For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins partners and affiliates in condemning a campaign of slander and vilification that has been launched against the leader of the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA) through state-controlled media.
The IFJ learns from sources in Sri Lanka that on March 22, the state-controlled ITN channel carried a news item claiming that it would soon be exposing a “traitor”, while showing pictures of Gnanasiri Koththigoda, president of the SLWJA in the background. The anchor-person referred to a number of journalists forced into exile by the climate of intimidation as “media traitors” and crudely suggested that Koththigoda was through his news reporting in Colombo, aiding the cause of secession espoused by sections of the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora.
The SLWJA is an IFJ affiliate of long standing. One of Koththigoda’s predecessors as SLWJA president, Poddala Jayantha, has been living in exile since January 2010 after suffering a brutal assault in June the previous year that has left him with permanent disabilities.
“We are shocked at the continuing violence of the rhetoric employed by government officials and the state-owned media outlets, despite the spirited protests of journalists within Sri Lanka”, said the IFJ Asia-Pacific.
As already noted, the rhetoric began escalating when Sri Lanka’s journalists began a campaign in January demanding accountability for attacks on the press during the country’s long civil war against Tamil separatism. It became shriller still after the U.N. Human Rights Council in March adopted a resolution censuring Sri Lanka for its failure to act against suspected war crimes during the last phase of the conflict.
The IFJ learns that Koththigoda on March 23, took up the matter of the threatening tone of ITN’s coverage with Sri Lanka’s Media Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardene. The minister then reportedly called up ITN’s director for news, Sudarman Raddeligoda, and obtained an assurance that the attacks would cease. Yet the attacks have continued according to IFJ sources in Sri Lanka.
“We learn that the ITN news director was an unsuccessful candidate for parliament on a ruling party ticket during the last general elections in Sri Lanka”, said the IFJ Asia-Pacific.
“His role in unleashing a torrent of abuse against courageous journalists speak up for the cause of national reconciliation, speaks of the complete demolition of institutional autonomy and independence in the atmosphere of triumphalism that has followed the end of the civil war”.
The IFJ urges the Sri Lankan authorities to restrain the strident voices being aired through ITN and other government-controlled media outlets.
“A drastic change in the tone of the engagement between the government and independent media is long overdue in Sri Lanka”, said the IFJ Asia-Pacific.
For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +612 9333 0950
The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 131 countries