3 August, 2021

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Sri Lanka Journalism Hit By Sexual Harassment Controversy

The field of journalism in Sri Lanka has been hit very hard by allegations of sexual harassment after several women journalists sparked a #MeToo style social media campaign by revealing details of the abuse.

Mid-level and senior journalists and broadcasters have been identified as alleged perpetrators by the women journalists who have begun to take their stories of abuse on Twitter. Several stories have been confirmed by fellow reporters who worked beside them in hostile or sexually aggressive work environments.

The spate of claims started when journalist Sarah Kellapatha tweeted last week that a male reporter had threatened to rape her while she was working at a newspaper from 2010 to 2017.

Journalist Sahla Ilham said she had been sexually abused by a “famous editor” at a now-defunct newspaper. Ilham said her abuser had pressured her family to keep the incident quiet.

“I have been silent for too long,” Ilham said.

When she was interning at a newspaper in Sri Lanka, US Journalist Jordana Narin said a senior journalist had sexually harassed and verbally abused her, forcing her to complain to the chief editor. The alleged abuser was forced to resign from the newspaper Narin said.

“(He) was the best journalist Sri Lanka had ever seen. I couldn’t wait to learn from him … Instead I spent the next two months being favoured by him, then yelled at by him, embarrassed by him, and groped repeatedly by him,” Narin said.

“And let me say unequivocally — I believe and stand with @saararrr,” Narin tweeted, referring to Kellapatha. Narin also tweeted extracts from a journal she maintained during the period of harassment detailing the incidents.

The journalist Aisha Nazim compiled a list of women sharing their stories and tried to identify the men accused of harassment so that other women could steer clear of users.

 

At the Cabinet press briefing on Tuesday Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said he would order an investigation into the harassment allegations.

At the same press conference, a male journalist Deepal Warnakulasuriya informed the Media Minister that one of the victims who had spoken out about sexual abuse from a senior journalist was making unfounded allegations. Warnakulasuriya told the Minister that he had escorted the woman making the allegations for medical treatment on one occasion, hinting about her medical condition and insinuating that her claims were not to be trusted.

On Twitter, Kellapatha said a male colleague had “threaten to rape” her once during a normal conversation we were having. The journalist she referred to has replied the charge.

Women journalists said the experiences had caused upset them deeply and caused long-term trauma.

The Foreign Correspondents Association (FCA) urged media institutions to launch swift investigations into the allegations and take necessary steps to prevent recurrence. The FCA expressed solidarity with Sri Lankan journalists who have faced harassment at the workplace.

Senior Sri Lankan journalists have also expressed solidarity with the victims.

“Some of these allegations are disturbing enough to read, must be a hell to live through. Investigating them would be the first step,” said Daily Mirror columnist Ranga Jayasuriya.

Work place policies against sexual or any other kind of harassment, not just in media, but in any profession, were a requirement said Jayasuriya.

Journalist Marianne David, Deputy Editor at Daily FT said it had been “upsetting and triggering” to see so much about sexual abuse and harassment on the timeline, but insisted that the “conversations need to happen”.

“Thinking of all who have been violated in any way & rendered voiceless & helpless; I’ve been there too. May you be safe & feel safe,” David tweeted.

Dharisha Bastians, former editor of the Sunday Observer, said the allegations were “disturbing, agonising, and all too familiar”. “Solidarity with women journalists for the courage to speak out about what has been happening in #SriLanka newsrooms for too long,” Bastians tweeted.

“Past time for accountability, critical reflection & change to make editorials safer. #MeToo,” she said on Twitter.

Journalist Meera Srinivasan, correspondent for The Hindu newspaper in India said: #SriLanka: In solidarity with colleagues sharing their harrowing accounts of sexual harassment in newsrooms.”

Srinivasan said she hoped they were heard with “urgency, sensitivity and fairness by media houses and editors.”

Megara Tegal, a Gender and minority rights Researcher said “#MeToo movements might out one or two perpetrators, but for long-term change we need mechanisms to empower women to complain and take those complaints seriously.”

