19 October, 2017

Lasantha Had Courage

By Malinda Seneviratne –

Malinda Seneviratne

Greetings to the organizers and my fellow panelists.  I participate with the full knowledge that the organizers have been at the receiving end of criticism from all quarters, those I consider friends and those who would consider me adversary.  I am aware, also, that friends and colleagues though my fellow panelists are, they roughly fall into a single camp. I am an outsider, in that sense.  But I believe, still, that our commonalities outweigh our differences.

Media has a role in all societies. Media can be effective in a positive way and it can be destructive and divisive too.  The pen, to use the old metaphor, is not always innocent.  Pens are frequently agenda-driven and used in defense and in attack, by governments and those opposed to governments, those who want to protect regime and those who want regime-change, those who prop systems and those who wish system-change.  It would lovely indeed if media was always pro-people, but in the real world media says ‘pro-people’ but by omission and commission act in ways that go against popular sentiment.   Self-righteousness is cheap.  Self-reflection, self-criticism, expensive.

Let us talk about media and Sri Lanka.  It is not the best of times, ladies and gentlemen, let me assure you this.  My fellow panelists will elaborate on this, I am sure.  We can do an enumeration exercise but I think it is better to touch on the issues that are too often skirted around, again for politico-ideological reasons.

It is not the worst of times either.  We’ve lived through worse.  That however is no consolation.  All it means is that we can get better.  Today, however, technology has provided us instruments that can best the most pernicious of censorship mechanisms.  We must understand, however, that technology can be used and abused and that technology can both minimize realities as well as inflate falsehoods.  That kind of truth-cooking is not the preserve of governments.  Indeed spin and twist can be off-shored and this happens frequently too.

Governments are made of politicians. Politicians are about power, wanting power, wanting to retain power, fear of losing power.  Such people are wary of criticism.  It doesn’t help when criticism is selective, partial, mischievous and agenda-driven. That is no excuse for censorship or stifling of media freedom.  I firmly believe that while freedom of expression is eminently open to abuse to the point that it can trigger outcomes that are bloody and ultimately antithetical to the larger interests of the citizenry, it is a better proposition than its suppression.

In Sri Lanka, there is state media and there is private media.  Then there is the internet and social media where self-regulation, ethics, responsibility, balance and other things we speak of when we talk about the media are nice to have but rarely obtained.   In Sri Lanka, private media is not politically neutral.  Major media houses are owned by people close to the President.  Others are owned by people whose political loyalties lie elsewhere. It is the same when it comes to news and comment based websites.  Everyone will try to claim neutrality, but few really are.

We all work within parameters of ideological orientation, institutional policy, outcome-preference and so on.   I am sure my fellow panelists would not disagree.  So how do we become better? How do we ensure that what we do is about truth and not about slant?  How do we obtain integrity?

We are constrained by the fears, arrogance, self-righteousness and readiness to silence of Governments, state agencies, state officials, our bosses in private media stations (owners and editors included) and by our own preferences – the outcomes we work towards and the preferences for individuals, organizations and ideologies.  Let us accept this reality.

We can talk past one another, we can be self-indulgent, navel-gaze, be selective and opt for monologues.  We can dialogue too.  We can protest, wave banners, carry placards, organize and participate in marches, submit petitions.  We can take the risks of becoming pawns.  We may win some, but we may also lose.  We can also write. We can speak. We can be the media.

I believe that the challenge is not to find ways of improving the relationship between government and media, but to do our jobs to the best of our ability.  The trick is not to limit ourselves to lamenting and screaming about the fact that we operate within parameters but finding ways to operate at the perimeters of constraint and push those limits outwards.

If things are to get better – and I believe they can – then we have to privilege certain things.  Here’s a list.

Courage.  Honesty – and this means being open about biases and preferences and a conscious decision not to pretend to be neutral.  Creativity – for there’s always a way around and through censorship.  Humility – because we are never perfect.  Lasantha, who we are remembering here, was creative. Lasantha had courage.

Thank you.

Note – Re-posted after the event

Note – This content is removed upon request by Malinda; we will re-post tonight after the event is done’.

*Malinda’s presentation to the Sri Lankans Without Borders (SLWB) event on the Lasantha Wickrematunge Memorial Lecture.

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Latest comments

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    true Lasantha had courage and guts which you dont man!

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      Indeed Lasantha was courageous and creative – MS is neither! His poetry is pretty pathetic – on par with sis’s romances with sinhala villages in times of trouble..!

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      Lasantha was unbowed and unafraid.
      M.SeneViRotten is bowed cowed and sells his posterior for a laptop and other perks.
      Lasantha will be remembered and respected for many years to come by real journalists and those who value truth and freedom of speech.
      M.SeneviRotten will be remembered as long as the RajaPoxsa dictatorship lasts and after that he will either have to seek exile in the west he likes to hate or start sucking up to the new government in power.

