For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
The Free Media Movement (FMM) is deeply concerned about the death threats made against TNL Chairman Shan Wickremesinghe and the network’s general manager, Sudath Jayasundara, by individuals with close connections to and business links with the government and demand that the authorities conduct a proper, in-depth investigation into the incident and bring the culprits to justice.
Wickremesinghe is a respected media professional and is credited with introducing television to Sri Lanka. Subjecting him to death threats and verbal abuse is contemptible and a further indication of the perils faced by people who work in the media, in an environment where media freedom is under serious threat.
Wickremesinghe, in a complaint lodged with the police, has identified a recent programme aired by Isira Radio, exposing the connection between the drop in the share market and the drug mafia in the country, as the most probable reason for the death threats. Isira Radio is part of the TNL network and has earned the respect of the media for frequently debating contentious issues that are of public concern. Subsequent to the airing of the programme, a number of prominent business persons with well-established connections to the government contacted Wickremesinghe and Jayasundara over the phone, criticized the programme and threatened to kill them for airing it.
Given the deteriorating media freedom situation in the country, where notorious politicians, high-profile government officials and various state-sponsored elements have carried out a number of attacks against media personnel and media houses in the past, it is alarming to note that even the private sector institutions and their top officials who have business and other links with the government, have resorted to using terror tactics to keep the media subjugated and docile.
The FMM believes that government attempts to suppress media freedom, and the prevailing culture of impunity where suspects are often given state patronage, has paved the way for situations such as death threats against media personnel by those affiliated with the government. The situation, the FMM believes, has also been exacerbated by the failure or unwillingness of law enforcement officials to properly investigate past attacks against the media or to bring culprits to book.
The FMM condemns the incident and demands that authorities conduct a proper investigation into the incident and ensure that neither Wickremesinghe nor Jayasundara are harmed or subjected to further threats.