Tourism Development and Christian Affairs Minister John Amaratunga was caught in camera scolding and apparently attempting to assault a journalist at his party office in Kandana last week. Although Sri Lankans are used to seeing this kind of behaviour by politicians and high ranking officials, as if they had the right to behave in such a manner, this particular incident has not created an uproar in society.
Political parties, trade unions, human rights organizations and most importantly the major media organisations are relatively silent on this incident. They need to at least issue statements condemning the behaviour of the minister of a government that vowed to ensure good governance, including media freedom. The civil society organisations that toiled hard to bring the current government to power have also been indifferent.
The minister’s press Secretary, Lawrence Madiwela had issued a statement on Friday claiming that the minister was provoked by the journalists by their uncomfortable questions and that journalists had not been invited for the event. The whole country witnessed the incident on television and they heard the questions posed by the journalists as well as the reaction by the minister. The question posed by the journalist was just about the dumping of garbage in Bopitiya. What was there in it for the minister to be uncomfortable, if he had not done anything wrong?
The journalist did not ask any question on a matter that involved the minister’s personal life or that infringe on his privacy, for him to be infuriated. He questioned the minister on a matter of public importance, the garbage problem which had become a life-threatening menace in the country.
Many politicians, especially those in the ruling party and government officials seem to think the journalists are their clerks who should be prepared to write what they dictate. If the journalists dared to question this lot, they would be met with arrogant responses. However, when the same politicians were in the Opposition they went behind the provincial reporters begging for publicity.
After a regime change, a thus far media friendly Opposition becomes the ruling party with a crowning arrogance and shamelessness to forget what they promised to the masses while the party that ruled the country so far, turning into a champion of democracy, good governance, media freedom and what not. This vicious cycle has been continuing for decades, hoodwinking the media community, with political parties taking turns.
Journalists have met with this kind of responses several times after the advent of the so-called Yahapalanaya government which came to power on a plethora of promises for democracy, including media freedom. Had the journalists supported the leaders of this government to come to power, they had more than sufficient reasons, because during the previous regime many journalists were abducted, assaulted, tortured, forced to leave the country, unjustly incarcerated or killed. And media institutions were torched, bombed and attacked then.
But the attitude of most of the leaders of this government seems to be the same, though the gravity of the incidents occurred under their rule is lesser than what it was during the Rajapaksa regime.
Last December, the Navy Commander Ravi Wijegunawardena had assaulted a journalist who had gone to the Hambantota Harbour to cover a protest by the harbour workers. And last week hadn’t the security personnel prevented him, John Amaratunga might have assaulted another journalist. At none of these occasions, did the government as an entity, at least express its regret. Definitely, this is not good governance, in spite of the fact that recent UNP-led governments had promulgated media friendly laws such as the Right to Information Act.