|Government should mete out
justice to perpetrators
In recent times, it has
become the norm for media personnel to become newsmakers
themselves – for all the wrong reasons. The latest attack was on
a journalist of the Sri Lanka Press Institute, who was brutally
assaulted on a crowded highway in the heart of the city. The
attack was followed by a successful getaway by the assailants
through a myriad of checkpoints and roadblocks.
The media is understandably aghast. It appears that the culture
of impunity propagated by some government politicians such as
maverick Minister Mervyn Silva has spread its cancerous
tentacles to other organs of the state too.
This spate of attacks on journalists stands unequivocally
condemned, and rightly so. That is not what we wish to dwell on
in this column. What is also interesting is the government’s
response to these recent events.
On the one side we have President Mahinda Rajapaksa stating that
the attacks could be a conspiracy to discredit the government.
By repeatedly harassing journalists, there appears to be an
organised attempt to blame the government for such acts,
Rajapaksa argues. We agree that there is some merit in the
President’s contention and if it is indeed so, then the burden
of proof also must rest with the government.
And no less a person than Media Minister Lakshman Yapa
Abeywardena said as much. The government will be suspect of
orchestrating the attacks if the culprits are not apprehended,
Minister Abeywardena said candidly, in the aftermath of the
But then, there were other sentiments too. Government Defence
Spokesman Minister Keheliya Rambukwella suggested that
journalists who were attacked appeared to have discovered a
pathway towards political asylum. We are not certain what
Rambukwella was implying but the Minister seemed to suggest that
journalists were getting themselves assaulted in order to seek
greener pastures overseas!
If Rambukwella said so by innuendo, Police Spokesman Ranjith
Gunasekera was not afraid to voice his opinion. Journalists get
themselves assaulted so that they can get asylum in other
countries, Gunasekera has allegedly said, drawing condemnation
Obviously, the government is speaking with a forked tongue on
this issue, which indicates that the many agencies of the
government are also acting dichotomously. If the likes of
President Rajapaksa and Minister Abeywardena want to put a stop
to the attacks on media men, then Minister Rambukwella and
Police Spokesman Gunasekera seem to view the matter rather
lightly, proposing that the journalists themselves are to be
blamed for getting beaten up.
As Minister Abeywardena rightly pointed out, the government is
in the dock in this instance because those who obviously gain
from silencing a critical and vocal media are those in the
government itself. Therefore, when incidents such as what took
place last week occur with unnerving regularity, the government
is presumed guilty until it is proven innocent.
And for the government to do that, there is only one way: it
needs to use all the powerful resources at its disposal to
apprehend those who are responsible and bring them to justice.
It is here that the past records of some connected to the
government could be an embarrassment.
We recall how Minister Mervyn Silva entered the premises of a
state-run television station and assaulted an employee in an
incident that was telecast live to the entire nation. When the
Minister escaped any kind of punishment, that for many signalled
a tacit approval of his tactics from the powers that be. To
date, nothing has been done to alter that perception.
The incidents involving this newspaper’s Associate Editor and
many others only served to strengthen that belief. And the
perpetrators of that incident too are still at large despite the
unprecedented publicity the sordid event attracted.
The state media – especially the state-run television networks –
have also been adding fuel to the fire over the past few days.
They have been questioning how journalists organise well
coordinated protests almost immediately after media men are
attacked. The implication again is that journalists themselves
are stage managing the attacks.
In that context, President Rajapaksa’s concerns regarding the
recent attacks on media men are welcome, as are Minister
Abeywardena’s. But equally disparaging and discouraging are
Minister Rambukwella’s and Spokesman Gunasekera’s comments,
which can only embarrass the government further and serve to
confirm the worst suspicions regarding the state’s bona fides.
The role of the Police in this situation also must come under
scrutiny. The force now has a new Inspector General of Police
and it suffices to say that his predecessor will not be
remembered as the best chief the force had.
But the new Inspector General, Jayantha Wikremeratne, dealing
with the first challenge of his high office, showed himself in
poor light when questioned about the ‘white van syndrome.’ The
IGP dismissed the query with light-hearted banter, asking media
men to help him find the dreaded white vans if they could.
At worst, it showed the sense of priority the Police accorded to
the issue of men arriving in white vans, taking the law into
their own hands, threatening, assaulting and abducting people.
At best, it was a display of insensitive callousness to a matter
which means life and death to many people.
Therefore, however noble the government’s intentions are in
putting an end to the issue of media harassment, it has not got
its act together. The harassment continues unabated and so do
the idiotic pronouncements that emanate from the state’s
The government’s priority – if it wants to resurrect its image
in the eyes of the media as well as the rest of world – should
be to find and mete out justice to those responsible for the
heinous crimes against the media.