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Sunday, August 7, 2011

Mr President, Enough is Enough!

By Upali Tennakoon |Lanka Independent Published on August 7, 2011 at 8:28 pm
Our leaders often speak about media freedom and right to information. At the same time, they utter a lot about the safety

Uthayan news editor Mr. Kuhanathan receiving treatment at the intensive care unit of the Jaffna Hospital
of journalists and safeguarding journalism too. They try to appear as the messiahs of journalism and journalists. In a context such as this, it is strange isn’t it that journalists get murdered and assaulted in broad daylight?
Then there is a big question mark about the perpetrators of these attacks. So far, the Police Department has failed to trace the perpetrators who carried out these attacks against journalists and media institutions. The latest in a series of such incidents is the news editor of the Udayan newspaper in Jaffna, Gnanasundaram Kuhanathan was attacked last week by two people who arrived on a motorcycle.
Critically injured
He was traveling to his residence after work and they had attacked him using iron bars. As a result of this attack, Kuganathan was critically injured. He was rushed to the ICU of the Jaffna hospital and thankfully survived. This is reminiscent of the way Lasantha Wickrematunge was attacked and killed in January 2009.
This is not the first nor the last attack against media. We can still recall similar sort of attacks which took place during the recent past. Some journalists were killed; some were injured and some barely managed to escape certain death. The attack against Kuganathan is just the latest incident. It will surely be replaced with another one in the near future.
Can we expect justice from this government?
The Free Media Movement (FMM) carried out a demonstration against this attack at the Lipton circle. Many articles have been written and many statements have been issued on this incident. Sooner or later, all these articles and statements

Five Colombo-based media organizations held a protest campaign at Lipton Circus, Colombo against the assault of Uthayan newspapers News Editor Gnanasundaram Kuhanathan in Jaffna. Meanwhile, Sri Lankan Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa talking to foreign journalists on the same day said the attack on Kuhanathan was an isolated incident and a petty crime. Since year 2000, six employees of Uthayan newspaper including two journalists, Raji Varman and S.S.R. Sugirtharajan, have been killed. But the Sri Lankan authorities have not arrested a single person to date in connection with the killings.
will be swept and hidden under the carpet of the ‘past’.
No serious investigation had been conducted so far. No culprit had been captured and brought to justice. The Police have not traced a single clue. In this backdrop,media freedom organizations are carrying out demonstrations urging the government to apprehend the culprits who are responsible for these attacks.
This too shall pass
Given the track record of the government in this regard, can we expect justice from the government and its leaders? The attack against Kuhanathan is merely ’another incident’ for them. Therefore, quite obviously, the government will adapt a ‘this too shall pass’ approach to get over this situation just as they did in all the similar cases, in the past.
As we all can clearly see, the government doesn’t take such incidents seriously. During the recent cabinet briefing, the Media minister Keheliya Rambukwella mockingly said that he can’t do anything about these attacks except to visit the victims bearing offerings of oranges and king coconut.
Distant dream
Amidst this culture of impunity, the number of attacks against the media is rising rapidly. Journalists in the mainstream media do not seem to have understood this threat. Whenever there is an attack, it is just another incident for them and they do nothing more beyond superficial reporting. All of them are drowned in the darkness that has spread across the country by the government. In this context, Freedom of expression is only a distant dream for all Sri Lankans.
Proven modus operandi
The government and its leaders must be enjoying this “congenial” atmosphere. All the media institutions are being tamed someway or another and there is no one left to raise voice against the malpractices and misconduct of the government. A large number of journalists are compelled to live in exile but the government does not seem to be bothered about it. All the dissident voices have been silenced and the people who sing hosannas to the government are given various kinds of benefits and privileges.So the leaders can rule the country without any pressure from the media.
No wonder it has proved to be a successful modus operandi. The government y knows that silencing the media is the best way to “solve” all the un-addressed problems of the country. If journalists get beaten by goons from time to time , it is nothing but a huge shame on all the leaders of this government.
Humans or devils?
Basically, President Mahinda Rajapakse, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse, the Police Chief and all the ministers

Media Minister Mr.Keheliya Rambukwella: During the recent cabinet briefing, the Media minister mocked the media stating that he can't do anything about attacks on journalists except to visit the victims bearing gifts of oranges and king coconut.
of this regime should be ashamed of themselves for engendering this situation across the country. I wonder whether they have metamorphosed into devils because they don’t feel ashamed or disgusted about this loathsome culture of impunity.
Only devils can bear this much of disgust and shame but not humans. Therefore, our so called leaders act in the very same manner.
In this context, I think we need to discuss a bit about the so called investigations into attacks against media, conducted in the past. Once the President openly said that it is impossible to conduct investigations into these attacks because the journalists who were victimized by the attacks have fled the country. This jocular statement itself shows the lack of seriousness of their approach towards this problem.
Ridiculous statements
Then what about the cases where the victims were killed by the perpetrators? Should the murdered victims appear before puppet investigation teams and testify? These kinds of silly statements do not suit a democratically elected leader of a sovereign state. Perhaps President Rajapakse might be thinking that he has won everything just because no one questions his behaviour or exposes his ridiculous statements. But Mr President! If you think that way, I say, it’s a fatal

