Silence of the Sri Lankan media

: press officers who masquerade as journalists 

by Pearl Thevanayagam

(December 12, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) Commemorating human wrongs on World Human Rights Day yesterday (Dec.11) Sri Lankan journalists would do well to ponder on their own abyssmal record of pandering to their media organizations’ policies.

While there is much hue and cry over the President’s botched Oxford Union address and media having a field day the government actually won in the end in their propaganda machinery. The Island, Sunday Times, Daily Mirror and The Nation editorials in fact gave glowing tribute to the President while ignoring the proceedings of the LLRC where the most important human rights violations were being brought under scrutiny.

Every single journalist who works for these news groups while paying lip service to the LLRC (Lessons Learnt and reconciliation Commission) hearings in fact chose to exonerate the government from its total complicity in the war crimes. Yes, war crimes. Nothing more; nothing less. There is mounting evidence of torture, rape and wanton killings yet the journalists are heaping praise on the President and war generals that they wiped out terrorism.

Wikileaks revelation of the report sent by US ambassador Patricia Butenis, Channel 4 videos of rape, torture and close range shootings of civilians and LTTE suspects and evidence of survivors of the war are not figments of imagination. They are real.

John Pilger, Frontline Club ( Founded seven years ago with a trust left by Graham Greene, the wartime reporter in the thirties who covered Vietnam by his nephew Vaughn Smith) and other independent journalists are supporting Julian Assange who has been jailed on trumped up charges of espionage and sex offences.

The government managed to divert our media puppets’ attention on the President’s visit to London thus overshadowing the LLRC hearings. The drama then unfolded in parliament with Drs Karu Jayasuriya, Wickramabahu Karunaratne and Jayalath Jayawardena and the journalists missed the woods for the trees.

Granted our journalists are constrained by censorship, OSA (Official Secrets Act), PTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act) and ER (Emergency Regulations). But there is no need to air brush war atrocities with national sovereignty and territorial integrity and justifying the human wrongs committed and which still continue in different forms of state complicity such as incarceration of the war general Sarath Fonseka, intimidation of the Sunday Leader editor Frederica Jansz by a bumbling lawyer Nalin Laduwahetty, who instead of trying to find out if the civilians carrying white flags were shot at by the security forces wants to know what qualifications the editor has or whether she submitted an entry for a journalism award, white van abductions and murders and extra judicial detentions.

Then of course, cartoonist Prageeth Ekneliyagoda is still missing and fingers are definitely pointing at this government which managed to murder 17 journalists to date and 38 since 1990 including Isaipriya, the journalist from the LTTE who was stripped naked, raped and murdered in cold blood.

Just because journalists are paid a pittance barring those from the state media they should not stoop to cheque-book journalism or subservience to favoured politicians. Journalists who are being kept by the politicians should become press officers and if they are indeed honest about themselves they should do well to become copy writers where they could earn far better pay.

The Island is very adept at changing the subject by writing on the economy when confronted with breaking news on human rights and ditto for Sunday Times.

Media in the UK to some degree have certain constraints; BBC with its own policy while showing bias towards the ruling power and when Britain’s interests are at stake as when we saw Andrew Gilligan’s notebook which quoted Dr John Kelly revealing there were no WMD in Iraq. Gilligan was made to resign but the BBC chiefs also stepped down.

Will this ever happen in Sri Lanka? Not in this century. No boss of a media organization ever resigned on principle unless they are booted out with not so much as a bye bye and before they could take away their family photos on the mantelpiece as it happens at Lake House whenever the governments change.

Those media NGOs fighting for freedom of expression are branded as traitors and stooges of the West. In this climate media, the watchdog of civil liberties has been stripped of its power to make a change and is now only a puppet on the government’s string.

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