For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
The World Press Freedom Day – May 3 2012 –will remain a black day in the history of media freedom in Sri Lanka, the resplendent and blessed isle.
Self-acclaimed champions of media freedom who obtained millions of dollars or Scandinavian Kroners to set up their own organisation to preserve media freedom, train poor journalists and make them independent, fearless writers free from state influence want to be a strong voice have decided to back the MahindaRajapaksaGovernment. They have sent feelers privately. Publicly, it became as clear as it could be this week.
These champions, once respected editors, publishers and a video cameraman (who spends more time at Temple Trees than his own house) leads all of them by the nose. Because they did not want to take the path walked by state media, with the millions of Kroners they received, they purchased property and equipment. These elite Brahmins belong to the print media. They have money. They bought expensive video and radio broadcast equipment to train radio and TV journalists. None in the mainstream television or radio organisation in the country is represented or involved in their activities. This is used to canvass for more foreign funds. Annually they spend millions for an awards ceremony where Black Label whisky flows faster than the Kelani River. To a few young scribes, their baptism in imbibing Johnny Walker comes at that show. Go to the Mount Lavinia Hotel in July and you can see it. Selectors know to give awards to buddies of the elite group. Prominent publicity is given only in one media group, or maximum two.
Thursday, they marked the World Press Freedom Day in the luxuriously furnished auditorium of the Sri Lanka Press Institute (SLPI). Among the speakers was Mohan Samaranayake, Chairman of Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation. He got that post after defaming UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon when he was serving as Information Officer at the UN Office in Colombo. He was told to leave. RajpalAbeynayake, a lawyer and Editor of the Lakbima News. He became a Rajapaksa faithful after a UNP lawyer slapped him at the lawyers’ annual voet lights dinner for allegedly casting abuse. Mr.Abeynaike is not only a journalist. He was also a member of the Sri Lanka delegation to the Geneva United Nations Human Rights Council where they adopted a resolution against Sri Lanka sponsored by United States. He wore around his neck his official photo identity with picture et all to confirm this.
MessersSamaranayake and Abeynaike did what was expected of them. They took to shreds the foreign media. It has remained on the cross hairs of government politicians. Who should praise them? BandulaJayasekera, Director General of the President’s Media. He tweeted that diplomats present at the SLPI “went red” at the remarks made by the two gentlemen. Jayasekera also told a Presidential Secretariat staffer that Canadian High Commissioner Bruce Levy did not know where to hide his face.
It looked like everything worked according to the script. The choreographer worked overtime at Temple Trees and executed his contract without any hassle.
Still, it did not end there. BBC correspondent in Colombo, the gutty Charles Havilland (Charlie) sought an interview with Samaranayake. He asked why his SLRC branded local journalists who covered the Human Rights Council meeting “traitors” and carry out a “vicious campaign.” Samaranayake dodged it saying he was not aware of such a thing. Not one champion for media freedom stood out at the auditorium when MessersSamaranayake and Abeynayake spoke. The two nayakes got away.
Other than a handful of the elite who run the SLPI and their various institutions, it is not surprising that even private media groups are suspicious. This is why the Leader Publications are not members. This is why another newly emerged private group flatly refused to join the Brahmins. Their owner said that one of the elitist members had canvassed and even bribed newspaper venders not to sell his publications when they came into the market. They now have a foothold and have been invited. The publisher has said that he would, in time to come, expose the hypocrisy of the elite group and their activities. Kroners not only help lead good lives, but also provides a platform for disinformation. That is press freedom on a World Press Freedom Day.