It is still Black January!

Kshama Ranawana

The emerging environment in the country does not bode well, especially for media practitioners, warned several of the speakers on Tuesday, January 28th. They were speaking at an event organized by the Free Media Movement, along with several other media associations, at the Sri Lanka Press Institute, Colombo, in remembrance of journalists who have been murdered, assaulted and disappeared over the years.

When those convicted are released from jail, and the Office of Missing Persons Act is being reviewed, and may even be amended, it is time media professionals worked together to ensure each other’s safety and protect the profession they said.

One of the speakers, Duminda Sampath, the President of the Working Journalists Association pointed out that up to date, there had been no justice for any of the victims of past actions and that would be the same in the future. Speaker after speaker reminded those present, that every political party would only use the issue of safety of journalists only to further their interests, and forget the promises once in power. As media, “we must critique their behaviour” Duminda Sampath told the gathering. Not doing so, is in an indication that the media is going along with the excesses of a government, he said, asking whether any of the media companies have taken action to protect their journalists. “It is time, journalists decided whether we protect the company we work for, or whether we work together to protect ourselves and the profession. No one is safe’

Echoing those thoughts, Dharmasiri Lankapeli, the Secretary of the Federation of Media Employees Trade Union, stated that today, media has become the catspaw of organizations that operate on black money. Apart from ignoring the safety aspects of media practitioners, their employers even fail to pay the EPF and ETF contributions of their employees, he said.

The state of media freedom has been discussed for more than 20 years, with only politicians gaining from it, said Nixon, who represented the Tamil Media Alliance. Already, journalists in the North are under threat, and on January 23, letters threatening death to seven journalists had been shoved under the door of the Batticaloa Press Club. They have been named, and their faces circled from a photo taken at a memorial gathering of slain journalist Lasantha Wickremetunga.

Media professionals must work with civil society groups to bring pressure on the government and ensure all citizens are free to live as they please, said Jawed Munawar of the Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum. Even though media practitioners have been killed, there has been no action to bring culprits to book yet, this means that justice has been denied to the victims, he stated.

  In memory of all those who were lost to the profession.

In memory of all those who were lost to the profession.

How many are interested when a journalist is assaulted, asked Shalika Wimalasena of the Young Journalists Association, pointing out that  such incidents are often not even reported by some media organisations. 

Ramani Muttetuwegama, a Commissioner at the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, speaking at the event, advised that when corrective action is not forthcoming, victims could try civil law to fight the case. 

The call by all those who spoke at the event was unanimous.  Media practitioners must work together, irrespective of political ideologies and who their employers are, to bring justice for past incidents, and to protect against future reprisals.

The event ended with a candle light vigil at the Lipton Circus.

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