For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
A collective of media rights groups is scheduled to stage a massive protest, Black January, tomorrow in Colombo against attacks on journalists. All right-minded people will readily pledge their solidarity with the campaigners for media freedom and protection of journalists. The past few years have seen a spate of attacks on the media. Journalists have been intimidated, assaulted, abducted and murdered; media institutions have been set on fire. But, none of these incidents have been investigated properly and therefore naturally the government stands accused of being involved in them. That the perpetrators of such crimes cannot go scot free without political backing is common knowledge. It is heartening that media rights activists have, albeit belatedly, opted for shock therapy.
But, is it possible for one to consider January the cruellest month for journalists? True, The Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickrematunga was killed in January, 2009. The killers are still at large and investigations into his brutal murder committed in broad daylight have been hushed up to all intents and purposes. Pressure must be brought to bear on the Rajapaksa government to bring his killers to justice. But, several journalists have been assaulted or killed during other months as well. Why shouldn’t those months also be considered ‘black’?
Tomorrow’s protest has been organised, according to a BBC report, against attacks on media personnel in the recent years. One is intrigued. What about journalists killed and media institutions attacked under previous governments? Selectivity in condemning attacks on journalists may erode the credibility of media rights campaigners on a noble mission. Each and every attack on journalists and media institutions must be condemned unreservedly, regardless of the year of its occurrence and no room left for politicians responsible for crimes against the media in the past to masquerade as champions of media rights by shedding crocodile tears for journalists at present.
Some media rights groups usually make a mockery of their commemorative events by having as invitees some bankrupt politicians who suppressed the media while in power. It was only recently that we had some Opposition bigwigs who not only condoned violence against the media but also sought to justify the killing of Richard de Zoysa under the Premadasa government, sharing the platform with media rights activists to condemn Lasantha’s murder and thereby gain some political mileage. With such friends, journalists need no enemies!
It behoves the media rights groups fighting quite a battle against tremendous odds to protect journalists, press freedom and democracy to sever links, if any, with foreign organisations and governments with a history of harbouring and sponsoring the LTTE responsible for many civilian massacres, political assassinations, suppressing democracy and killing journalists. Anyone who has been aiding and abetting terrorists who committed crimes against innocent men, women and children cannot be considered a friend of the media.
Black January is happening in the run-up to a crucial UNHRC session in Geneva, where some western governments sympathetic to the LTTE are expected to renew their call for an international war crimes probe against Sri Lanka. However, the government will not be able to distract the attention of the discerning public from the serious allegations being levelled against it by claiming that the media rights groups are trying to give a boost to the on-going anti-Sri Lankan campaign spearheaded by some western governments and international human rights groups.
The government is left with no alternative but to investigate attacks on journalists and media institutions and bring the perpetrators to justice. Lame excuses and patriotic outpourings won’t do.
IS/ January 23, 2012