      Lasantha was the watchdog of the nation.
      M.SeneviRotten is nothing but a government lapdog.

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      Hello Mr/Ms Probono Publico you are questioning Malinda hiding behind a pseudonym, what a shame. Grow up!!

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        anney namal akki/nona/aunty/archi im not talking about using pseudonyms nor did i say im gutsy!

        im refering directly to Malinda boy licking the Govts wrongdoing all the time which lasantha never did and stood up,thats where the courage and guts come girl!

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          Those who are using pseudonyms in making publicly sensitive statements are doing more damage to the democratic dialogue than those who lick Govt’s ass. Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri

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    Malinda can learn from past giants like Lasantha and today’s Tissaranee Gunasekera.The problem is he hasn’t been able to live independently without hanging on to the Rajapakse family. He has the ability but no moral conscience or guts to be a notable writer.

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    Not a soul will cry foul at the heading of your article. However, the calling is for you to self-review your stance and perception by the others. You are perceived a coward that hides under the guise of Sinhala chauvinism which in effect is no different to the Taliban extremism..your rod-suckling of the regime is well known and will reverberate beyond your grave…you still could change this course but this alone requires courage and conviction. Perhaps you could allow yourself to be inspired by Lasantha.

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    Yes, Lasantha had courage to write against Gotabhaya during day time and sneak into MahindaRs bedroom in the night!

    MahindaR said about the night visits. But it was Kumar Rupasinghe who gave evidence. There was a discussion that Kumar had with the American ambassador and the only other person there was Lasantha. One day MahindaR asked about this discussion from Kumar. American A would not tell it to MahindaR. Kumar was shocked.

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      C. Wijeyawickrema:
      PLEASE, PLEASE ask those in whose pay you are to get you a tuition teacher who can help you so we know what the hell you are trying to say. Swabasha is okay, but it helps to know basic English before you write to CT.

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      Wijeyawickrema,

      You swine you are not even qualified to criticise a decent individual like Lasantha. He had intellect, courage and above all decency and how dare you say he sneaked into MRs bedroom.
      For your information he was forced to go and see MR when he tried to silence him and buy his paper and rumour has it that the ownership now is with the Criminal MR. So stop this rubbish as we he is very dear to our heart.

  • 0
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    When it comes to media this author take the side of the media and talk against the government. On all other topics author takes the side of the government.

    Why?

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      Is this true ?

      You say “When it comes to media this author take the side of the media and talk against the government”

      Can you please add a detail comment when MS reacted against the govt ?

      He is beating about the bush again and again. That is it what he has been doing. LW has criticised where it was necessary that was the reason him to got killed by state goons. He is the ONLY fearless journalist known to us all.

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    If proof be needed of this b….d’s hypocrisy, here it is.
    The biggest disgrace though is that the organizers of this forum should have invited this lower form of life to an event celebrating the life of Lasantha. He is nothing but a part of the force that murders and intimidates the Lasanthas of this world.
    We await with great excitement his pronouncement of the reasons for Columnist of the Year, Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema, having to seek political asylum outside Sri Lanka only a few days ago!

  • 0
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    Lasantha was a journalist in a million, hated by many, feared by some, killed by one. The killer and the assasins still walk free.

    It was a watershed for free media in Sri Lanka. The news of today is silent on the many underhand deals and corruption that plagues the nation. The robbers walk free with impunity. The people are much poorer without a free media.

  • 0
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    i heard 13 day bride canceled

  • 0
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    This talk is believed to have been delivered in Toronto. Why is this being hidden? If the talk was on a memorial to the late Lasantha Wickramatunga why is there hardly any reference in Malinda’s address
    to Lasantha except half a sentence.

    Varathan

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    Malinda – In your list of “privilege” (courage, honesty, creativity, humility) para, you say “Lasantha, … was creative. Lasantha had courage”, leaving out ‘honesty’ and ‘humility’. Does that mean you believe he was not honest or humble?

    What about you? Do you have the ‘courage’ to be ‘honest’? Seeing that clip of you shaking your finger at a foreign journalist would suggest that you are not ‘humble’, and as for being ‘creative’ – well you certainly do make the effort when you gloss over and try to justify some of the actions by those in power, as well as their goons.

    So if you think “things can get better”, then you will have to start reviewing yourself.

  • 0
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    Lasantha may have had guts and courage, but what did he get? A bullet in his head;and as the years go by and governments change, who will remember?
    A very good piece, Malinda. Pragmatic and honest.

