For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
By Udara Soysa in New York
Bob Dietz (CPJ)
Bob Dietz, the Asia Programme Coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists in an interview with The Sunday Leader stated that Sri Lanka’s media policy is an embarrassment to the entire nation.
He was highly critical of the role of Attorney General Mohan Peiris. The lack of government response to Sandhya Eknaligoda’s call for help in dealing with the disappearance of her husband Prageeth is more than unconscionable. Expressing concerns also about cyber censorship, he stated the CPJ deplores “the crude shutting down of websites, which is evidence of surveillance of email traffic.”
Q: How do you see the current trends of media freedom in Sri Lanka?
A: We don’t see much of a ‘peace benefit’ for the media now that the war has ended. The administration seems intent on stifling criticism, there have been no prosecutions in any of the attacks on journalists or media institutions since President Rajapaksa has been in high office, the situation looks pretty much as it did during the worst of the civil conflict.
The lack of government response to Sandhya Eknaligoda’s call for help in dealing with the disappearance of her husband Prageeth is more than unconscionable — at this point it is a simply craven on the part of the authorities from President Rajapaksa down to the district police level. It’s shameful. It’s an embarrassment to the entire nation. I personally single out Attorney General Mohan Peiris for this — when CPJ met with him in February, we asked him to at least extend some consolation, if not actual assistance, to Sandhya.
He gave us a sympathetic response, but he has done nothing. As with the rest of the government and the civil service, she and her two sons have not had one word of condolence, let alone explanation. AG Peiris’s hardhearted response is a personal moral failure on his part as much as it is a failure on the part of the government in which he serves. I understand he is in line to become a Supreme Court justice. Sri Lanka will be a poorer place if that comes to pass.
Q: What do you think of the recent attack on Siyatha TV station?
A: That attack, which we denounced, seems politically tied – a way for anti-Fonseka people to strike back at the owners of the station and the rest of its network. It doesn’t seem linked to the station’s
editorial position, but rather to its owners’ political ties, particularly in the recent presidential election.
Q: How do you see the situation of law and order in the country?
A: The conflict has ended, terrorist attacks are a thing of the past. But for CPJ’s concerns, we see an intimidated media. There are still scores of exiled journalists — not, by any means, all of them Tamil — fearful of returning home, fearing they could be attacked or victimised like some of their colleagues. The government has refused to address that, and it seems from their inactivity that they are actually happy with the situation.
Q: What are your concerns about internet censorship in the country?
A: We see the crude shutting down of websites, evidence of surveillance of email traffic. But the real threat to governments in many other countries — the move to other digital platforms, mobile phones and the like — is the next challenge. They are all scuffling to find a way of stifling that way of communicating. Sri Lanka isn’t there yet, but we have to assume that will be the next step.
Q: What is your biggest concern regarding Sri Lanka?
A: For Sri Lanka’s media, that they remain under the same threat they did while the country was mired in conflict. This government shows no intention of easing its anti-media policies. Its hard line response to criticism threatens to drive away from the international community. It seems like its desire to remain in power — and stifling the media is a big part of that tactic — will over ride any commitment to democratic rule.
Q: What are the positive developments you see in Sri Lanka?
A: The media, despite the pressure on it, continues to present some form of a reality check. But it is under a tremendous amount of pressure, and I worry about its survival.
Q: What is your request to the Sri Lankan authorities?
A: End your anti-media policies, welcome back exiled journalists and, extend protection to those that need protection.