15 August, 2020

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Martyr’s Day,Thief, Fraud And BBC: Factoring ‘Integrity’ Into Media Freedom

By Malinda Seneviratne

Malinda Seneviratne

The Editors’ Guild of Sri Lanka has issued a statement regarding a brutal attack on the Editor of Uthayan, T Thevananth ‘while covering an event at the Jaffna University’.  The missive, signed by Secretary Sundera Nihathamani De Mel, claims that the event was one where students were ‘commemorating those who died during the three decades long northern insurgency’.

There are claims that this was not a ‘Maaveerar (Martyr’s Day)’ event, but a Hindu festival, Karthikai Deepam where lamps are lit and it was just a coincidence that the two (the first associated with the LTTE of course) fell on the same day, generating confusion as well as making for multiple (erroneous and mischievous) interpretation.

Authorities claim that the LTTE is a banned organization and therefore LTTE-related commemorations are out of order.  Commemoration, however, does not require a party tag and no law can stop grieving, never mind the fact that grief is routinely used to bolster political projects.  Whatever the politics of the moment, Devananth has a right to observe and report.  If, as the authorities claim, the students provoked the fracas by throwing stones and Devananth was a victim of the melee, it is unfortunate.  Still, no one can argue that he should not have been there, regardless of his political affiliations, what he wishes to celebrate or lament, none of which is material to the issue at hand.

In a separate incident another ‘journalist’, Sujeewa Samarasinghe was taken for questioning on Tuesday night (November 27th), held for several hours and released.  Now Samarasinghe is not exactly a journalist; he is Sarath Fonseka’s Media Coordinator, a legitimate occupation.

Like all people, including journalists, Samarasinghe has to abide by the law.  If he transgresses, the law enforcement authorities have every right to apply relevant legal procedures.  If this was not done on this occasion it is less a matter of suppressing media freedom than one of treading on citizens’ rights enshrined in the constitution.

The distinction is important because people have multiple identities and one cannot pick and choose which ID to wave at which particular moment.  That’s convenience and is patently devoid of integrity.

Devananth knows and Samarasinghe knows which identity-sliver was relevant.  Media rights advocates, if they have integrity (and the competence) should similarly strive to distinguish what’s what.  It doesn’t happen that way though.

The best example would be Sunanda Deshapriya.  His political affiliations and outcome-preferences are more important than his ‘Media ID’ but those who treat him as an authority on media freedom (rightly) do not worry about such things.  What is unconscionable is that such people ignore also his considerable track record as a petty thief and a fraud.  This is where the name ‘Sunanda Deshapriya’ just cannot hobnob with the word ‘integrity’ and not his close association with LTTE operatives, before and after the LTTE was militarily defeated.

Integrity is important.  Without integrity, media personnel are little better than petty political propagandists.  Take the case of BBC World Service Journalists Chandana Keerthi Bandara and its Colombo reporter Elmo Fernando applying for Rs. 1,200,000/- each as interest free loans from state banks to purchase cars or vans.  These are signatories to BBC contractual caveats pertaining to integrity, including acceptance of gifts which could compromise independence and objectivity in reporting.  Bandara, moreover, is associated with the dubious outfit that calls itself Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka, with quite a reputation for spinning tall tales which naturally compromises the efficacy of commentary that is based on fact.

What this does is that it makes the work of genuine advocates of media freedom (organized or otherwise) harder.  When such people talk of attacks on journalists (such as Devananth), it takes away something.  Both victim and advocacy are poorer for it.

For now, though, let it be clear that just as no one, including journalists, is above the law, there is absolutely no way that any infringement on rights (of journalists or others) can be condoned.  There is a thing called due process.  People who have legitimate occupations must have the freedom to get about their work.  A cobbler has the right to mend shoes.  A journalist has the right to write about anything he/she considers newsworthy or requiring commentary.  He/she has the right to go where ‘news’ may be ‘happening’.  He cannot be stopped.  Devananth was stopped.  This is wrong.