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      Let us be objective. Lasantha was a talented journalist who gave Investigative Journalism a new face – a new credibility. But his own
      success was his downfall. He attacked foreign heads of Missions mercilessly and without provocation. Ministers under Ranil’s UNP Govt and before opened the Sunday papers in fear – of being blackmailed.
      He was not free of it. Ask Harry Jayawardena, Odel and others. Finally,
      he tried to live a Dr.Jekyll and Mr. Hyde reputation and was suspected
      of passing out information to a foreign intelligence service. But he was killed by a power-crazy man, who was responsible for the deaths of hundreds, and who had lost his head by that time. All because of a
      super-luxury Car used by someone who should not be using this official vehicle. The Leader instead of serving the cause of journalism and watching the interest of the public became a business joint – a maker and breaker of Govts. That’s a dangerous business to be in. How the leader eventually changed hands post-Lasantha is a sordid story.

      Backlash

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    You call yourself a journalist…???????????? but in fact you are just selling your writing skills to earn a living.. Malinda… You don’t have a conscience…

  • 0
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    This event is scheduled to be held in Toronto tomorrow, the 21st of September. Malinda is to join the discussion by Skype. How come this is being published before the event has even been held?

    I find it quite unethical.

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    Lasantha may have had guts and courage, but what did he get? a bullet in his head; as the years go by and govts change,who will remember?
    A very good piece, Malinda. Pragmatic and honest.

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    @Piyumi: The dimensions of a human being, as ascertained by others, depends on ideological predilection, outcome and political preference. Cheers. :)
    @Probono Publico: You are entitled to your views. :)

    • 0
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      thanks for replying and i respect you on that point!

  • 0
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    @Last Dinosaur: thanks for your opinion.
    @Lady Gaga (re creativity): no one is forcing you to read or like what I write, or what my sister writes, but hey, it looks like you do read what we write. Glad to know! ;)
    @Sumith: There are things I support and things I do not. Those who read what I write and the paper I am the editor of, know. If a salute from you requires me to support everything you support, sorry, no can do. :)
    @Palayana Yako, Lady Gaga, Probono, Piumi and Lal: what would you call someone who gave Anton Balasingham a thumbs-up sign just before talks between the LTTE and the Govt commenced in Celigny, Switzerland in February 2006?
    @Varathan: the event commemorates Lasantha but is touches on media issues too. I am not able to participate in person or on skype. I got the date wrong, and sent my text to CT to post AFTER the event. So I told CT to take it off and re-post it later. My fault. Sorry.
    Now please excuse me if I don’t post any more comments. It’s saturday and I have tons to write which I hope CT will publish and you will read. Meanwhile, have a ball bashing me. I hope you get your kicks and am thrilled to be of service.

    • 0
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      Malinda,

      I am a villager from east, and we know that,in some sesons of the year
      there are Buffalo Leaches who thrive on blood of Buffalos and Crocs, in the Shalow Marshes of Mavil aru, Somapura, Kinniya and Thmpbalagamuwa back waters, Meegasgodella, Werugal, Manampitiya area.
      After Sucking blood, They just swim away and again find another body to Suck blood.

      Farming People are very careful,dislike and afraid about them.

      to my understanding,
      Here in the Sri Lankan some selected MADIA, the same thing applies.
      These some selected Media leaches hangs to the Unjust Governance and later Swim away.
      So readers must read and get away from Leaches media, who sucks blood of ????????.

      [ Some says Speculations] Lasantha was a mole of a Foreign Spy agency who sold intelligence informations].

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        I’m sure Ms Sonali, Lasantha’s wife will reply to this. I have never heard her account on what Uvindu said last January. He wrote;

        Much later, towards the end of 2010, once I started to work with Lasantha’s second wife Sonali Samarasinghe as a consequence of a conversation we had, I started to wonder whether Lasantha’s killing was purely related to his journalism or if there was more to the story.

        This was the time Sonali and I started a website called Lanka Independent. In the first week of June, 2011, I was writing on my findings on the disappearance of Prageeth Ekneliyagoda. It is my considered opinion that Prageeth was not abducted due to his journalism. I discussed this with Sonali. After listening to all the facts she suddenly said:

        ”Lasantha unanth maruwe journalim nisa neveyne. … Hmmm …”

        (“Even Lasantha was killed not because of his journalism…. Hmmm…)

        Ay ? (Why?) I asked

        “Oya danne naha. Anduva peralanna eyage thibba plan … Pissu oyata. Oya danne naha eyage thibba plan. Intelligence ekka karapu eva nisane. Evath Journalism neveyne uvindu!”

        (You don’t know. The plans he had to overthrow the government…you are mad…the reason is the “intelligence” [read, ‘espionage’] work he was engaged in. That’s also not journalism, Uvindu.”)

