Revenge is sweet

December 27, 2007 will be remembered world over as the day on which former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in Rawalpindi during a bloody election campaign that had already left hundreds dead. In Sri Lanka, the day will go down in the history books as being the one on which a government politician got his just desserts by no less than the staff of state-run television station, Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC).

Mervyn Silva, who continues to be part of the Presidentís jumbo cabinet is well known for his little violent skits at media organisations periodically. The Minister has a proven track record of believing himself and his progeny to be way above the law of the land. Yet his frankly criminal acts have been indulged one might say by successive regimes, allowing the rascal politician to behave more and more outrageously as the years went by.

Silva met his Waterloo on December 27 however. As wily broadcasting staff at SLRC telecast the entire fracas on live television and a nation cheered the mob on, the channelís entire staff in a rare show of solidarity mobbed the politician and his pet thug who had been brought in to Ďthrashí the stationís news director for failing to broadcast a vile and defamatory speech Silva had made at a rally in Matara a few days before. Forced to seek refuge in the SLRC Chairmanís room for hours, Silva was finally made to apologise to the entire staff before he was shown the door amidst cat calls and buckets of kukul dye and the random stone or two thrown in his direction.

The country at large was thrilled. It was better than the world cup. People crowded around televisions on display in shopping malls and the wayside and eagerly awaited more unedited footage on the news later that night. By then, Rupavahini had received its orders from above and had no choice but to tone down its own story of how things had unfolded at the station earlier that day. But other television channels picked up from where they left off giving all Sri Lankans who love to hate this kind of rowdy politician the treat of their lives.

The wiser among us however were confident that dire consequences would follow for SLRC staff who had dared to mob the government politician in front of dozens of TV cameras that day. The warning proved more than accurate. Three months down the line, the CID is hounding staff members and demanding file footage gathered by SLRC cameras that day. Staff members who were actively involved in the December 27 mobbing have been systematically pursued, threatened and in many cases suffered injuries at the hands of unidentified assailants.

The list of victims is long and varied. Beginning in January with the knifing of Lal Hemantha Mawalage, a Senior Producer at Athurugiriya followed by the threatening of employee Duleep Dushyanthaís mother four days later demanding her sonís whereabouts. It became obvious that in this spate of vengeful attacks not even the women would be spared when the stationís Chief Librarian Ranjani Aluthge was slashed inside a bus with a blade. Fridayís attack on SLRC Assistant Director Supplies and President of the JVP trade union Arunasiri Hettige was the most recent incident. Hettige was knifed in Kotikawatte on his way to work, allegedly by two men on a motorcycle. Ironically, Hettige was one of the staff members who had attempted to calm the mob on December 27 and urged Minister Mervyn Silva to make his apology and leave the building. The attack against Hettige also came less than 18 hours after a meeting with Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

Each time one of their colleagues are attacked or threatened, SLRC staff puts up resistance the only way they know how. They refuse to transmit the stationís regular programming, refuse to air any live programmes apart from news and stage work stoppages for hours to protest the shabby treatment of its personnel. In these times of absolutely no resistance to a regime whose impunity increases with each passing day, even this small attempt must be applauded. In a country where the opposition is mute, resistance to this administration appears to be rising from within its own ranks, for SLRC staffers continue to be controlled and managed by government henchmen and allies.

Mervyn Silva: he continues to reign. He continues to enjoy the perks of office, hire his pet thugs and wreak havoc on innocent lives in the name of revenge. The administrationís sympathy lies very clearly on Mervynís side. Disciplinary reports due to be filed against him by the SLFP central committee are constantly delayed. Three months since the assault on Rupavahini News Director T.M.G. Chandrasekera, only SLRC staff members have been punished.

We their colleagues in the media salute their courage but also grieve for the pathetic state of this countryís rule of law. With ready proof of perpetrator and crime, wrong-doer and wronged, the law enforcement arm has failed to act, except against the victims and those who rose in their defence. Obviously, the law enforcement arm is being twisted.