The threats posed to the life of Nimalka Fernando – a well-known trade unionist, political activist and a human rights defender – by the commercial channel of the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation on 4th November 2013, is yet another instance of the stark and blatant abuse of the State Media to intimidate, harass and humiliate a person, purely due to political reasons
The full text of the complaint which Ms. Nimalka Fernando has made to the Inspector General of Police in Sri Lanka and other Sri Lankan authorities is reproduced below.
The manner in which the State media has been abused – in this instance by the Chairman of the state media corporation himself – demonstrates that no moral, nor ethical standards of any kind whatsoever is no longer being respected and in fact all such norms and standards are being openly flouted by the entire state media apparatus in Sri Lanka. This kind of broadcasting is a disgrace to any media institution anywhere in the world. However, such disgraceful abuse is now the general and the usual practice of the Sri Lankan State Media. This could happen only with the complete approval of the Government of Mahinda Rajapaksa. Why a government that should – as one of its prime responsibilities – to uphold a moral and ethical ethos conducive to a social order and to maintain civilized standards, allows its very own media to descend into these lowest realms is itself indicative of the crisis of governance that has come to prevail in Sri Lanka. What the State media manifests with these actions is the culture of sheer street thuggery and the most despicable of habits that only criminals would resort to.
The sad aspect is that such behavior is not merely a manifestation of the perverseness on the part of particular individuals resorting to such practices but is by now a well-established political style and norm in the country. It is not the political style of a Government that strives to uphold an ethos of decency at all costs but rather a political style that is meant to rouse the worst instincts of in worst elements of the society.
What is the benefit a Government can achieve in allowing its own media to de-generate to such abysmal depths? Surely, the benefits cannot be those promoting rational discourse and harmony among the people but instead the whole exercise is directed towards the generation of fear on the one hand and the arousal of the worst institutions among the listeners, on the other. In short, by resorting to such media practices the Government itself has become the instigator of violence .
In all the societies in the world, the States try its utmost to develop the type of a societal ethos where violence is abhorred and where polite discourse is promoted and encouraged. On the one hand these Governments develop their systems of monitoring and overseeing to prevent the societies being exposed to media practices that bring down the moral and ethical ethos of such societies. There are methods of controlling discipline which will ensure that no room is allowed for such abuses and at the same time fosters better media practices which encourages active rational discourse and creates an ethos within which peaceful exchange of ideas – however critical and controversial in nature they may be – are made possible. Such strivings by the Governments to maintain acceptable standards leads then to a selection process by which those journalists and broadcasters who are capable of raising the quality of their services are sustained and those who go in the opposite direction are pushed out of the system.
Ugly And Despicable
However, the Government of Sri Lanka pursues a completely a different kind of policy within the State Media. Which results contrarily, in those who are capable of doing the most ugly and despicable acts which have the most negative effects in the society are maintained raised to the highest level in the system and those who represent the better side and whom add value to the profession – do not want to stay nowhere near the State Media institutions let alone being pushed out.
No Room for Justifiability
What makes the situation worse is that there is no room for justifiability whatsoever, on these matters, any more in Sri Lanka. The law suits containing allegations against the State Media – which have been in the recent past, brought up by some prominent lawyers on Contempt of Court, are all now being hushed up. Anyone who attempts to pursue justice are being punished. The obstacle created for justiciability is again a method of opening the floodgates of dirt, slander and abuse through the media institutions.
So we ask the question, where does Sri Lanka stand now, on the issue of civilization? If the State itself is involved in crushing the civilization which the State is entrusted to protect , what little possibility exists within such a society to defend decency and basically what chance is there of protecting a human ethos.
This instance of another attack of the lowest type by the State Media in Sri Lanka should again be an occasion for the Sri Lankan society to take a look in the mirror. Where are we descending to?
The Asian Human Rights Commission fervently condemns this attack on Nimalka Fernando and asks the President himself to scrutinize the state of his own government’s State Media.
The Statement made to IGP
Events leading up to death threats to Nimalka Fernando and other human rights defenders and political activists
On 25th October Ms. Maheesha Mudugamuwa of the Island newspaper asked me to comment on three questions — The report of the health ministry which indicated that there are over 40,000 sex workers, my views related to abortion and increase of AIDs patients in Sri Lanka. She posed these questions one by one.
