Police Special Task Force (STF) Commandant DIG Ranjith Perera’s outburst against the journalists apparently for not giving publicity as he wanted, for the role the STF played in the largest detection of cocaine in Sri Lanka last week was, no doubt, runs counter to the government’s effort to paint a glowing picture before the international community on media freedom in the country.
He threatened the journalists as his Task Force punishes the underworld criminals and insulted them saying that they had fallen into the hands of the underworld. And also he embarrassed the three armed forces as well by stating that they break hands of the journalists unless the latter write according to their whims and fancies.
In a way, the matter is closed now since Senior Superintendent of Police Ajith Rohana, though a junior official to Perera, apologised to the journalists on Friday on behalf of the Inspector General of Police for the STF commandant’s outburst and IGP Pujith Jayasundara himself expressed his regret on Sunday. But still there are some unanswered questions raised by STF Commandant’s remarks and outburst.
His concern seems to be that the media gave the credit for the cocaine detection to a Special Unit under the Ministry of Finance and not for his Task Force by saying that the information was received by the former. When the Finance Ministry claimed credit for the detection, the media did not have any reason to doubt about it since the claim had been made publicly and no one contested it. If Perera had any issue with it he should have taken up with the Finance Ministry without threatening the media.
In essence, Perera accuses the journalists for falling into the hands of the underworld. First he had to prove it. Media is not totally free from corruption. In a highly corrupt society no individual sector, whether it is the media or politics. The Police Department, the Judiciary or any other entity for that matter is not clean, despite their being individuals free from corruption in those entities. For instance, the institution that DIG Perera represents has been one on the top on the annual corruption index of the Transparency International (TI) for the past several years. Politics and corruption have become inseparable. Other sectors too paint a bleak picture in this regard.
Despite DIG Perera’s allegations not being substantiated, in fact the reportage on the very raid had raised ethical issues, especially the accuracy on the amount and the value of cocaine detected, which had been highlighted by the media itself. The media industry in Sri Lanka has acknowledged the problems of ethics among journalists far back as 1999 in the Colombo Declaration and set up a mechanism called the Press Complaints Commission of Sri Lanka (PCCSL) in order to sort out individual issues and train the journalists in ethics, in general.
Had the STF Commandant felt that his Task Force had been unfairly treated by the media, he could have complained to the PCCSL which has been publishing an advertisement daily in some newspapers including the Daily Mirror calling for complaints in cases of violation of ethics by the media.
His allegation that the three armed forces break hands of the journalists is a serious matter to reckon with. And he made this remark against the backdrop of many unresolved assaults in the past against journalists.
DIG Perera has to be enlightened that publicity cannot be obtained by threats. Such attempts have been counter-productive throughout history. The simple way for it is building a rapport with the media community. It is very simple; just give your mobile phone number to a few journalists.