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Latest comments

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    When is CT going to stop publicizing the outpourings of this Rajapaksa sycophant?
    His efforts to draw readers’ attention to what are, basically, matters of significantly less consequence in a context where human rights and civic rights are in the process of being obliterated would only be ludicrous if CT didn’t keep running stuff produced by this jackass. For goodness sake, this is THE EDITOR IN CHIEF OF “THE NATION,” A PUBLICATION OWNED AND OPERATED BY THE RAJAPAKSA FAMILY! Come on folks at CT, when is enough enough?”

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    Journalist should be free to practice their profession and they should maintain their integrity and ethical standing. Some journalist have it better than others. Journos in the state media get all sorts of perks and posts fo spew out propoganda on behalf of the regime.

    Private journos are accused of being in the pay of NGO’s etc. No one denies that Journos should be paid. It is their professiona and vocation. Some get paid better that others. What matters is what they write. Is it influenced by someone at a higher level or is it really what is happening.

    As Christianne Amanpour says

    “And I believe that good journalism, good television, can make our world a better place.”

    “Because if we the storytellers don’t do this, then the bad people will win.”

    “I have always thought it morally unacceptable to kill stories, not to run stories, that people have risked their lives to get”

    We need more genuine journalist not those who change the story according to their masters voice.

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    I welcome your stand. However, the dilemma arises when situations are manufactured to create news and then sensationalised. The Udhayan staff and its owner , Saravanabavan MP, were reported to have been in the vicinity of Jaffna campus the day before the said incident. There are ethics governing every profession. However, the journalists at large and as professionals , rarely adhere to well laid down and expected norms of conduct. The lay the foundations for a problem,fan the fires and then sensationalise the news. The Udhayan paper ran a series on Maveerar for several days preceding the said incident! This was its unquestionable right, but was it right to arouse a people in the post-war circumstances? in today’s world it is becoming extremely difficult to get factual or reliable news, because ‘ blood and gore’ make headlines and sell papers. In the absence of such blood and gore to report, they have to be manufactured or incidents blown out of proportion. This is sad.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

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    Safe,

    Your quotes from Christiana Amanpour, make a lot of sense in terms of what happened at the Jaffna campus and in terms of the myriad so-called news reported from the north and east.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

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    Malinda you say that the BBC Sinhala Servic journalists have taken up the offer of Rs. 1,200,000/- each as interest free loans from state banks to purchase cars or vans. You go on to say that they are signatories to BBC contractual caveats pertaining to integrity, including acceptance of gifts which could compromise independence and objectivity in reporting. Are you not contradicting yourself?

    If it is a loan then it cannnot be be a gift. If these journalists are given a loan then they are required to repay it. State banks have extended loans to various professionals. State banks give loans to farmers and to small businessmen.These are given on government proposals. Most of these are interest free or the banks charge very minimal interest. Most of these loans are often written off. Do all these farmers and small businessmen also pawn their independence and integrity when they apply for these loans. Malinda your argument is plain stupid.

    I believe some time back there was a move to request the government to establish a pension scheme for journalists. This request was made by the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association. I do not know whether such a pension scheme was later established by the government. Applying your yardstick, this will also be seen as a bribe or gift.

    Malinda you talk about neutrality and media freedom. Is there any neutrality in news reporting in Sri Lanka? Newspapers and media organisations take either a pro-government and anti-government stand. Pro-government media always report news that are only favourable to the government and anti-government media always carry news reports critical of the government. This is the inescapable reality in Sri Lanka for a long time. The newspaper of which you are the editor is a very good example.

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    Malinda is straight forward about his biases. He doesn’t shy away from his Sinhala Buddhist identity. Once in a while he even makes sense.

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    Dr. Raj, Take hats off for you. I don’t know whether you are a sinhala or Tamil, you said the truth. Jurnos should not manufacture bogus stories

    Gonawala Sunil

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      You do not know whether Dr.Rajasingham Narendran is a Tamil or Sinhalese. Seems like you are Gota or Mahinda, but writing as Gonawala Sunil. You are smart enough to disguise your name, I am proud of you.

