FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION SRI LANKA

For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya

Media attacks in ‘Wonder of Asia’

DISSENT is not disloyalty. Yet, time and again it is treated so. In most instances the people to pay that price are journalists and the latest in a long line is the Uthayan News Editor who was attacked and is currently in a  critical condition.

A senior journalist of Jaffna’s leading newspaper, he was mercilessly attacked on Friday night by two armed men with iron rods. Gnanasundaram Kuhanathan, 58, News Editor of the Uthayan, was attacked when he was walking back to his Navalar Road residence, which is about 500 metres from the Uthayan office at Kasturiyar Road. According to reports, he was living at the office from 2006 to 2010 because he feared for his life, but after the war, returned to live with his family amid assurances from the Government.

The Uthayan newspaper and its staff have come under attack on more than 10 occasions with at least six deaths, including those of two journalists during the past 11 years. Therefore, it is gross negligence on the part of authorities to repeatedly ignore requests to provide Police security for the newspaper and its staff. Despite the repeated incidents of intimidation, no arrests have been made in connection with these attacks.

As the news sent shockwaves among the democracy-loving community, President Mahinda Rajapaksa had commissioned a full report on the attack. However, it is sad to note that such mundane and reactive action is repeated in incident after incident with no meaningful results. It seems that the ‘procedure’ is to order a report which is duly handed over before the entire matter is ignored and allowed to gather dust. In this instance, at the very least, the report should be made public.
What would be far more inspiring is for the politicians to actively support the investigation and bring it to a successful conclusion by capturing the offenders and ensuring that they are punished according to the law. Paying lip service to democracy and issuing statements do little good to anyone and certainly nothing constructive has happened in the investigations into the numerous attacks and killings that the media industry has endured for years. Their loyalty to their profession is paid with death.
Topped with the murder of The Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge, the long list of threats, attacks and killings of local media continue to grow as the Government turns a blind eye. This gross indifference has resulted in the fourth estate being unable to function to its full potential and having to struggle under a multitude of challenges.

It is indeed ironic that this attack happened less than a week after the best in the media field were crowned at the annual Editor’s Guild awards. It is a stark reminder of the reality that every journalist faces every day and the complete vulnerability under which they operate. For them loyalty comes at a high price.

A week ago elections were held and the Government repeatedly crowed about how it had re-established democracy in the north after the lapse of 30 years. Is this the symbol of that democracy? If freedom and basic rights are assured, then why is a courageous journalist seriously injured? Why is the Uthayan newspaper not allowed to display its views freely? Why can it not be loyal by pointing out the mistakes made by those in power?

High per capita income, smooth roads and plush buildings do not make a democracy. A Games Village in Hambantota and a Shangri-la in Galle Face does not make for the ‘Wonder of Asia’. The yardstick for a prosperous country is also measured in the freedom that its people enjoy. That is what is due from the Government for their loyalty.

Daily FT

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