By Emil van der Poorten –
I have a distinct recollection of one of the lower forms of journalistic life lurking in Colombo’s print media accusing the (female) editor of that publication of being a “whore.” Yes, he didn’t seek an euphemistic touch such as alleging that she might have been “a member of the oldest profession in the world.” No, he just told it like he saw it: “Frederica Jansz is a whore!” One must, of course take into account the alcoholically inebriated condition that seems often to beset this individual and make allowances for his outbursts, though, again, I do remember a cultural anthropologist of my acquaintance telling me, many moons ago, that the strategy of getting seriously drunk prior to abusing people was as old as the hills and that many indulged in this pattern of behavior manner so that they could, when faced with the consequences of their conduct, retreat into the, “I’m so sorry but I was drunk out of my skull and didn’t know what I was doing” escape.For writers to the The Sunday Leader to be threatened or abused in less-than-Parliamentary terms is pretty well par for the course, particularly by members of the media who defy description short of descending into the gutter that they appear to inhabit.
To return to the current narrative, however, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s unseemly tirade has had an interesting response from the local media and punditocracy. At the risk of provoking the ire of the large number of ill-bred, uneducated yobs who seem to read what I write from time to time, I need to express my long-overdue thanks to and appreciation of a man who has taken a truly monumental quantity of “s…t and abuse” for daring to contradict the sycophantic hordes of Rajapakistan. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu published an unvarnished, completely reasonable request to the President for the removal of his brother, the Defence Secretary. I neither know nor have ever communicated with Paikiasothy but what I have observed over the past half dozen years has been, particularly in a country awash in bottom-feeding mediocrities, impressive. I can but hope that he is able to maintain both the intellectual rigour and principle that have been such a feature of what he has done in the public domain in Sri Lanka.
Of course, our village idiots parading as journalists will, typically, continue shouting “Tiger supporter!” at him at the tops of their over-extended voices. Suffice it to say that invective of that type does very little except confirm the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of those uttering the imprecation. In fact, it is akin to hooting someone you didn’t like in kindergarten and running like hell, except that now you don’t have to run because you’ve got the local “kossa” in attendance armed with a T56! And I only exaggerate marginally!
To a large extent, the display of boorishness typical of the Gotabhaya Rajapaksa circles, has been greeted with a media silence which, in the current Sri Lankan circumstances, speaks far more eloquently than words. That silence is, most sadly, indicative of the level of fear pervading this country thanks to the thugs, murderers and brigands parading as our government.
Conspicuous by her silence has been one of the journalist organizations with primary responsibility to protect its members. Its President, a woman only recently elevated to the head of one newspaper whose owner is best known for, if, I might borrow from the argot of the newspaper editor quoted earlier, his pimp role in buying over the services of Velupillai Prabhakaran when that purveyor of the ultimate in terrorism succeeded in handing a Presidential election over to Mahinda Rajapaksa by preventing a whole population of Tamils from voting. That was not the only outcome of that purchase of votes because the proceeds of the massive bribe resulted directly in the deaths of thousands of Sri Lankan servicemen and civilians, something those only too ready to shout “Terrorist-lover” at anyone disagreeing with the Gospel According to You-Know-Who could do well to consider! This woman slipped very easily into the shoes of the founding editor of Ceylon Today who was removed for the offence of displaying a degree of objectivity seemingly unacceptable to a newspaper owner determined to join the Hallelujah Chorus of the Rajapaksa Regime. It seems that she has lost no time in proving beyond the shadow of a doubt, that she was only too willing to follow the dictates of her boss and the government that directs him to a point way beyond the call of employee duty and into the realm of operation of an organization supposedly dedicated to the PROTECTION of journalists. She chose not to do one damned thing or to utter one damned word in defence of a member of her organization now at very serious risk of life and limb for having “crossed” the second most powerful man in the land. However, this is Sri Lanka and if “the Rulers” go so far as to threaten with death or dismemberment members of an organization that you purport to lead, you turn a Nelsonian Eye on that prospect if such conduct constitutes yet another “Golden Rule” to add to the original one which reads, “Those who have the gold, make the rules,” this one being “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil when ordered to do so.” Doubtless she will be suitably compensated with 5-star hotel accommodation in a plush Swiss pension the next time an opportunity arises for a rag-tag bunch of Sri Lankans to visit Switzerland, with or without benefit of a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council on the schedule. After all, enough evidence has already been given of the inebriated and their friends going on all-expenses-paid trips to Geneva for Hana Ibrahim to be permitted some lip-smacking anticipation in that regard.
As for a fellow sycophant-journalist doing follow-up interviews with Gotabhaya Rajapaksa? Well, I am sure there will be appropriate compensation for that service as well. After all, the last time he promised to be a good little boy, one journalist was allowed to publish his newspaper in the broad light of day and that, for any, for any newspaperman, is not to be scoffed at when he previously had to slink into the premises under cover of darkness to produce his rag! Apropos of which, please don’t ever accuse the current regime of being a bunch of ingrates because they DO remember “good deeds” and compensate them accordingly, even if only when they choose to disregard the karapincha principle!
Among the voices that have been missing from “the commentariat” on the recent brouhaha has also been an individual who, by his track record before and since has lent active support to everything that is reprehensible in foreign and domestic policy in this country, adopting a holier-than-thou approach on one hand while making sure his editorial nest was well-feathered with the down of the Ruling Family on the other. Guesses, anyone? Let me give you one little hint: this hypocrite had the unmitigated gall to publish a requiem of sorts to Lasantha Wickrematunga when that man was slain in a gangland-type” hit” more than three years ago. It should be noted that no suspects have still been apprehended and our “requiem-writer” has not thought fit to publish some sort of “sequel,” suggesting that it might be a good idea to try to catch the murderers.
No, the silence of the Sri Lankan media when the editor of the last English newspaper acknowledged as critical of the Rajapaksa Regime is threatened with death could constitute a watershed even among a journalistic community noted for a lack of intestinal fortitude. That response could well constitute the biggest recent exercise in obfuscation and avoidance in the history of independent Sri Lanka. For ANYONE with a decent bone left in his Sri Lankan body, it can only be cause for shame.
Many moons ago I wrote a column naming those women journalists with cojones, Frederica Jansz included, writing in the English press. In the intervening period I have had occasion to add a couple of men and more women to that list. However, suffice it to say, though, that the pickings have been slim indeed and do not appear likely to improve anytime soon, notwithstanding any new “Forums” that our serendipitous land might spawn!
A more than appropriate question in the current circumstances would be whether there is any hope in The Miracle of Asia for independent voices of sanity, decency and democracy to rise above the sycophantic cacophony that assails us and whether there will be at least a few decent people ready to defend those voices against the forces of violence and despotism when they do so? The former – mostly women like Frederica – are there. Whether they have defenders of substance, particularly among the males of the species, is debatable indeed.