected the media to sing paeans to the powers that be, like they themselves did, day in, day out, until the all powerful president whom they placed in the pedestal was kicked out by the might of popular vote. Then, some of them jumped the ship.
"Perhaps, the Police Commandos are not getting enough of them, and its chief is angry with media for not helping out. "
If Mr Rajapaksa took media scrutiny seriously or at least let journalists do their job that could have had a moderating impact on his rule. The role of the media is to scrutinise the government and hold public figures accountable, and not to sing hosanna for them. The latter would make the ruler and his cronies feel good for the time being, but inevitably drive them towards a path of absolutism, and finally to their own downfall.
Media scrutiny may be a nuisance at times, but it is still a lesser inconvenience than having to attend endless hearings of presidential commissions probing excesses and corruption of the past, when out of power. Ask the ex-president and his erstwhile cronies.
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