Sri Lanka's Democratic Dictatorship
The democratically elected 'dictatorial' government of Sri Lanka fears media the most - The Island Online. I provide the full text of the article below:
What do democratically elected ‘dictatorial’ governments of Sri Lanka fear most- THE MEDIA! If that is not so, why would the government want to resume a tough nanny service, also known as the Press Council, to supervise the media?
In 1973 the Sri Lanka Press Council laws were enacted during the SLFP regime under the premiership of Sirimavo Bandaranaike and in 1974 the Lake House group of newspapers was nationalised and the Gunasena newspaper Group sealed.
1977 saw the turning point for the expansion of the media in this country under the UNP regime with the country’s first Executive President J. R. Jayewardene at the helm. New privately owned newspapers appeared on the news-stands. The muzzled Gunasena newspaper Group was revived and it survived for as long as commercial realities made that possible.
Television was pioneered in Sri Lanka with ITN (Independent Television Network) becoming the first TV station in Sri Lanka. Next came the SLRC, (Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation) in 1982 gifted by Japan to the people of Sri Lanka. An earlier offer by Japan was turned down by Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake.
With the exception of Presidents D. B. Wijetunge and J. R. Jayewardene with the latter handling the media in his own ‘foxy’ way, all others have regarded the free media as some sort of threat and therefore to be subdued by any means possible.
I joined the state television Rupavahini in 1988 as a trainee of many hats during the latter stages of JRJ’s tenure as President. Then came the rot in 1989 with Ranasinghe Premadasa becoming the second Executive President of Sri Lanka. Up until then, our state television station Rupavahini was manned by the crème de la crème of professionals at all levels. The rot brought in political stooges, yes-men of politicians et al.
Of the privately owned newspaper groups, the Upali newspapers was one that suffered the most during the Premadasa regime. The Island Editorial of 3rd May, 2008 recalls: "He sent us on a journey through hell, to say the least. His day would begin with a tirade against us and he did everything possible to send us out of business. We have reliable information that during the late 1980s, some members of his government conspired to destroy our press with a rocket attack, which was later abandoned due to strong protests from the late Minister Ranjan Wijeratne".
The Editorial goes on to state that journalists were harassed and assaulted on numerous occasions during the Premadasa regime. In 1992, UNP goons set upon a group of journalists covering a DUNF protest opposite the Fort Railway Station. Cameras were smashed and the media men were assaulted with bicycle chains and clubs. Some of them were pistol-whipped. When they went to the Fort Police to lodge a complaint, the OIC had the temerity to tell them that the police station had been closed! Later adding insult to injury, the then Prime Minister and Deputy Defence Minister D. B. Wijetunga audaciously claimed the journalists had been attacked by irate train commuters who had been disturbed by the protest in question. This prompted The Island newspaper to ask whether ordinary passengers carried pistols, bicycle chains and clubs on their way to work!"
It was also during President Premadasa’s tenure that Richard de Zoysa was abducted and assassinated. Richard was an internationally renowned journalist, author, actor and a human rights activist and his murder sent shock waves thought the country and beyond.
When President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge took over the reins of Executive Presidency, she sought refuge under the Penal Code and Press Council Law of criminal defamation. But there were no white vans that abducted, tortured and killed journalists.
However today, the ‘Fourth Estate’ of Sri Lanka is facing one of its greatest challenges. It’s no secret that there are many masquerading as ‘journalists’, who are on the pay-roll of ‘some’ with certain powers and hidden agendas who want their opinions voiced via the media, especially the print media.
These ‘Journalists’ put words into the mouths of their interviewees, to obtain answers to suit the agendas of ‘some’, with obvious vested interests.
These are the scoundrels that a democratic government must take to task and root out the cancer they are spreading.
In conclusion, what is the lesser evil Sri Lanka’s Fourth Estate is faced with today? Is it the reactivation of the Press Council law that gives powers to fine and imprison journalists and publishers, or to be abducted, tortured and or killed? Is this really a choice?