By Colombo Telegraph –
Colombo Telegraph exclusively learns that the silence of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) on key media freedom issues including the Defence Secretary’s recent tirade against the Sunday Leader Editor and the sacking of Ceylon Today Editor in Chief Lalith Allahakkoon is a direct result of petty personal clashes and internecine politics within the media activist fraternity and individual journalists.
As the Sri Lankan media faces a new wave of media clampdowns and renewed intimidation from powerful elements within the Sri Lankan government, IFJ and its affiliate media activist groups are too deeply embroiled in internal politics and agenda pushing to effectively represent endangered scribes and media organizations in the country.
The Colombo Telegraph learnt that in a conversation with Uvindu Kurukulasuriya, a former Convenor of the Free Media Movement, South Asia Project Manager for IFJ, Sukumar Muralidharan said his organization would not be issuing a statement condemning the Defence Secretary’s recent tirade against Sunday Leader Editor Fredrica Jansz until the journalist patched up her relationship with the FMM and certain media activist groups in Colombo. “They (Sunday Leader) need to patch up their relationship and we cannot get involved in something that could alienate us from the affiliates,” he said.
Muralidharan was referring to the Free Media Movement of Sri Lanka and the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association which are affiliates of the IFJ.
“This is the same reason why we did not say anything on the Ceylon Today matter,” Muralidharan added. “Beyond a point, when there are serious disagreements between local groups, we cannot take a stand one way or the other,” he said, adding, “it only makes things worse.”
The Sunday Leader has recently published articles criticizing the alleged corruption of the FMM and the IFJ, while Hana Ibrahim, who profited directly from Allahakoon’s sacking by being appointed Editor in Chief of Ceylon Today, was a trustee of the FMM, contributor to the IFJ and Sri Lanka Representative for the New York based Committee to Protect Journalists. Following a statement released by the FMM on Allahakkoon’s sacking, Ibrahim tendered her resignation to the FMM. Reports say she made consistent efforts to prevent the FMM from issuing a statement in reaction to her predecessor’s sacking and resigned when massive pressure from civil society and other sections of the media forced the group to make a statement, one week after the incident.
When it was pointed out that both the FMM and the SLWJA had issued statements relating to the summary dismissal of Ceylon Today Editor in Chief Lalith Allahakkoon on an editorial independence issue and the Frederica Jansz – Gotabhaya issues, Muralidharan said he was not aware of the “stand” taken by his affiliates on the issue. “The problem appears to be that there is very little communication now,” he said. Meanwhile IFJ has issued a statement regarding Sri Lanka’s press freedom on another issue some time in between the Ceylon Today and Jansz issue.
However Colombo Telegraph reliably learns that IFJ and Muralidharan are to meet both FMM Convenor Sharmini Boyle and FMM Secretary Sunil Jayasekera next month in Nepal.
After Kurukulasuriya pointed out IFJ affiliates in Sri Lanka did issue statements, Muralidharan changed his defensive arguments saying; Sunday Leader Editor Fredrica Jansz and the FMM were not “on the best of terms in recent times.” He said that Hana Ibrahim, Sharmini Boyle and Sunil Jayasekera and others of the FMM had registered strong resentment over Jansz’s recent articles, attacking the organization.
Asked if that meant IFJ and FMM did not support critics even when they were being threatened and intimidated for their work as journalists, the IFJ South Asia Project Manager responded that “there is a lot of baggage… in terms of the legal cases going on between the Sunday Leader and the defence secretary.” He added that he felt that the Sunday Leader story regarding SriLankan Airlines could have been run without the phone calls being made to the Defence Secretary.
“I have no problem with journalists being provocative when they’re interviewing people in power … but in this case, the consequences could have been predicted,” the IFJ Representative said.
With regard to the Ceylon Today issue that was largely ignored by the IFJ despite reaction from RSF and other groups, Muralidharan said Ibrahim has been a “valuable contributor” to IFJ activities in Sri Lanka. “No just IFJ but I believe she has worked with CPJ also and has a lot of respect in press freedom circles,” he said.
