After 365 days it’s now a crawl for survival- LankaDissent

Monday, 07 July 2008 14:59 administrator   
One year ago this day (July 07th) was when we got this web site out in the net from this troubled little island, expecting the world would have an alternate view of our country than what’s usually captured in the conventional media. It was certainly an adventurous journey, WE set ourselves upon. But then, who are “we” and “why” did we ?

Over the past two years plus a few months, this country, Sri Lanka, was gradually getting caught in a very oppressive political Tsunami. The first attack on the media was in December, 2005, just 27 days after the UPFA candidate Rajapaksa was sworn in as President to claim a “Unitary State” on a flimsy Sinhala majority after an aggressive “Hutuist” campaign. That attack on 15th December, was on Tamil media – on the Eelanadu News paper office – and caught no attention in the South. In less than 90 days, there were 09 reported incidents, all against the Tamil media, with S.S. Rajan of “Sudar Oli” being gunned down in Trincomalee on 26th January, 2006.

These were not serious crimes against the media or against journalists for the Colombo based media. They were carried as “just another news” with racist nuances where possible. The Colombo based media in general thought they had a more patriotic “national task” in hand, covering and exposing the “CFA violations by the Tigers” as decided and defined by the government. This totally unethical approach by especially the Colombo based print media that violated its own Code of Ethics, formulated by their own Editors’ Guild, helped in cementing a social psyche that accepted media suppression as part of the war against the separatist “Tigers”. 

In just one year, by mid 2007, there remained no distinctions between Sinhala and Tamil or Tamil and English media. Editors were threatened, news paper offices were broken into and set on fire, journalists were threatened, assaulted, abducted, tortured and dumped on roadsides, one or two went missing and were found killed. This time it wasn’t only in Jaffna, but in Colombo too.

The Sinhala weekly news paper “Maubima” came under direct attack too. Its Editorial Assistant Miss. Parameswari, a young Tamil girl was taken into custody by the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) of the CID. Most Sinhala media, including some electronic channels as well, projected Parameswari as a “Tiger informant” justifying her arrest and her continued detention without charges. A justification that provided this “Morbid Regime” (MR) to menacingly stretch its repression over the whole news paper, to freeze bank accounts and detain Basnayake, a Director of the publishing company and eventually forced “Maubima” to close down. Thereafter both Parameswari and Basnayake were released with absolutely no charges.

A few of us there after, with our own linkages with the media, were prompted to seriously discuss the emerging trend(s). We agreed first, the media here in Sri Lanka would not be serious in challenging the government against coercion, intimidation and the government’s right to dictate terms on the media. No, the media is divided politically, over a war they themselves contribute to project as victorious. It was therefore “patriotic” for them to play with the government. They had their own reasoning, way outside media ethics. We also agreed, the media organizations were “within a box” and would not go beyond statements and a ‘picket’ for the cameras. They are also not organically representing the journalists, while the journalists even for now do not act as a professional group.

We finally agreed that the issue of media freedom and independence of the media is not an isolated issue in Sri Lanka that could be treated separately. It came within the larger political canvas, was a strong democratic issue glued to a broader campaign for Social Democracy. WE therefore decided upon a platform for SOCIAL DEMOCRACY.

Since the conventional media is living under a sinister, revengeful, cloaked brutality, we decided to exploit the internet to project a dissenting voice as “Lankadissent”, the news web site that for the first time brought news and features in all 03 languages, Sinhala, Tamil and English. We were fortunate in having a very sympathetic and supportive resource base that allowed us to regularly improve the quality of our news and features presentation, both in content and in format. We became a very prominent news site in a very short time, not only with the Diaspora, but in Sri Lanka as well. The latest “visitor records” to our site has 57 per cent from Sri Lanka logging in daily.

That has its own rip off too. We were harassed by the authorities for our reporting. Our e-mail ‘in-box’ was hacked into. Our e-mail was used to insult and threaten other site administrators. Our site was completely blocked, denying access to us. We were compelled to immediately change our domain parking at a cost. The threat on media was extending to the cyber world as well. 

Within just 365 days, we grew and matured within this very repressive MR. A regime that screws its nuts and bolts tenaciously on the media. Tissainayagam and another are detained for over 120 days without charges. Keith Noyer was abducted, tortured and left numbed. Divayina defense correspondent had “unnamed visitors” who told him what not to write, if he pays any value to his life. Fredrica Jansz had a bleeding, beheaded cockerel in her front porch followed by threatening phone calls. Journalist Namal Perera and British HC Political Officer Mahendra Ratnaweera were added to the list of almost abducted and badly mutilated media personnel, again under this MR. 

SL thus becomes the 03rd most dangerous country in the world for journalists. It would be that or far worse in time to come with a continuing war, the government wants the media keep out from. “The media need not get involved in discussing the war” President Rajapaksa had told both the Publishers and Editors of the Print Media a fortnight before Namal Perera was “dealt with”.

The year ahead is one that would need closer co-operation among journalists and media organizations to face off threats and intimidations. The year ahead is one that needs a bigger and a larger hand from society to keep going with a dissenting voice. Our effort in creating a dissenting voice though a difficult task, is an important responsibility. Our effort to stay alive, though a bitter struggle, is worth the toil. We would therefore strive to crawl through all these ordeals, expecting every one of you to stand with us. And thank you for being with us all through this difficult crawl for life.