        Mokakda? ( What? ) I asked

        ‘Lasantha foreign Intelligence ekak ekka weda kala, mama passe kiyannam’

        (“Lasantha worked with a Foreign Intelligence Service…I’ll tell you later”.)

        Quoting the above conversation we exchanged a couple of emails, but she never gave any further details.
        https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/the-politics-of-the-decision-to-kill-lasantha-according-to-wife-its-not-related-to-journalism/

        Sonaaali, Please reply!!!!!

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          MR Gihan P;
          Thanking you ,I must tell that;
          As an uneducated villager like myself got some facts like that you divulge,
          Just imagine the ethics of our media and following jurnos??,
          the Media Intelligence of sri lanka Should know more details of all those type of Juggleries of the Governance and
          their stooge Journalists do and
          as the right of information and speech of the people,
          that is their duty to go public, not hiding behind SAATAKAYAS.
          I am Referring to the Shit eating pigs of present governance and it’s Ass licking Media goons.
          Do you Believe, what this Malinda says as his expensive Self-reflection, self-criticism.
          Or Can You Trust his Deeds in journalism or His self declarations of innocence.

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      Malinda:
      Nobody gets “kicks” by “bashing” the likes of you. Perhaps your Ivy-League education made you forget the famous “Garandi marala, pow gannawa.” Except that your behaviour is more that of a polonga than a garandiya.

  • 0
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    LASANTHA would be alive if the Rajapaksa family were not in office that is the sad reality and Sri lankans all know that .had president Rajapaksa not been in power Lasantha would still be with us.

  • 0
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    Lasantha´s courage is not comparable to that of MS.

    That is what many of us are clear today.

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    Lasantha – called a spade ” a spade” – never dared to fear.
    A journalist of a million, feared by some(specially by SOB Gota hated by SLG and killed by Gota’s goons.

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    Malinda, thanks for your response. Your problem is that you have no ideology or values. You are like the person who thinks he is the poet but is only a versifier. At the heart of good writing is honesty and honest values. Your method is now well-known namely to back the corrupt and vindictive MR in a circuitous manner.

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      Piyumi Welikala:
      You have hit the nail on the head, though far too kindly!

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    Malinda:

    1)Governments are made of politicians. Politicians are about power, wanting power, wanting to retain power, fear of losing power. Such people are wary of criticism. It doesn’t help when criticism is selective, partial, mischievous and agenda-driven. That is no excuse for censorship or stifling of media freedom. I firmly believe that while freedom of expression is eminently open to abuse to the point that it can trigger outcomes that are bloody and ultimately antithetical to the larger interests of the citizenry, it is a better proposition than its suppression.

    From the above we know who you are batting for and all things considered and for your information Sinhala Lanka holds the record for the number of Journalists who have been banished ( I mean fled). Irrespective of the level of criticism how can you justify the numbers.

    Let us analyse the following:

    2) In Sri Lanka,

    a)There is state media ( In a Democracy what is the justification other than for propaganda)
    It is obvious the above is funded and controlled by the State and often used as a Mouth Piece of the GOSL.

    b)There is private media.
    Which is privately owned but controlled by the State and we know there is no freedom of speech and the price Journalists have paid for speaking out.

    c) Then there is the internet and social media where self-regulation, ethics, responsibility, balance and other things we speak of when we talk about the media are nice to have but rarely obtained. In Sri Lanka, private media is not politically neutral. Major media houses are owned by people close to the President.

    If you choose to enter public life you should be able to take the Rough with the Smooth but in Sinhala Lanka might is right. Self Regulation is only expected when it doesn’t suit GOSL.

    What amazes me is the following;

    You say that politicians are weary of any Criticism when it is biased against them ( even when it is justified ).
    But let me ask you this question we Tamils have been subjected to the worst atrocities for the last 64 years and have any of the papers either State Owned or Privately owned ever reported the sufferings to influence the thinking of the General Masses. Not a bit but instead as Government Mouthpiece they have been putting out propaganda relentlessly conveying the message about the terrorism that has supposedly blighted the country.
    Where was the so called self regulation. Frankly it is one rule for Sinhalese and one rule for Tamils.

    GROW UP MAN

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    Malinda was not present in the meeting.

    UNP and LTTE started the killing spree of journalists. UNP closed news papers of M.D.Gunasena and ATHTHA. That time no FOREIGN Pandits condemned UNP and LTTE.

    Journalism is not a well recognized employment or profession in Sri Lanka. Majority journalists are part-time or FREE contributors.

    No journalist calls Bush as a killer or a criminal for invading Iraq where 500,000 widows are created now. Questioning people in power is a risky business anywhere!

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