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Biriani, Arrack and Kassipu for 'Some' Journalists- part 2

"Free media’s greatest allies in the struggle for freedom of expression are those who will expose that kind of media, done through the kind of journalists that are represented by George Orwell’s character Squealer in Animal Farm."

The Asian Human Rights Commission

(September 24, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) We have received the following response to the statement we published on the above mentioned subject from a reputed professional who wishes to remain anonymous. In order to encourage further discussion on this subject, we publish this comment and invite further comments.

Perhaps some comments regarding this discussion are needed. Our complaint is not about the free media but about corrupt media, which is not free at all. As the examples given in our statement show, these other journalists lie blatantly in favour of authorities who have engaged in illegal activities such as extrajudicial killings, torture and corruption.

Corrupt media that engage in the lowest possible practices are not free media. Thus, if we do not make that distinction, we not understand how much people in the country, particularly those in the lowest strata of society, simply have contempt for the type of journalism that they witness. If free media needs to be built, it will have to win the confidence of a larger section of people. They must feel that harassment of journalists is costing them a lot. They must feel that they are deprived of something by the suppression of media.

However, in Sri Lanka, even at better times, people did not get the type of service that journalists in other countries do for their people. Even in a place like India, there are plenty of journalists who tell the people the truth. Just as an example, take the latest issue of Frontline India. The entire issue is on extrajudicial killings that are going on in various parts of India. While discussing the widespread use of extrajudicial killings, these journalists, through various sources, discuss such practices as encounter killings, which in Sri Lanka are known as self-defense killings of persons who mysteriously try to escape while in police custody. During the last decades, beginning from 1971, Sri Lanka has had an epidemic of extrajudicial killings. How much of actual journalistic work has been done and published in the local media on this most gruesome violation of the most basic rights? A closer study of many media outlets would expose that the editors of many newspapers supported these extrajudicial killings and, later, covered up all these stories in order to prevent any kind of inquiries. Without such inquiries, a rule of law system cannot survive. And this is what we face in Sri Lanka, a nation with an abysmal record of illegality.

Gulag Archipelago by Alexsander Solzhenizsyn and 1984 by George Orwell are two examples of what exposure of repression involves. This is a moral issue. If there aren’t a sufficient number of people who have the moral courage to expose the terrible vulgarity of their times and the great crimes against their people, there can never be free media.

The problem in Sri Lanka is that media has been divided on party lines. The type of media that exposes the actual realities is allowed only to the extent that they work within certain limits of the general prejudices shared by the media leadership itself. The media leadership in the country, expressed through newspaper owners and most of the editors, do not want to place before the country the tremendous destruction done to the entire system of rule of law and democracy by all the regimes which existed from 1972 onwards.

Today, much of what is called journalism has degenerated into the abandonment of ethics and the norms and standards of journalism. This is done not because of fear, but because there are so many “advantages” in bad journalism.

The responsibility lies with the media establishment, which cannot be unaware of what is going on. Today, this establishment is standing against media freedom. The enemies of journalists are this establishment. Take the case of journalists who have been killed, and even the case of JS Tissainayagam, who was sentenced for 20 years for publishing just two articles in a publication with limited circulation. What kind of fight was put by the media establishment on behalf of these people? And can the efforts made be justified as adequate, morally speaking?

When a relatively small criticism is made about journalists, some are disturbed. However, the enormous campaign carried out against civil society organizations, trade unions, and societies that represent the poor are done through the media itself. The media creates a new language that portrays all kinds of outrage as hypocrisy and humbug. A most comprehensive media strategy supporting repression is carried out in the same style as those described by Solzhenitsyn and George Orwell.

Free media’s greatest allies in the struggle for freedom of expression are those who will expose that kind of media, done through the kind of journalists that are represented by George Orwell’s character Squealer in Animal Farm. Therefore the free media must encourage criticism of the type of journalism that exists in the country. Such criticism does not assist the establishment in its repression of free media. Instead, it exposes the establishment’s manipulation of media and creates greater possibilities for journalists who genuinely want to represent and to recreate free media.

A reader’s response to “Biriani, Arrack and Kassipu for 'Some' Journalists”:

While I agree with you 100%, the problem is much worse. It is compounded by the preferential voting system, Executive Presidency, the ethnic conflict and the war, all of which grant an absolute state of impunity not only to military and state actors, but also to their minions and stooges such as the "Journalists" mentioned in the article. A few years ago, at the height of conflict, a friend of mine who was a journalist prior to entering the legal profession related this story to me. My friend, who still maintains his links with journalists, had been with his journalist friend one evening at a popular waterhole in Colombo. After a few shots of the favourite beverage, the 'journalist' had confided to my friend that they were a reporter with some pretension to dabbling in security matters, and reports regularly on security. However, whenever he is starved of anything to report on, he will simply write out something to the effect that -"Twelve (whatever the number that comes to his mind) highly trained suicide cadres of LTTE have during the past few weeks infiltrated the city of Colombo with the mission to kill a prominent Minister (or even some VIP higher than that)."

The result? On seeing this news item in the papers next day, the police and security forces swing into action and conduct cordon and search operations in the city and several innocent young persons from the Tamil community are arrested. And the news bulletins of the police/security forces have screaming headlines the following day - " Two hundred persons from Kotahena, hundred from Wellawatte, fifty from Grandpass, hundred and forty from Maradana , seventy two from Dehiwela and ninety five from Slave Island were arrested on suspected terrorist activities in a dawn to dusk swoop, upon reliable information recieved by the Intelligence unit." These youths will be detained for months and even years on false charges under The Emergency Regulations and Prevention of Terrorism Act. Parents and relatives have to dole out enormous amounts of money as bribes for the release, but the majority of them who are from indigent circumstances unable to pay for the release get convicted by courts solely based on forced confessions, for no fault of theirs. So much for the "reliable intelligence" and so much for the "mainstream journalist".
-Sri Lanka Guardian

1 comment

helaya said...

General public of sri lanka know who are genuine journalists?Some writers think they are so called journalists when attcking government always to get foreigen money in return.We have heap of experience from the Journos like Victor Ivan,Sunanda Devapriya and other western back licking writers.

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