Inefficient, brutal, sycophantic: There has been an outcry in Sri Lanka against police brutality. There are regular deaths in detention - the government admitted in 2009 that 32 people died in custody that year alone. Decades of war have left some police officers feeling they are not accountable. The Police force has become a waste of public funds and a complete disgrace and utter embarrassment to its once dignified stature and to the memory of the officers and gentlemen of integrity who were once a part of that respected department
I think it is essential to discuss about the role of the police. In most of the countries, Police and other law enforcement bodies conduct investigations without wasting time unnecessarily for clues or testimonies. All they need is an incident. When there is an incident they will start investigations and as they move along with that process they will find clues and testimonies.
But in Sri Lanka, this is happening the other way round. Here, victims have to appear before police and testify and provide clues. If things are happening in this manner, there is no point in feeding such a shameless ‘Police Department’ with millions of public money.
Tamil media has it worse than Sinhala media
The plight of Tamil journalists is even worse than that of the Sinhala journalists. Some of my friends who are working as Tamil newspaper editors have personally told me about the hardships they have to confront on a daily basis due to various factors. Their situation is pitiful and perilous. Journalism, for them, is a walk on a tightrope, between life and death. This situation was prevalent during the LTTE era but quite surprisingly it has not changed a bit even after the military defeat of the LTTE.
Pressure from all sides
During the period of war, their necks were squeezed by the LTTE. In the aftermath of war, Tamil journalists in Sri Lanka are pressurized by various groups and elements such as the EPDP and other Tamil political movements in North and East, the government and Tamil paramilitary groups connected to it, Army Intelligence units and perhaps the elements who represent the Tamil diaspora.
There were various instances where the distribution of newspapers in the north was obstructed by certain groups. Both the LTTE and the government forces were engaged in such two penny acts. The LTTE suspected that these journalists were supporting the government covertly in the same way the government suspected them about supporting the LTTE.
Trapped between lions and tigers
They were trapped somewhere in between the ’Lions’ and ‘Tigers.Even today, their situation remains the same. They cannot think or act independently. Sometimes they might be the only group of journalist in the world who confront such a dreadful situation. In Iraq, Afghanistan or any other country, the journalists are aware of the possible threats and flash-points. But in Sri Lanka, the situation is entirely different and you don’t have even a single clue about your ‘enemies’.
Apart from this, many groups and elements are reluctant to raise their voices on behalf of the Tamil journalists mainly because of the label that has pasted on them as ‘LTTE supporters’. So, anyone who speaks in favour of these handcuffed journalists will probably be named and defined as a ‘Pro-LTTE’er.This has silenced media and most of the civil movements from discussing matters pertaining to the Tamil media and journalists. I wonder whether there is a way to escape this unfortunate situation.
Risky armour
On the contrary, most of the LTTE leaders who carried out brutal attacks against civilians over the past two decade, have now become the pets of this regime. They are given all the privileges including ministerial, chief- ministerial portfolios and other benefits. Some of them serve as the advisers to the top officials of this government. Quite surprisingly, no one defines them as ‘Tigers’ just because now they have become lap-dogs and perhaps stake holders of this government. Still, no one understands the risk of this ‘amour’ but when they do, I am sure it will be too late.
All in all, we need to find a solution for all these problems. First of all, there should be unity within media circles pertaining to matters regarding the safety of journalists. Without taking this first step, there will be no way of ensuring media freedom in Sri Lanka. Not to mention the way the Egyptian state media personnel reacted when the then government of Egypt suppressed and curbed the people’s right to information in a decisive moment.
Turn those iron bars around
It indicated their frustration and disappointment with the functioning of the state media in Egypt. That can happen in Sri Lanka as well. We cannot believe that the media people in Sri Lanka are entirely happy about their working atmosphere. Most of them are carrying on their work just because they need a way to make ends meet. Now Kuhanathan is assaulted. But still, we have a role to play. All the journalists should rally around immediately to prevent repetitious attacks against media and journalists. If we do, then we will surely be able to turn those ‘iron bars’ the other way round.
A call to arms
The Free Trade Zone workers of Katunayake were strong enough to resist the blood-sucking pension scheme which was brought forward to siphon off their funds. Journalists have more power, energy and dynamism. So why can’t they come forward to stop these attacks? They should form a new movement which has the power and the strength to resist these attacks in an unshakable manner. Now it is high time to bring forth all our strength and say Mr President, ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.

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