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      Gonawela Sunil,

      Thanks. I am a Tamil.

      Dr.R.N

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    Teaching smart politics to the Tamils and Sinhalese political leaders is like teaching dogs to speak. Prabhakaran never listen to the smart Tamils, and the Rajapaksa regime will never listen to the smart Sinhalease either. The SLFP, UNP, TNA all are useless political parties, and run by the foolish, ignorant and self centered politicians. The Sri Lankans intellectuals need to start a new political party, otherwise no hope for Sri Lanka. I urge the Sinhalese to speak up and stop living in illusion. The truth is country has been fighting since the independence, thousands of people have died, thousands of intellectuals have left the country, the education system and the justice system are in chaos. The politicians are fooling everyone. They say “wonder of Asia, miracle of Asia, knowledge hub” etc to fool the Sri Lankans to keep their power, in order to rip off the country to build their wealth. They are very good in fooling innocent people, in fact they are extremely good in fooling people, because they have been doing it since 1948. The country is fighting since the independence, more than 100,000 people have died, last week Tamils commemorated Tamil Tigers, and celebrated Prabhakaran’s birthday in Sri Lanka, India and also in the Western Countries. The history is repeating itself, but many of the Sri Lankans are in denial. It appears to me that whether you are Tamils or Sinhalese you all meant to live below the Westerners, Indians and Chinese. You have been fighting since 1948, keep fighting for another 100 years then call yourselves as wonder of the world, miracle of the world, knowledge hub of the world etc.

    Sri Lankan Parliament has decided to probe the charges against the chief justice without an accepted mechanism. In Malaysia, the charges against the chief justice are probed by three chief justices of Commonwealth countries. There is also proper system adopted in India. Clearly, the UNP or SLFP does not want to improve the system when they are in power. Have they done anything to solve the ethnic minority’s problem since 1948. Have they achieved anything significantly since they got independence? Fighting since 1948, had the longest civil war in Asia, has the highest percentage of brain drain in Asia, education and justice system are chaos. But they call themselves as “wonder of Asia, knowledge hub, miracle of Asis etc. The SLFP and UNP leaders have proved for decades that they are incapable to govern, but too good in fooling others.

    The Tamils have lost everything since they have allowed India to equip the criminals with arms to fight for their freedom. The genuine freedom fight was hijacked by India for its own interests. Prabhakaran was a criminal, wanted by the Sri Lankan police for smuggling and murder chrages. The Sri Lankan government could not put Prabhakaran in jail, because India gave refuge to him and made sure he becomes an incurable cancer for the Tamils and Sinhalese. India’s refuge made Prabhakran as one of the most dangerous man in the world. India made the Tamils and Sinhalese to suffer by equipping the uneducated criminals.

    Nelson Mandela wanted to take up arms to fight for his people’s freedom, but fortunately the South African government put him in jail. This has changed everything, it made Nelson Mandela to choose non violence method for his people’s freedom. The South African jail made Nelson Mandela as a wise leader. Today the South Africans have their freedom, at the same time Nelson Mandela became one of the most respected leader in the world. There is no comparison between Mandela and Prabhakaran or Ghandi and Prabhakaran. Last week the Tamils commemorated defeated Tamil Tigers, and celebrated Prabhakaran’s birthday. I really feel sorry for the followers who gave-up their lives, especially for the young people, they have wasted their lives. However, these events are creating more disaster for the Tamils, it will drove the Tamils away from their rights and freedom. These events are clearly proving that the Tamils have not learned anything from the past, but they are still under the grip of India and the Western Countries. I am a Sri Lankan Tamil, I have an Australian business degree and done lots of research about world history and politics. My research is equal to two Phd’s, but the Tamils do not want to listen to me, even if they want to listen to me the Westerners and Indians won’t allow them. The Westerners know how to divide others, the Indians follow the Westerners. The Tamils are to be blamed for their current status in their own country. This is the outcome when you listen to the foreigners and kill or ignore your own intellectuals. Sadly, history is repeating itself, but the Tamil leaders believe something new is happening. China and India are the future superpowers, they will never allow the Tamils to get Eelam under any circumstance, if they do it will set the precedent to divide their own countries. The Westerners are using the Tamil diaspora leaders to create a drift in South East Asia, but the Chinese leaders are too smart for this trick.