Roar.lk, a multimedia media platform condemned all forms of harassment, sexual harassment and abuse of power in a special editorial. “We are concerned, not just for the safety of the female journalists who have come forward, but also for those of any gender who choose not to, as well as those who may still be silently exposed to abuse in any form or manner by those in positions of power,” Team Roar said in the Editorial. “..if there was ever a time for industry-wide introspection and dismantling of informal structures that allow abuse of power within newsrooms, it is now…,” it said.

Senior journalist Kshama Ranawana remarked on the fact that it took a foreign journalist to open up about harassment. Ranawana said it “indicates the level of intimidation local women journalists have faced.”

“Let’s hope there is a proper investigation and perpetrators punished. Safe workplaces for all,” she tweeted.

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Latest comments

  • 8
    1

    “At the Cabinet press briefing on Tuesday Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said he would order an investigation into the harassment allegations.”
    .
    That is to ensure there will be no such allegations in the future. Sex maniacs and other rogues working in the journalism industry are invaluable resources for corrupt regimes.

    • 1
      0

      In my opinion a far worse situation exists in the garment industry, in public transport and public spaces where hardworking and simple minded women are ruthlessly targeted. Journos rarely or never support or befriend them. Educating teens and adults and inculcating in them the culture of boundaries and consent is the first step to prevention. When a fearless female editor/journalist (and her family) had to flee the country recently we did not see her colleagues standing up and expressing solidarity with her trauma publicly. Or did we? But this may not be relevant or may represent double standards. Just my point of view. Reasonable and just processes must also follow allegations. The rush for justice in the court of public opinion can destroy careers, fracture relationships and cause mental health issues. Victims and all of us must be cautious about how we come across in social media. Should Naming and shaming be the first response? Can parents, wives, brothers, sisters, children, and others be deeply scarred when they read these? All accused must be given a safe space and encouraged to take up their right to reply. If guilty apologize unconditionally.

  • 2
    17

    People especially these girls need to chill out a bit.

    When we were in school, our most popular phrase was “Amma Hukonawa” meaning, “I’ll have your mother raped”. Just because we said that didn’t mean we followed suit.

    We have said that to our friends and our friends have said that to us. But we never neither party was going to ever do that to our maters.

    • 6
      0

      Retired Lt. Reginald Shamal Perera, that’s being very crude, chauvinistic and insensitive to the plight of these lady journos.

      You are a disgrace to the uniform that you once wore. Oh, now I know why you couldn’t rise above the rank of Lieutenant before you retired.

      • 0
        2

        Easton Scott,

        In the Army, we treated our female cadre with utmost respect. We protected them at all times. Not that they needed much protection anyways. As Army female cadre they were as tough girls as you would ever find..

        While on duty, if some civilian male said something to them, oh boy all bets were off from that moment onwards.

        You must keep in mind we served mainly in the North, where people are not very accustomed to treating females properly.

        • 0
          0

          Reginald Perera
          Did you see the photos from Mullivaikal of your soldiers handling female corpses? Of girls made to stand naked in front of soldiers?
          We Jaffna men are sometimes sexist but not to the level of your army.

    • 4
      0

      First of all – just because you say something that is vulgar and trivializes rape – that does not mean it is right to do so.
      Secondly – you choosing to make these vulgar comments to your guy friends, is a little different to a woman being actually threatened with rape, subjected to rape, being groped, and being treated in a vulgar manner.
      These women do not need to ‘chill out’ – you need to grow up and understand the real situation in the world and the fact that women deserve to feel safe and society needs to recognize that it is not ok that women continue to be treated this way.
      Have you even really read this article properly and understood it.

      • 0
        1

        I am truly sorry to have offended you dear. I never condone sexual harassment.

        Perhaps, I should have worded my post differently.

    • 0
      0

      Reginald Perera.
      Get new friends. You are in terrible company when you can justify these sick jokes.

  • 6
    0

    No group, profession, section of the population will be better than the rest.

    All are undiscovered rascals and cads. What is happening in parliament will happen in a class room. What is happening in a police cell will happen in work places, what is happening in our administration will happen in professional bodies.

    Everybody is play acting, trying to be something they are not suitable to be-politician, lawyer, doctor, journalist, teacher -all come from same mediocre ,crooked culture.

  • 5
    0

    Such outrageously foul language, whether in Sinhala, Tamil or English, should not be used in a public forum. It indicates a very low intellect.

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