The state of the media is pretty bad in Sri Lanka, and getting worse. This government, like most governments that can’t defend their records, is lashing out at the messenger. Very often the defense takes the form of ‘the LTTE is worse’, which is true. The LTTE literally kills opponents and rifles through your DVDs at checkpoints. Sri Lanka, of course, is better than that, which is why the deterioration under this government is so sad. Specifically this government has shut down Satellite TV broadcasters, radio stations, websites, and arrested and intimidated journalists – all in the name of National Security. Recently they arrested a Sunday Leader journalist investigating corruption and interrogated his mother – based on one phone call from the Minister being investigated. More shockingly, various Ministers and Ministries routinely call critical journalists terrorists and even advocate violence against them. What they seem to forget is that a free press is a vital part of democracy. What we’re fighting for, remember?
Reporters Sans Frontiers ranked Sri Lanka as 51st in media freedom in 2002. We’re now 156th out of 169, in between Iraq and Libya. This is bad for our freedom as Sri Lankans, it is bad for the war effort and it is bad in general.
On a reader level, the media in Sri Lanka is obviously shite. It’s poorly written, designed, and most people associated are poorly paid. The worst of all is the State Media – truly an blight on any democracy. The Daily News and Sunday Observer are just propaganda rags that spout total bullshit. Some stories, like the abortive deportation of Tamils, they just bury until the stir gets too much. If you put them side by side with any ‘free press’ paper the difference is obvious. Hell, if you put them next to toilet paper it’s still obvious which one is bullshit. What’s fucked is that they weren’t bullshit enough for King Paksa.
Under strong press criticism, President Mahinda Rajapakse and his government stepped up their control over state-run media. At least two journalists, including Rajpal Abenayaka, editor of the government weekly Sunday Observer, were removed from their posts after publishing news seen as too independent. Two state radio programmes were also pulled because they reported on the ethnic conflict in outspoken terms. (RFP)
Then there are the private media that this government has completely shut down. Now, keep in mind that I don’t consume much local media, what for I don’t want my head to explode. I read the Nation on Sundays and the Mirror online. These are just the news outlets that I know the government has shut down, off the top of my head. They shut down Mawbima and jailed some people there. They shut down CBNSat (Satellite TV). They shut Raja FM for some talk about sex. They cut off the flow of newsprint to the North and East, effectively shuttering presses there, dunno if they’re back online. They blocked access to the TamilNet website. Recently they shut down the ABC Radio network, which comprises two or three stations. And that’s just the stuff I know off the top of my head, I’m sure there’s more if I Google it. Yeah, there’s more.
Then there is outright violence against journalists, the physical assault of KP Mohan by Airmen and a subsequent acid attack on him. The abduction of Akuna newspaper staff, death threats and abductions of Hiru newspaper staff, detention of Mawnasamy Parameshwaree, abduction of News director of Suriyan FM Nadaraja Guruparan, etc, ad nauseum.
And where are the defenders of Sri Lankan freedom and democracy? Soon after Aqbal Ithas published details of the corrupt MiG deal (how’s that air defence going, btw?) the government (implicated in the deal) withdrew his security detail. He has since been attacked from high levels of the government, with the following being posted on the government defence site:
“Mr. Athas’ recent work raises doubts whether he has been assisting in the psychological operations of the LTTE terrorists.”
It also states, “Whoever attempts to reduce public support to the security forces or attempts to damage the loyalty of the soldiers towards their commanders at this moment can only be considered as those who serve the cause of the terrorists.” (Defence.LK)
Even more shocking, the DG of the Media Centre for National Security (MCNS), Lakshman Hulugalle, said
â€œWe consider anyone who criticizes the defence forces to be a traitor to the nation as such people undermine the lives of armed forces personnel.â€
Are you fucking kidding? Anyone that criticizes the defense forces is a traitor? I think the police uniforms look like elephant poop, and their pants are too short. Am I a traitor now? Please, this is Sri Lanka and we’re not a military state. Lakshman Hulugalle isn’t qualifed to be DG of a 7-11, and neither are any of these government johnnies. They have no right hiding behind the troops to protect their own wretched hides. Our military has a civilian command, accountable to a Parliament and, yes, the people. If you don’t like it stage a coup and run a military state. Until then, this is a democracy, and Sri Lanka is still free. Attacking the media, is cowardly, wrong, and it does a great disservice to those who fight for Sri Lanka (the democracy not the kleptocracy). Those troops defend Sri Lanka, they defend the press, and they defend freedom. That is what we’re fighting for.
And to the people who call journalists and people who defend press freedom traitors, shame on you. Sri Lanka is bigger than this government, it is bigger than the armed forces and it is bigger than any petty President. We are a free country, we are a democracy and we are everything that the LTTE is not. It’s time we start acting like it.