As irresponsible media breach ethics, presence of mind of Weligama UC chief Rehaan Jayawickrema saves society descending into an abyss of chaos
Attempts taken to create racial disharmony by certain electronic media institutions over a Muslim death in Weligama in the Southern Province was able to be prevented because of the timely intervention by the Chairman Weligama Urban Council, claims a fellow Muslim resident in the area.
According to Hussan Marikkar, a resident in Weligama, if not for Chairman Weligama Urban Council Rehaan Jayawickrema, his neighbour, who died of a long-standing non-communicable disease would have been cremated by the health authorities claiming that the death was due to COVID-19 infection, while the Muslim community there would have undergone severe difficulties due to a certain racial disharmony.
The deceased was a resident of New Street Weligama, predominantly a Muslim area, and was suffering from diabetes and asthma over the years.
She had been taking treatment from a private dispensary in Galle as she was reluctant to go to any government hospital because she couldn’t communicate in Sinhalese.
During the lockdown, her asthmatic condition has got worsen and was unable to breathe. When called the Galle Cooperative Hospital the family was told that they are not giving any treatment to any patient and had been directed to the Matara Cooperative Hospital.
“By the time she was taken to Matara her condition had got worse but the medical staff there had not taken any notice of it. Though the family had repeatedly pleaded with them to put her to the Intensive Care Unit, the hospital has informed that it will cost them Rs.150, 000 which they were not in a position to pay.
The family had then requested them to use nebulizer on her but surprisingly without giving any medication, they have been asked to take the patient to the General Hospital Matara without giving any treatment,” Marikkar claimed.
According to Marikkar, knowing that the patient will not get the necessary treatment from any of the hospitals, the husband A.C.M. Niyas, has decided to take her back home and give whatever treatments they could.
However, unfortunately, 56-year-old mother of one Shareefathun has breathed her last on her way back to Weligama on the lap of her husband.
Speaking to this newspaper, Niyas said that it was disheartening as to how the staff at the Matara Cooperative Hospital OPD, failed to nebulize his wife despite showing them, all her past medical reports.
“Was it because we are Muslims they treated us in this way? What I cannot understand is that although the medical staff in every hospital is bound to give whatever treatment they could to save lives, why couldn’t they give the necessary treatment to my wife? Even though I told them that she is an asthmatic patient and that she was brought to Matara because the dispensary my wife was taking treatment was closed due to the lockdown, they ignored what I said but got down my wife’s name, address and directed us to the General Hospital Matara,” Niyas said.
Soon after the wife’s death, Niyas has informed the Grama Niladari of the area and by the time the body was brought home, a few officials from the Intelligence Unit had visited the house and had wanted to take the body of the deceased to Matara General Hospital as they believed the death was due to COVID-19.
“From them, we came to know how the Matara Cooperative Hospital had inquired from the General Hospital Matara whether a patient by my wife’s name was admitted.
“As there was no such admission, they have informed the Weligama Police and the Intelligence Unit claiming the patient was suffering from COVID-19,” Niyas claimed.
Be that as it may, although the government imposed restrictions when reporting COVID -19 patients and the dead, a cameraman from an electronic media institution had entered the premises unlawfully and had taken video footages of intelligence unit’s presence at the resident of the dead and had shown the footages in their mid-day news bulletin. They have stated that the deceased was a resident of New Street, Weligama.
“I saw a person videoing the crowd who gathered there but I was not sure that it was from the media. Even our neighbourhood has seen this cameraman but none of them has suspected him. This caused anguish to all of us and we were scared that we will be sidelined by the people in the neighbourhood,” Niyas said.
Accusing the TV station of not following the guidelines imposed by the government, Marikkar said that when asked from this news station as to why they were trying to create disharmony amongst the peace-loving people in Weligama and its neighbourhood, one of the higher-ranking officials said that they did not mention the ethnicity of the deceased but only the name of the street where she was living.
"Was it because we are Muslims they treated us in this way? What I cannot understand is that although the medical staff in every hospital is bound to give whatever treatment they could to save lives, why couldn’t they give the necessary treatment to my wife?"
“Everyone knows that there are only Muslims living at New Street, Weligama but not Tamils or Sinhalese. If not for the timely involvement by the Chairman Weligama Urban Council Rehaan Wijeratne, the situation would have gone uncontrollable,” Marikkar said.
When contacted Rehaan Jayawickrema, he confirmed that he was able not only to give the dead the final rites according to her religion but also to put a stop to the brewing up ethnic disharmony created by pro-government electronic media institution in the country.
“It was brought to my attention that a private media channel personal had unlawfully entered and captured still and video footage of a suspected COVID -19 patient in New Street Weligama causing great distress to the surviving family members.
“The said patient was incidentally cleared of COVID -19 but the social stigma that it has caused the rest of the family members is shocking and distressing.
“It is of paramount importance to note that our Country along with the rest of the world is going through turbulent times due to this disease but it is only in Sri Lanka that I have seen patients been treated as criminals.
This, I believe is because of the various times media personal from certain channels, blatantly violated the rights of the suspected patients by visiting their personal properties and in some instances recording voice cuts which they do not intend to be made public,” Jayawickrema said.
According to Jayawickrema, he doesn’t need to tell these channels what media ethics are but those who have the common sense to believe in what’s right and wrong will never instigate such action.
“Even though I had to turn a blind eye and watch in disgust when this was happening all over the country, I will not as Chairman of the Weligama Urban Council tolerate such violations in our town limit. I am also happy that I was able to get a post mortem done so that the family had got the opportunity to bury the body according to their rituals without being cremated as per the guidelines issued by the government for corona casualties. Besides, I was able to prevent a certain communal disharmony in the area as certain people in the media wants to show that this virus is spreading mainly through Muslims,” Jayawickrema added.
Jayawickrema said that by the powers vested on him, under Section 4 of the Urban Council Act of 1987, he had banned any unauthorized entry of any media person into any residence or vicinity of suspected COVID 19 patients or dead.
“In the event that these warnings are not heeded, I will not hesitate to not only initiate legal action against any media personnel but will also instruct the relevant Public Health Inspectors (PHI) working under me, to file separate charges regarding the obstruction of their duties,” he said.
He said that the media institutions should be aware of the unambiguous guidelines issued by the Information Department in reporting of COVID 19 related matters, pointing out specifically the guidelines that request media networks to avoid highlighting individual cases.
“This news was telecasted on two private TV stations which want to create disharmony amongst the peace-loving people.
“I have written to the Heads of these two institutions but they never tried to correct what they had reported. They should know that the television frequencies that they are operating on are public property regulated by the Telecom Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL),” Jayawickrema said.