Threats against the media

(January 11, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The brutal killing of Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickrematunga and the brazen pre-dawn raid on the MTV/MBC complex is a reflection of the tough times journalists are going through.

While threats are not new to the media – many journalists have faced such intimidation in the past – the manner and professionalism in which these killers get about their job is a chilling reminder that journalists, mostly in the independent media, have to be awake and alert all the time.

While a probe is underway as to the assailants responsible for this act, the opposition and others are pointing the finger at the government – at least in the context of a total failure in the past, on many occasions of attacks on journalists and media institutions, to bring to book the culprits.
For many of us who took to journalism in the late 1970s, Lasantha was a young colleague in that era at the Sun and Weekend newspapers and subsequently the Island. He was a good, probing writer and amiable colleague. His death is a loss to all of us and the media fraternity at large.

While essentially the targets in the media are editors, political writers and military columnists for reporting on events that don’t please the powers-that-be, the mannar in which there is a spate of incidents of corruption, scams and scandals in the public and private sectors and concern by the culprits over the publicity given to these misdeeds means that in the not-too-distant future business writers too may not be spared.

With the global financial and economic crises slowly taking root in Sri Lanka, expectations are that many companies, particularly the smaller ones, are most likely to collapse and wind up in the coming months. Added to that would be large scale corruption that goes on as executives try to take whatever they can from companies going down the tube. The Golden Key Credit Card Co crisis is one example of how directors dipped into the ‘till’ to build their pot of gold from money invested by the public.
Threats to business writers on the other hand is nothing new as we at The Sunday Times FT too have had our share of threats while probing, searching and investigating scams in the state and private sectors.

In 2008 particularly, the corporate sector was rocked by a number of scandals and corrupt deals many of which were exposed through petitions before the Supreme Court. This is not the last of the scandals that we are seeing.

There are many more to to come as the economic crisis worsens and companies struggle to compete, let alone survive. Much of the information coming to the independent media is also through whistle-blowers, public-spirited citizens concerned about white collar crimes, that’s quietly growing in this country. On quite a few occasions the media has been tipped off – particularly in recent times – by employees in companies which own public assets and investments. Threats to the media have even shaken the World Bank which joined many others this week in condemning Lasantha’s killing. The Bank in a statement expressed grave concern about the growing incidents of violent attacks on the media in Sri Lanka, including the brutal killings of several journalists. It said a free and independent media is fundamental to the sustainable economic development of Sri Lanka.

The attacks also stunned the business community with the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce and the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry earlier in the week slamming the attack on the MTV/MBC complex at Pannipitiya.

However the lack of transparency in relation to the number of so-called investigations by state agencies into attacks on journalists and the media in the past will only, further alienate the media from the government.

Like it or not, the government has a responsibility towards protecting the media and journalists from attacks of this nature.
- Sri Lanka Guardian