“We are a membership organisation. We go by members’ perceptions on all issues. If there are issues on which member organisations are undecided or divided, we do not rush into making a statement,” Muralidharan added, responding to questions as to whether the media watchdogs were playing politics on key issues.
The internecine wars and agendas within the media activist fraternity in Sri Lanka was further highlighted earlier this week when UNP MP Mangala Samaraweera wrote to CPJ Asia Pacific Coordinator Bob Dietz expressing disappointment over the editorial conduct of its Sri Lanka Representative – also Ibrahim. “It is appalling that the supposed watcher of attempts to endanger the lives of scribes has descended to the level of not only branding the work of these journalists as “scurrilous and defamatory” but in justifying the government action against these websites, lends credence and legitimacy to the regime’s campaign of media oppression and stifling dissent. If journalists and media outfits must now fear reprisal and attack from its own fraternity and more specifically media activists tasked with ensuring journalists’ safety, what recourse will they have? If this pro-oppression position is Ms. Ibrahim’s own, why does she continue to wear the misleading garb of media activist and campaigner for free expression?” Samaraweera said in an impassioned appeal to Dietz.
In his letter Samaraweera charges that Ceylon Today is making a strong case for the state crackdown on the Sri Lanka Mirror and Sri Lanka X News websites.
Colombo Telegraph learns that CPJ has responded to the opposition MP to assure him that they take the matter seriously and would be investigating further.
Referring IFJ Asia pacific director Jacqueline Park, in her article last June Frederica Jansz wrote ; Not only did Deshapriya admit to misappropriating project fund allocated to the Centre for Policy Alternatives which he says he used to purchase an air ticket for Jacqueline Park, Director of IFJ Asia-Pacific, but he is also under investigation for spending over half a million rupees for a six-night stay at Heritance Hotel Kandalama during a workshop, when the duration of the event in question was only 3 days.
Deshapriya’s extended stay at Kandalama from July 7 – 13 last year which cost over half a million bucks, included costs incurred by Jacqueline Park, her husband, Christopher Warren and their children whose hotel bills were all paid out of funds allocated for a conference on an ‘Advanced Module in Writing Training.’ (It was subsequently learnt that Christopher Warren did not accompany his family on this occasion.) Park and her family reside in Australia and are long standing personal friends of Deshapriya……….. The fact of the matter is however that Park is not only implicated in abusing project funds by extending her stay together with her family at a boutique style hotel in Kandalama, but also, according to Deshapriya’s own admission, Park is party to having accepted that her air ticket for her trip to Sri Lanka in November 2007 to attend the Public Service Media prize giving was paid out of funds allocated to the Centre for Policy Alternatives for a separate project.
Exposing IFJ and FMM corruption Uvindu Kurukulasuriya wrote in Sunday Leader ; At the time I became the Convenor in May 2008, FMM was involved in two major projects, one was the above-mentioned Human Right Programme funded by the EU and the other was Public Service Media (PSM), funded by the Norwegians (run by IFJ and five media organisations) Sunanda was the project head at the FMM. Manjula Wediwardena, Athula Vithanage and Ravi Chandralal were the project staff. At one meeting IFJ’s Jacqueline Park told them that when they organise islandwide training programmes, to conduct the HR workshops and PSM workshops on same day, same place for the same participants and get the two bills from the hotels!! In other words, she asked them to forge one invoice and forge the participants’ signature list. Sunanda and Park were obviously planning to cheat two different donors. Someone informed me of their plan and I told Sunanda to stop it. Sunanda then shouted angrily at Wediwardena and Vithanage, accusing one of them of having told me since he trusted Chandralal. Wediwardena at this point, said that we had trained journalists on corruption and journalism last year. He pointed out this was corruption and asked how we can ask for invoices from hotels?