By Emil van der Poorten –
The post-Rajapaksa bravery of some political commentators and my personal encounter
I recently had, from an old pal in Australia, an e-mail suggesting that I could commence writing fairly freely to the media once more since I had been tempting fate even though the Rajapaksas were ruling the roost by writing critically of their government and that this threat was now behind us. The suggestion was that, eventually, I had succumbed to stress from my buddies and household and gone silent and I should now take up cudgels again.
I identified this fairly intriguing, not to say bemusing, in the context of what has actually been the case for Sri Lankans with journalistic pretensions both before and following the removal (nonetheless temporary) of the Rajapaksa monstrosity from the body politic.
Many of these seemingly exhorting me to “again” begin writing to the mainline English language press, seemed totally unaware that newspapers in that category – with the exception of the Sunday Island, headed up by a single of the handful of principled journalists in the country – had “shunned” me for the longest time for coming across as “anti-Rajapaksa” and, for that purpose, probably to be a stain on their “national loyalty” escutcheon. Their need to demonstrate all round fealty to our Ultimate Leader whilst pretending at ethical objectivity in journalism was the name of the game. Lengthy prior to I began a four-year association with the Sunday Leader, right after the death of Lasantha Wickrematunge, and until Frederica Jansz was driven into exile, I had contributed columns on a normal basis to several English language newspapers. In fact, the first of these was Lakbimanews, then edited by the indescribable (far more suitable terms come to thoughts, but…) Rajpal Abeynayake. That association ended when he insisted on sending me a cheque produced out to the pseudonym that I employed for those columns which bore no resemblance to that carried by anybody in Sri Lanka, leave alone the initial and last names to which I answered! Offered the established character of Mr. Abeynayake, I consider I want hardly suggest the motivation for this irrational behavior.
I employed to create, at their invitation, a column with a rural slant to a component of the Sunday Occasions beneath the pseudonym “Haris Tumpane.” Nonetheless, that contribution was “tapered off” and disappeared due to the fact I was told that marketing revenues were paramount and rural political commentary had to make way for it when circumstances so dictated. My take on this was somewhat diverse and borne out by the response I got when, following what I believed was a lengthy sufficient time, I produced inquiries about the column getting reinstated. The answer was that I “couldn’t be touched with a barge pole!” To me this constituted proof, however again, if proof be needed, of the Wijeya Newspapers self-censorship which I have constantly identified more reprehensible than the pandering that naturally pro-government newspapers are guilty of. Why? Since jackals in sheep’s clothing are much more destructive than the undisguised range! Not far removed from all of this was the fact that, when I inquired about a fairly-innocuous Letter to the Editor from me not being published in the Everyday Mirror, I was told that I had to be out of my mind to believe that a paper in that group would publish Anything critical of what the late S.L.Gunasekera had written in their pages! The purpose? The late Mr. G was the newspaper’s lawyer! Journalistic ethics and independence, any individual?
As for the finish of the road with the Sunday Leader, that is a different story. Whilst I had my variations with Frederica Jansz and a few phone donnybrooks to go with them, I also found her to be completely truthful. When Asanga Seneviratne’s participation in the Sunday Leader was imminent, I had a raised-voices discussion with Frederica on the subject. Suffice it to say that subsequent events proved her to have been trusting to the point of gross naivety and yours actually correct in his assessment of who and what Asanga Seneviratne was and what he represented. The really week that Mr. S took over, my column was dropped with Mr. S responding to a query from, I believe, Colombo Telegraph, that it “wasn’t up to standard” or some thing to that effect, this coming from a man whose claim to fame in journalism (and literacy) was being the rugby coach of the Heir to the Throne! This was followed by a cockamamie story to Colombo Telegraph, about there being some sort of “mix up” that had resulted in my column becoming “missed.”
In any occasion, in spite of the sweetest of conversations with Frederica’s successor, I was “jacked around” and eventually, with the Sunday Leader still owing me payment for numerous columns, I threw my hand in.
A footnote here would not be out of location. The grapevine had it that Tisaranee Gunasekara and I were going to be kept on for about six months following Frederica was turfed to develop the illusion that the Sunday Leader was politically independent. Tisaranee wrote just one particular column prior to the definitely unethical behavior of Frederica Jansz’s successor compelled her to cease writing for the Sunday Leader. What followed beggars description and would very best be spoken to by TG. However, suffice it to say that it indicated how low the Sunday Leader and these now at its helm could stoop.
Let me make now make a couple of observations that need to be only also clear to any individual reading Colombo Telegraph.
The 1st is that simply removing the Rajapaksa Dictatorship from the equation will not restore media freedom as lengthy as the likes of Wijeya Newspapers is permitted to play its sly and unprincipled games. The matter of media freedom and, by means of it, freedom of info for an complete nation needs to be examined far more closely and, if necessary, a technique, nonetheless complicated, be place in place to ensure that this cornerstone of democracy is restored and maintained. Simply letting men and women write is hardly adequate when, for the most unprincipled of factors, what they have to say is dictated by the whims of those who consistently steer clear of what they perceive as “inconvenient truths.” I was fortunate in that I have by no means been a professional journalist dependent on my personal computer keyboard to feed my loved ones. Professional journalists do not appreciate this luxury and therefore can be pressured by “the media reality” to bend to the will of those who sign their spend cheques. Talking about “media freedom” in such a context is basically empty rhetoric till such time as law and regulations are place in spot to make sure that freedom.
The subsequent matter I’d like to address before closing is that of the blocking of web sites by Web Service Providers such as Sri Lanka Telecom and Dialog. Just put, there needs to be swift punitive action taken against those individuals who carried out the patently illegal orders of the Rajapaksa Regime. It ought to be straightforward sufficient to discover out who signed the memos which resulted in a blackout of dissenting voices, following which, they ought to be prosecuted and punished as the law provides, for this contravention of the fundamental democratic rights of every single Sri Lankan to info. Practically nothing much less will suffice and this wants to be carried out with no delay.
From a predicament where it was a declining quantity of the “old faithful” (inclusive of the Sycophants Brigade of Dayan Jayatilleka, Malinda Seneviratne, H.L.D. Mahindapala and Rajiva Wijesinha) that chose to create to Colombo Telegraph, its columns have all of a sudden blossomed in a veritable Sri Lankan spring of writers critical of the Rajapaksa Regime! 1 doesn’t have to be a Sri Lankan Sherlock Holmes to ascertain why there has been this sea change. It is now protected, or seemingly so, to write critically of the MaRa bunch and its monumental criminalities! All fine and good except that these men and women who have abruptly grown backbones are fairly capable of obtaining that essential portion of their anatomies achieve a jelly-like consistency after once again if faced with anything resembling threat and repression. Oh properly, a single must be thankful for tiny mercies, even though it is definitely crucial to bookmark events of this nature for future reference!
Hitherto, with the exception of a few males such as Kumar David, the ranks of the brave in Sri Lankan English-language journalism have been populated exclusively by those of the feminine gender. I would suggest that, if the Sirisena government ends up in opposition, there could effectively be a return to that status quo and Colombo Telegraph must prepare for that eventuality returning to haunt us once once again since our “saviours” will, as soon as once again, disappear into the woodwork from which they emerged only when President Sirisena was elected!