- The country is on the verge of an anarchy
- This crisis marks the end of Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism
- We don’t see journalists or editors questioning the President during press conferences
- In Sri Lanka, politicians are above the law and that is a sign of a stupid country
- Social media is progressive
The attack on journalist Chamuditha Samarawickrama’s residence and the arrest of Shehan Malaka Gamage, a social media activist who raised concerns regarding the Easter Sunday attack, within a span of a few hours, raised eyebrows among the public. But these incidents happen in a country that also witnessed assassinations and abductions of journalists and activists in broad daylight. Oppression and threats to freedom of expression are signs of a failed democracy and from time to time, segments of society have voiced against such undemocratic moves that often took place with state awareness. In a candid interview with the Daily Mirror, veteran journalist Victor Ivan opined that while Sri Lanka is moving towards an anarchical state, the prevailing crisis also marks the end of Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism.
Q What are your observations regarding the prevailing situation in the country?
Right now we’re in a critical situation. We’re witnessing all signs of a state that is on the verge of an anarchy. Since independence we have had a history of indiscipline. We have been a country that violated the constitution ever since we gained independence. There’s no other country that has violated its Constitution this way. As such we haven’t progressed in our thinking patterns or attitudes. Even though human rights have been included in our Constitution the state apparatus has continued to violate human rights. Those who violate the human rights haven’t been given adequate punishments and those who were victimised by such incidents weren’t compensated adequately either. Hence, the judiciary, Parliament and the Executive have been backward. Journalists too are backward. I don’t see journalists getting together and working for the common good. When Lasantha Wickrematunga was assassinated in broad daylight, it wasn’t a problem for journalists. Journalists aren’t united and they have a certain ego. Recent incidents have shown that we are heading towards disaster. So far no journalist has done a comprehensive analysis on the prevailing crisis. We don’t see them or editors of media houses questioning the president when he holds press conferences or meetings. Journalists have a duty to inform the public, but we don’t see them doing that anymore. All these are signs of a backward society.
Q What do these incidents indicate about the future?
These incidents are not just the fault of the existing regime. Nobody questioned the President when he was contesting for the Presidential Election. There were allegations regarding his dual citizenship and many other lawsuits filed against him. When these cases were presented to the judiciary they had a duty to investigate; say for example about claims regarding his dual citizenship. Then this matter was presented to the Election Commission. Neither Sajith Premadasa nor Anura Kumara Dissanayake queried about this matter during their campaigns. This matter didn’t arise during the election petition. Then why should we be surprised about Shehan Malaka’s arrest or Chamuditha’s incident? There’s nothing called law and order anymore. Our intelligence services think they are not answerable to the public. But the world over, intelligence services are being monitored. The fact that their expenses, the way they get clues and the way they’re conducting investigations is done without proper monitoring is a joke. In other countries political leaders are bound by the law. But here, politicians are above the law and that is a sign of a stupid country. We are nearing the end of an era and a new era is yet to dawn. But if that era is to be a progressive one, people need to be more critical. One good thing is that people are learning. We are familiar with the breakdown of various parties, be it one that forms the government or the opposition. But we’re not familiar with the breakdown of the state. This may lead to a state of anarchy and I do not know where it would end.
Q Do you think people are misusing their right to freedom of expression?
When mainstream media don’t operate according to certain principles how can you expect social media to follow suit? I feel that social media is effective. The only issue is that there’s an overwhelming amount of information and we’re now tasked with checking the accuracy of these information. Therefore there’s the good and the bad both. Social media has sparked a debate about various topics. We too had similar incidents from Dr. Shafi Shihabdeen’s incident to infertility pills, the fertiliser issue etc. Since 1978 there existed a massive robbery of public money. Politicians flourished at the expense of the taxpayers’ money. We live in a country where people have to look after a President after he retires. When people in the North were deprived of electricity for 10 long years we chose to ignore it. But today, we’re facing the same fate they were in. One positive thing I see in this crisis is that this is the end of Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism. Even though the President scored points by taking Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism at the core of his political agenda, he has ultimately dragged the country towards a hell hole.
Q Social media has given more space for people to express their ideas. Do you think there has to be more controls on new media?
We now live in a modern society. Back in the day, one has to study a particular field be it what produces a doctor, engineer, pilot etc. Today the value of people in these professions are deteriorating. That’s the same with journalism as well. In my point of view social media is progressive. Back then, if I had been a victim of injustice, then I had to meet an editor at a media house and convince him to write the story. This is a difficult task. But as soon as Shehan Malaka got arrested he took his phone and went live on Facebook. This video has over 10,000 views. However, if not for social media the dictatorship would have aggravated further.
Q There have been no proper investigations conducted on assassinations, abductions with regards to journalists or attacks on media houses. Your comments?
Journalists report about various incidents to inform the public. However, they too are divided among themselves. We can’t only blame it on the state. If there’s no democracy and people also choose to ignore these incidents and if journalists too have no unity among themselves, what exactly is the problem?
Q Most arrests take place in the form of abductions. Shouldn’t there be a more organised way of arresting an individual?
Most wanted criminals are shot dead by the Police. Then the Police claim that the suspects attempted to open fire at them and they were killed in an encounter. If we are nurturing a society like that, there’s no point in shouting if such an incident happens to you or me.On the other hand, most journalists try to be too political. There are a few talented individuals also. But we do not know how they could sustain in the industry. However, I see that people are learning and the youth too have started to question these incidents and have developed an interest to dig deeper into various issues. That too is a positive sign.
Q These incidents take place at a time when we are going in for another UNHRC session. But the government hasn’t responded to any of these incidents. Isn’t it a black mark on the incumbent regime?
More than a black mark it shows that the rulers are stupid. Do you see the public protesting against these incidents? That also shows that we’re living in a primitive society. Even though we speak English and dress well we haven’t progressed in our thinking and attitudes.
Q The incumbent regime promised to restore national security and it was their main campaign slogan. Don’t these incidents prove the opposite?
Sri Lanka’s Presidential system is extremely corrupt. One needs to have around Rs. 3 billion in order to contest for Presidency. The incumbent President campaigned for more than a year. Now we see that those who spent on him are reaping benefits. This is why there’s a crisis in almost everything from coconut oil to fertilisers etc. In such a situation it’s difficult to escape or recover from this crisis. In that case we need to bring about a structural transformation. It’s paramount that the Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim communities live in unity and harmony. Law and order needs to be restored. The judiciary, Parliament and the Executive need to be restructured if we are to move forward.
Q What’s the role of the media in the prevailing situation?
The primary role is to inform the public about prevailing issues. Those who join media should first realise that we’re not in Europe or India for that matter. They may face certain challenges when carrying out their duties. But informing the public is important.