he Civil Society Collective (CSC), a coalition formed by Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) said last Wednesday that the move by the National Secretariat which comes under the purview of the Defence Ministry to ban the NGOs from holding news conferences, workshops, training of the journalists and issuing media statements was illegal. Interestingly the only option left to the CSC to tell this to the world was also through a news conference, an activity banned by the authorities.
Had they followed the Ministry’s directive, the collective would not have been able to reveal what it thought about this move with their side of the story being suppressed.
News conferences and media statements are not secret forums or documents. They are meant for publication. They are mechanisms of communication between an entity and society. Even views expressed at media conferences and news releases issued by the LTTE during the time it had been proscribed were even carried by the state media.
The anti-Government statements made by entities such as the GTF and the TGTE of Rudrakumaran --announced recently by the Government as designated outfits -- are carried in Sri Lankan newspapers. But ironically the authorities have thought it fit to suppress the statements and conferences by the NGOs, considering them as inimical to the interests of the country.
When this matter was taken up in Parliament on Friday, Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne attempted to justify the Government’s move by saying that some NGOs had provided arms to the LTTE, prompting the witty Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to state that the NGO which is operated by former LTTE leader Kumaran Pathmanathan alias KP should be banned, because KP was responsible for procuring weapons for the Tigers.
The simple question that arises here is which news conference, media statement or journalism training programme by an NGO had violated the law of the land. Have the authorities taken any legal action against such news conferences or statements or journalism training programmes for violating the county’s law? There have been only instances where mobs had stormed into workshops conducted by NGOs for journalists and disrupted them. Interestingly, authorities have failed to take any legal action either against the NGOs concerned or against the mobs that disrupted those training programmes.
One would admit that a large majority of journalists in the country are self-studied, or trained on the job, since practical training facilities are minimal in the country. Only the Sri Lanka College of Journalism (SLCJ) run by the Sri Lanka Press Institute (SLPI) has been conducting a full time diploma course for journalists with practical training including internships in leading media institutions. For the past ten years the gap has been somewhat filled by the training programmes conducted by the NGOs, sometimes in collaboration with BBC Trust or FOJO of Sweden.
Having failed to meet this demand by running a media training institute with practical training by the Government, it is unfair by the journalists to ban journalism training programmes conducted by the NGOs. People including those who run NGOs and Government Ministers may express views that are unlawful or unethical at news conferences and through media statements, but the Editors and the News Editors of media institutions in this country are by and large capable enough in most cases to decide what is appropriate for publication.
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