For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
[TamilNet, Saturday, 23 October 2010, 02:31 GMT]
2009 recipient of the prestigious Peter Mackler Award, Tamil journalist J.S. Tissainayagma, who was incarcerated in Sri Lanka prison for his writing, and was unable to receive the award in 2009, spoke at the 2010 Award ceremony held Friday at 6:00 p.m. at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. Tissainayagam was announced as the Award’s first recipient on August 31, 2009, the same day he was convicted on terrorism charges relating to his work as a journalist. 2010 Mackler award winner is a 24-year old Russian, Ilya Barabanov, the deputy editor of the New Times, an opposition magazine in Russia. Tissainayagam was previously hailed by US President Barack Obama as an “emblematic example” of journalists who are persecuted for their craft.
Tissainayagam arrived in the U.S. in August 2010, and was met by his wife Ronnate who was in the U.S. working with human rights organizations including Reporters Without Borders to secure her husband’s release. Tissainayagam is currently a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University Journalism School in Boston.
Tissainayagam praised Barabanov’s work in Russia, and said that while Russia and Sri Lanka are countries with different culture and people, the threats journalists face in both countries are similar. Tissainayagam mentioned the names of Lasantha Wickremetunge, the editior of Sunday Leader who was bludgeoned to death on 8th January 2009, Mayilvaganam Nimalarajan, who was gunned down on 19th October 2000, and Prageeth Ekneligoda of Lanka E-News who disappeared on January 24 2010, and have not been located since, as stark evidence of journalist oppression in Sri Lanka.
Tissainayagam added that fellow journalists in countries outside authoritarian regimes are the main hope to keep the pressure on these governments spotlighting the dangers journalists face in those countries.
Tissainayagam said that the decreasing emphasis in investigative journalism in the U.S. and in other western countries due to the shortage of funds and support resources is a major concern for journalists. He cautioned that with focus mainly on countries where there is on-going war with the US, coverage of events in remote parts of the world will not receive the attention they deserve to the detriment of journalists living and working in these countries.
Barabanov addressed the gathering in Russian with live English translation.
Ilya Barabanov is deputy editor of Novoye Vremya (New Times) which has been the target of an attempted illegal search and a lawsuit by the Russian government. Barabanov, 24, has decried the aborted search & seizure of The New Times editorial offices. He charged that the search, carried out in connection with a case filed against the news weekly by the Russian interior ministerís OMON security forces, violated Articles 41 and 49 of the Russian Media Law.
Harvard website said the following about Nieman fellows on the program’s website: “Some have escaped harsh regimes where censorship, threats of torture and imprisonment, physical violence or worse is too often the fate of practicing journalists. The Nieman Foundation has provided a safe haven to some of these imperiled journalists, providing a nurturing environment of support and encouragement. International journalists now comprise half of all Nieman classes.”