For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
Not only the content but also the style of the propaganda issued by the state media is aimed at dulling the minds and discouraging independent thought within the nation, says the Asian Human Rights Commission’s Basil Fernando in a statement.
The result is that when immensely dangerous things happen to the community the people have learned to avoid any public discussion on these matters. Take for example, the instance the murder of the British tourist and the grievous bodily injury and sexual assault to this Russian partner. When the identification parade took place last Friday at the Tangalle Magistrate’s Court, according to a newspaper report, the witnesses could not identify any of the suspects. These included the chairman of a Pradesheeya Sabha, Sampath Vidanapathirana, a well know personality who could easily be identified. The silence of the witnesses comes as no surprise to anyone who knows how things happen in Sri Lanka now.
Take also the murder of a young girl and her mother at Kahawatte in the most brutal manner.
In any society where there is still dynamic thought, both events would have shocked everyone and there would have been a media frenzy. Such a frenzy adds vigour to the nation’s thinking process and the events of this type, if they happen at all generates a movement within a living society which tries to defeat the evil of silence.
However, in Sri Lanka there was no fuss raised either about the manner in which the investigation was conducted into the first case which became an international scandal. Similarly, there were no expressions of shame and disgust in any of the editorials of the journals in Sri Lanka. Nor were there any debates in the electronic media about what is happening to the witnesses that come before the courts.
This is important, not because the persons who suffered in this case are foreigners but also because similar things are happening in numerous cases in many of the courts. The two witnesses who were killed while pursuing complaints in torture cases; Gerard Perera and Sugath Nishanta Fernando are examples of the way in which witnesses are treated in Sri Lanka. The lesson is loud and clear! Coming to court to testify is a dangerous affair and the people simply do not want to take the risk of reporting what they have seen or heard.
It does not take a great deal of knowledge in criminal justice to understand that if witnesses do not want to testify then the courts cannot function. Criminal justice is an essential component in any civilised society. However, no criminal justice can exist if the witnesses are unwilling to come forward and give evidence.
However, the media are made to keep silent on matters that are vital to the nation. Many journalists who have tried to practice their profession as it should be practiced have paid for it with their lives. Many others have had to pay a heavy cost for doing so. Due to the cumulative effects of such violence, today many are not bold enough to report and talk about such matters in public. However, even if they were willing to do so, there would be hardly any place in the media to publish what they write or say.
Imposing silence on matters of public importance creates a brain dead nation. The death of the collective brain is quite visible even in the parliament itself where the most vital debates of the nation are supposed to take place. Today, no one expects that such debates would take place at all. A systematic attempt has been made to silence the spirit of debate in the parliament itself. Unfortunately, the very constitution has been manipulated in order to facilitate the quick passing of bills, even those relating to amendments to the constitution and the habit of debating constitutional affairs has become lost in Sri Lanka.
Why would any political regime want to create a brain dead nation? This should have been the issue that was discussed when the 64th anniversary of the independence of the country was celebrated. However, such celebrations have begun to lose their public significance and ceased to be dates on which the vital affairs of the nation are discussed by all.
Under these circumstances, the attempts by the opposition to launch a campaign to end lawlessness and for reinstituting democracy are to be welcomed. If this campaign is carried out with the seriousness that it deserves it would undoubtedly gather support from those, who in the past, have been ardently supporting the government because the depth of frustration over the absence of public debate is a feeling that is commonly shared. In the past, the opposition itself contributed to the creation of the brain dead nation. It is hoped that at least, at this late stage the moves by the opposition will be carried out with genuine effort and that the nation will begin to discuss its public affairs with the vigor that is required if the nation is to regain its ability to think again, the AHRC adds.