15th February 2008, Colombo, Sri Lanka: The Free Media Movement (FMM) is disturbed to hear of a complaint made by Susil Kedelpitiya, News Director of the popular Sinhala TV channel Sirasa to the Police HQ in Colombo that he was followed by a hostile group that forced open the door of his car in an apparent attempt to harm him. The complaint was lodged on the morning of the 15th after the incident occurred on the night of 14th.
Kedelpitiya notes that on the morning of 14th, there were two unknown persons trespassing in front of his residence. A group of unknown persons had the forced open the door of his car while he was this morning jogging and said to themselves” oh he is not there” Then around 8.30- 9.30 pm he was followed by a pick up vehicle almost trying to over take his car. There are reports of suspicious persons keeping a surveillance on his movements on 17th Feb.
Sirasa, the Sinhala language channel of the MTV – MBC network has been at the forefront of news coverage and investigative reporting in the public interest especially through a news segment called Action TV. Action TV has recently exposed a number of stories on corruption involving powerful figures. For instance in its news bulletin of 14th February it exposed how 2,800 50kg bags of sugar ordered by a Magistrate to be destroyed found their way to the market, with some bags re-sold to local merchants and illicit breweries.
The FMM stands convinced that the attempt to harm journalist Kindelpitiya is related to his work as News Director at Sirasa and most probably by powerful figures involving large-scale corruption deals.
We unequivocally condemn this attempt to intimidate, harm and harass a journalist. We are angered and frustrated by miserable failure of government and Police to investigate large-scale corruption and misuse of power as exposed by the media in Sri Lanka. The culture of impunity and vicious anti-media rhetoric by public officials and government MPs fuel this corruption by severely undermining the safety and security of journalists who highlight gross abuses of power.
With the government unable and unwilling to bring to book those responsible for corruption and with journalists under fire for their courageous reporting, we note with alarm that this incident highlights the significant challenges facing media freedom in Sri Lanka today and how little protection there really is for journalists and media personnel who dare to report inconvenient truths.