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Renewed Calls to probe attacks on scribes

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The vigil was organised by the Free Media Movement (FMM) and held in Colombo (AFP)

 

  • A spokesperson for the Sri Lankan journalists in exile has said that they were disappointed because the past government failed to punish those responsible in carrying out crimes against members of the media between 2005-2015

 

Engaging in the media business in Sri Lanka is not an easy task given that there is often an aggressive government to deal with and readers who at times wish to remain drifted away from the truth.  

 

All these reasons have made  media personnel heroes at times and villains on other occasions when what’s reported contradicts the views of a good number of readers. 


Readers’ views or feedback is the most essential and can’t be ignored. But there had been occasions during the civil war when tiger rebels ran over military camps, on rare occasions. But reporting the same, in journalism style, made readers pose questions about the patriotism of reporters. 


Readers, always, wanted to see the government troops prevail over the tiger rebels. These readers also had the same positive thoughts when Sri Lanka’s national team took on the rest of the world at cricket, regardless of whether the opponents were South Africa, India or Australia. There were occasions in the resent past that the Sri Lankan cricket team was never the favourites to beat these three giant nations at international cricket. But there were occasions when readers lived in a fools paradise and wished the scribes to be in that frame of mind when reporting on cricket. 


Journalists can stomach the insults and adverse comments made against them in social media websites. But incidents that have taken place over the years, when journalists were threatened because the state didn’t fancy the truth being reported, have made engaging in the profession of media here in this island a tricky business. 

The state’s response to this is that ‘though all sorts of allegations are made there must be proof  

 

By now some individuals who were arrested for questioning, regarding these incidents, have been released without a trial


Given this background it was heartening to see scribes coming together in a show of unity during a vigil in Colombo on January 28 (Tuesday) where they held candles and placards in memory of scribes who sacrificed their lives for this noble profession. The vigil was organised by the Free Media Movement (FMM) and held in Colombo to mark ‘Black January’

 


Sri Lankan media personnel experienced a harsh time between 2005 and 2015 when alleged government sponsored attacks and abductions of journalists made it hard for scribes. That was a time when the state had this unofficial stance that ‘you were either on our side or their’s (rebels)’. No neutral reporting was encouraged and the while van culture was the symbol of oppression. Yet what was sad was a section of the readers, who preferred to stay blind to the truth, believing the state version of news carried out by the government media arm. 


There were alligations of state sponsored hit squads went on the hunt and silenced professional journalists. Over 60 Sri Lankan journalists went into exile. There was some hope regarding the perpetrators being brought to book during the Yahapalana regime. However the investigations into these incidents didn’t produce the desired results. 


 A spokesperson for the Sri Lankan journalists in exile has said that they were disappointed because the past government failed to punish those responsible in carrying out crimes against members of the media between 2005-2015


Those disappointments have now turned into growing concerns with the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA) stating that ‘none of the culprits accused of carrying out attacks on members of the media has so far been exposed or punished’. 


The state’s response to this is that ‘though all sorts of allegations are made there must be proof and a judicial process should follow’.

 
The bottom line to the concerns of journalists now is that on-going investigations into the abductions and attacks on journalists would be shelved. By now some individuals who were arrested for questioning, regarding these incidents, have been released without a trial. 


Even during the Yahapalana regime, despite the state boasting of media freedom, as many as 13 websites critical of the regime were blocked.  


One journalist who was severely targeted during the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime was Poddala Jayantha of Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd (Better known as Lake House). Jayantha is now in USA and was quoted in Associated Press (AP), just prior to the last presidential elections, saying that he doesn’t think he could return to Sri Lanka if there is a regime change. He substantiates his view by saying that he doesn’t want to do journalism in a country where his attackers are still at large. For the record, seasoned scribes like Keith Noyahr, Upali Tennakoon and Lalith Alahakoon came under threats or attacks by hit squads while Lasantha Wickremethunge and cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda paid with their lives for practising a profession which was so dear to their hearts. The murder of Tamil journalist Dharmeratnam Sivaram remained a mystery, but what must be underscored is that he too died during the tenure of the Rajapaksa regime which underplayed the need to protect journalists. There were also journalists who capitalised on the existing threats to journalists, but not necessarily to themselves and grabbed the opportunity to go in search of greener pastures. 


During the period 2017-2018 the Annual Press Freedom Index compiled by the Reporters Without Borders rated Sri Lanka 131 out of 180 countries. It claimed that press freedom in Sri Lanka had improved in comparison to the other countries. But the index added that these statistics in no way indicated that that press freedom in Sri Lanka had improved per say since 2017. The present reading for Sri Lanka in the Annual Press Freedom Index (for 2019) is 126 out of 180 countries.


With the media institutes left to face the growing competition among themselves, merely to survive, the last thing they’d want is the state to enter the scene and throttle them with acts of oppression. 

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  Comments - 1

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  • Sammy Cooper Monday, 10 February 2020 01:52 PM

    this is why Sri Lanka's conviction rate is around 4%


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