Today the United Nations marks the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists and Secretary-General António Guterres in a message says, when journalists are targeted, societies as a whole pay a price. Without the ability to protect journalists, our ability to remain informed and contribute to decision-making is severely hampered. Without journalists able to do their jobs in safety, we face the prospect of a world of confusion and disinformation.
Sri Lanka has been plagued by crimes against journalists and impunity during the past few decades and therefore we need to deeply reflect on the issues related to this crime and the vital role that the media need to play in sustaining a peaceful non-violent, all-inclusive just and fair society.
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, (UNESCO), during the past 12 years more than 1,000 journalists have been killed for reporting the news and bringing information to the people. In nine out of ten cases the killers go unpunished. Impunity leads to more killings and is often a symptom of worsening conflict and the breakdown of law and judicial systems.
UNESCO says it is concerned that impunity damages whole societies by covering up serious human rights abuses, corruption and crime. In a web page titled Truth Never Dies, UNESCO has highlighted the killing of some prominent journalists and urged people to read and share them so that these crimes could be curbed and gradually brought under control.
For instance, Ghanaian investigative journalist Ahmed Hussein-Suale was shot three times in his vehicle by unidentified motorcyclists who this year tracked him. The 31-year-old Mr. Ahmed’s investigative work uncovered corruption in Ghana’s football business. Today we know that big money mafias have corrupted virtually all sports including cricket which for millions of Sri Lankans has become an obsession after Arjuna Ranatunga’s team won the one-day international World Cup in 1996.
Since then in ODIs and T20 matches and even in test cricket we have seen widespread corruption including match fixing. Sometimes millions of people hold their breath while a player goes for a catch near a boundary line but they are unaware he has been paid a huge sum to drop the catch. This is just one of the ways of match fixing and sometimes we know that even sex workers have been used as glorified game changers.
In another case, Indian journalist Gauri Lankesh was shot dead by unknown assailants outside her home in 2017. According to local investigators, the 51-year-old Ms. Gauri was killed because of her political opinions, including her criticism of Hindu extremism. She also campaigned for women’s rights and opposed caste-based discrimination. Journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh was shot dead in Bengaluru on September 5. She wrote fiercely against divisive right-wing politics and the Hindutva agenda. Her 16-page weekly Kannada tabloid, Gauri Lankesh Patrike, carried an editorial column ‘Kanda Hage‘ (As I saw it) on its third page.
It dealt with fake news and was titled ‘In the Age of False News’. The Indian Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharathiya Janatha Party (BJP) won power in 2014 and last year, the BJP won reelected with a bigger majority throwing India into moral shambles in a country where the great philosopher Rabindranath Tagore wrote, “Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high, Where knowledge is free, Where the world has not been broken up into fragments, By narrow domestic walls, Where words come out from the depth of truth, Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection, Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way, Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit, Where the mind is led forward by thee, Into ever-widening thought and action, Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
In Sri Lanka one of the most prominent crimes was the brutal killing of Sunday Leader’s investigative editor Lasantha Wickremetunga in a high security zone near his office in Ratmalana. Almost ten years later little progress has been made in this investigation or the probes into attacks on other journalists and media offices.
In addition we see in Sri Lanka today certain television channels apparently motivated by party agendas distorting or twisting news to mislead the people. This also needs to be checked in some way because the free and fair media will and always be one of the pillars of true democracy because it is the voice of the voiceless people and the means through which all people exercise their fundamental right to the freedom of information and expression.