    I urge the Tamils to stay away from the LTTE and remove Prabhakaran’s picture and Tiger flag from your minds, houses and offices. The Tamil Armed groups have killed thousands of innocent people, intellectuals and political leaders more than al-Qaeda. The Armed Groups have been eating your dignity, rights and freedom. You are not better off since they have taken the arms, in fact they have taken you backward. They only served India’s and the Western countries’ interests at the expense of innocent Sri Lankans. I urge you to build your leadership which has been destroyed by the Tamil armed groups. Create a think tank website for the Tamils, listen to the Tamil intellectuals, rather than listening to the foreigners. Do everything to get back your dignity, rights and freedom. Remember, late is better than never.

    I also urge all the Sri Lankans who have been affected by the Tamil Armed Groups to sue India and the Western Countries. India is liable for creating the Tamil armed groups, and the Western Countries are liable for making them as the most dangerous terrorist groups in the world. The Western Countries knew how much money have been poured into the LTTE by the Tamil diaspora, but did nothing. Canada banned the LTTE in 2006, but millions of dollars poured into the LTTE in 2007 and 2008. The CSIS knew everything, but did nothing. The Westerners are happy as long as the rest of the world is divided, kill each other and the West get to talk about war crimes, democracy and human rights to undermine others. The Westerners are only 8% of the world population, therefore they will do everything to divide others, in order to rule the majority.

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    I believe Nov 26 was Prabhaharans birthday and he wanted the tamils to celebrate it every year.He used the pretext of remembering dead fighters of the LTTE on his birthday.Now why coudn’t the fat pig use any other date other than his birthday for this?How could you blame the security forces to interpret the lighting of lamps etc on prabhaharan’s birthday to be anything other than celebrating his birthday.Those who do these stupid things without just getting about their business as usual have only themselves to blame if the security forces want to disrupt these type of unnecessary commemorations etc. It is high time they start getting a life instead of commemorating the dead.A new era has begun after 25 years of hell for this poor country and it is time to move on.

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    shankar says:

    “Now why coudn’t the fat pig use any other date other than his birthday for this?”

    He couldn’t because he was the sun god.

    You say:

    “How could you blame the security forces to interpret the lighting of lamps etc on prabhaharan’s birthday to be anything other than celebrating his birthday.”

    You are telling the people to behave as the Sinhala/Buddhist armed forces may interpret every actions of the people in certain way forgetting their right to celebrate, practice and cherish their culture.

    If the armed forces get angry over lighting of the lamps then there is something wrong with the whole idea of freedom in this island.

    They may get angry over any one reason. They too will become too sensitive to people easing themselves in their own privacy. Now the people have to artificially constipate because the armed forces could interpret easing themselves as treachery.

    And you will support the armed forces and condemn the people for performing their morning duties.

    Even the purpose of lighting the lamp was to celebrate the sun god’s birthday it is none of armed forces’ business to poke their noses into people’s lives.

    The armed forces also might interpret and find it offensive if a Tamil man caught sleeping with his own wife in their privacy. Would you give the armed forces the powers to beat up the couple?

    The way things are I won’t be surprised if armed forces demanded the right to sleep in the couple’s bedroom probably in their bed to keep an eye on them while the couple copulate. This way the state can satisfy itself or ensure that they don’t produce tiger cups.

    And you will support these actions.

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      Veddha,you are giving the impression that the armed forces went into each and every home and harassed people who were conducting religious observances.The armed forces went only into the Jaffna University where they were commemorating dead LTTE fighters.The government is paying all the fees of these university students to get their qualifications and become productive members of the society,and not to be engaging in these kind of activities.

      Your tirade against the armed forces is showing that you do not unlike me consider them as your armed forces too.They have saved this country twice,once from dangerous elements in the south and again in the north.

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