Commenting I appreciated the categorization used by the health authorities saying this will help protect the sex workers who are normally harassed under the Vagrance Ordinance of Sri Lanka which should be abolished. I also informed her not to use the word prostitution since the reporter continued to use this terminology. I told her that as a women’s rights activist I do not use the word prostitution. I also called for the abolition of abortion laws in Sri Lanka and called for safe sex and promoting a more protective reproductive health approach in Sri Lanka. I also emphasized that in view of the GOSL promoting Casino based economic ventures and a leisure industry there has to be protection since with all this we have to understand that sex industry will creep into Sri Lanka. She wrote her article with the caption ‘Call for Legalising Prostitution’ for the newspaper on 27th October. Following this article another reporter from the Mawbima (the Nation) asked for a clarification and he too wrote an article with the caption Legalise Prostitution’. These two newspaper articles became the centre piece of the debates in few newspapers while those for and against initiated a public debate. I am attaching the Island news report. The link to Ceylon Today Protecting the sex workers Link: http://www.cevlontodav.Ik/59. 46646-news-detail-protecting-the-sex-workers.html
Several FM channels got me to clarify my statement and I also had an opportunity to engage in a public debate over one of the FM channels with the Secretary of the JHU (Buddhist monk lead political party in Sri Lanka) since they issued a press statement related to my position attacking me of destroying culture and traditional norms of Sri Lanka. I valued this debate since we had a good discussion and he never threatened me even though I had expected a virulent debate.
Several days later one of the TV Channels Hiru which belongs to the brother of one of the UPFA Member of Parliament (Duminda Silva who is one of the accused of the murder of Bharatha Lakshman a senior UPFA politician in October 2011) requested me to give few comments under their segment titled HARD TALK. Of course some questions were very personal but I answered them straight. I also listened to this segment which was relayed on Sunday 3 November during the main news bulletin.
On 4th Monday morning I began to receive many calls in the morning informing me that there is a radio programme in the SLBC which is using my voice cut and making derogatory statements and using words like ‘must eliminate her’. The callers were so agitated that I was compelled to switch on the radio. This was around 9.00 am. The above is the synopsis of the complaint I forwarded to the Human Rights Commission and the Inspector General of Police requesting (a) for an inquiry and investigation for committing a criminal offence (b) violation of my fundamental rights (c) requesting that the tapes be secured for proof since this will provide information of the callers and their telephone numbers.
Threats against Nimalka Fernando’s life and other human rights defenders through state media lB Reference: IMP/PAC/O/1140/13(Police Complaint Number)
The radio programme titled Rata Yana Atha (The way country is forging ahead) broadcasted in the Commercial Channel of the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation on 4th November 2013 was based on a voice cut given by me to the Hiru TV to be relayed in the HARD TALK segment during the daily news bulletin. I had listened to the original version of the HARD TALK relayed on Sunday 3 of November by HIRU TV.
On 4th November morning I received several telephone calls from friends and relatives stating that a statement made by me to HIRU TV is being used in a radio programme of the SLBC in an improper manner including causing threat to my life. According to them what was said in this programme was going to cause a real danger to my life.
Since the telephone calls received were of serious nature taking note of their concerns I decided to switch on the radio to listen to this particular programme around 9.00 am on the 4th. I listened to the programme for about 30 minutes. What I heard was so violent, defamatory and stressful and I had no mental strength to continue to listen any further. The synopsis of what I heard is given below:
The main title of the Programme was ‘Stoning the Sinner Woman’
Broadcast: Sections of what I said in the Hard Talk interview
‘59 years old…divorced….serving 30 organisations…about Rs 100,000…since 1989 carried tales….’
From the studio voice of Mr Hudson Samarasinghe Chairman of the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation
“See what she has done”
Then calls were taken. I am writing only what I remember though much more abusive and defaming statements were made by the callers, Mr Hudson Samarasinghe and a person called Gayan who was present in the studio as the compeer of the programme:
Call 1: “We cannot allow persons like Nimalka Fernando to live in this society”
Call 2: “We use insecticides to eliminate the spread of mosquitoes. Some mosquitoes develop a resistance to such spray. These people are like that. We have to find a method to destroy them.”
Call 3: “If we do something to them the government will be blamed by the human rights people. We should use a lorry and cause an accident.”
Call 4: “There is something call cleaning in the army. Mr Gotabaya knows this. We should hand her over to the cleaning system.”
Call 5: “Chairperson, today you have started a good activity. Continue this upto March 2014 and begin to deal with the NGO clan one by one.”
While callers were making such statements Mr Hudson Samarasinghe was actively involved in supporting the ideas expressed to eliminate me. The words he used welcomed such ideas as well as endorsed them. The person called Gayan too (present in the studio) joined him agreeing to the ideas and facilitated the calls.
Most of the callers were men. During the 30 minutes at least 3 of them identified themselves as those who had served the armed forces and retired. Another caller said that he has a friend who was injured during the war.
Some callers also mentioned names of Vickramabahu and Lal Kantha who are political leaders in Sri Lanka who have expressed fearlessly their positions publicly. They were of the view that ‘the society has not taken action against them’.
Mr Hudson Samarasinghe who is the Chairman of the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation did not stop the callers from making offensive and derogatory statement nor spreading such violent ideas against me. He did not disassociated himself from these comments which called for my annihilation. I heard a caller referring to me as a prostitute. The Chairperson of the SLBC encouraged all these comments and further encouraged openly defamation and my annihilation.
The totality of this programme is the creation of a dialogue through a government media to destroy my life.