30th August 2008, Colombo, Sri Lanka: The Free Media Movement (FMM) is outraged to note and expresses its serious concern over completely unverified and unsubstantiated pro-LTTE allegations by State controlled against independent media and journalists in Sri Lanka. This has been a recurrent occurrence in State media used as a tool by the Government to name and shame journalists who report inconvenient truths as those who are partial to or in the pay of the LTTE.
In the latest attempt to vilify independent journalists, the State controlled Sinhala language daily Dinamina carried a front-page headline story on 28th August alleging that high level investigations were underway on a group of journalists who supported LTTE though the Hiru newspaper. (Hiru puwathpathin koti pimboo madaya kandayamak gena ihala pele parikshana). The news story with the byline of Wijayani Edirisinghe used anonymous “sources” to speculate that the group of journalists who run the Hiru newspaper might have colluded with the LTTE intelligence section. Further, the news report claims the LTTE had given 6 million Sri Lankan rupees (approximately US$ 55,684) to the newspaper.
Hiru is a Sinhala language weekly with an editorial line supportive of a political solution to ethnic issue in Sri Lanka based on the right to self determination. It ceased to exist in early 2005.
These unproved, unverified allegations were given a wide publicity by State controlled electronic media on the same day, putting the lives of the journalists associated with the story at grave risk.
On 26th June 2008, Dinamina carried a lead story with, also by Wijayani Edirisinghe, that “police intelligence has received information on a group of members connected to the LTTE sent to Norway through Denmark as journalists by the Sri Lanka Press Institute. This foreign tour has taken place in 2007.” In a press release issued on the same day, the Sri Lankan Press Institute (SLPI) said in response that it strongly refuted this story and that it was baseless, misleading and factually incorrect.
The day before Tamil female journalist Parameshwari was released without any charges filed against her after months of detention by the infamous Terrorist Investigation Department (TID), Dinamina carried a news item, again by Wijayani Edirisinghe, stating that Parameshwari will be charged for aiding and abetting terrorism.
There are a number of other disturbing examples where journalists and media institutions were labeled as pro-LTTE by State media without a single shred of evidence and any credible sources or facts.
Given the incarceration and charges leveled at journalis J.S. Tissainayagam under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) it is clear the government of Mahinda Rajapakse is targeting independent journalists and media with a vengeance. The systematic and repeated inflammatory allegations leveled by Dinamina against independent media are a case in point.
The FMM stands by the right of Hiru and its journalists to voice their opinion. The Freedom of Expression and the Freedom of Thought are not those that can be governed by the arbitrary diktat of the Executive or at the whim and fancy of a government under his control. They are, fundamentally, the pillars of democracy.
Unscrupulous and sordid journalism on the lines of the Dinamina creates a fear psychosis that stifles free expression and encourages self-censorship. A government that never fails to claim that media is free in Sri Lanka is tellingly completely silent when media it fully controls viciously attacks independent media.
This must stop.