28th May 2000
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War and civic life

The state's presumptions of what the people should or would do in a warsituation are not necessarily accurate. This was proved by the general reaction to the Vesak holiday by a large swathe of the community in Colombo and the outstations.

Vesak, at least if Colombo and the suburban areas were anything to go by, was observed by the people with a great degree of enthusiasm, even though the call of the state was for people to observe "an austere Vesak sans pandals and decorations.''

The people went ahead and had the usual Vesak celebrations anyway, though only the brazen would say that the people were insensitive or that they had collectively ignored the fate of the soldiers who were fighting the good fight in the Jaffna peninsula and the military front. 

One factor that would have prompted the Vesak as usual reaction, would have probably been the knowledge among the Buddhist community that this war is nothing new as far as they were concerned. The war has been an integral part of the Sri Lankan condition for several years, over a decade really, and there were all signs that the conflict would be part of the Sri Lankan condition for several more years at least. 

In Sri Lanka, the war effort seems to result in policy pendulum shifts. Either there is an absolute disengagement, and a total lack of empathy with the soldier on the war front. 

Or, when the conflict escalates, and there is a palpable military crisis, there is a reaction that is so all encompassing that, to say the least, it is suspect. 

Censorship and the attendant clampdown on the media have not endeared the government to international organizations, at a time when the state is on its knees asking for military support of any kind.

There also doesn't seem to be a proper assessment or understanding of the emergency regulations. But, even criticism of the censorship itself, we see, is being stifled, which was not something that was seen even in the worse days of media control by previous regimes. This sort of censorship obviously lacks bona fides. 

Let the Leader

This will be the first Sunday when the readers of The Sunday Leader and the Irida Peramuna (the Leader's sister paper ) are deprived of their Sunday reading. The government moving under the regulations of the Public Security Ordinance sent the police into the offices of the Leader publications last Monday, with orders that the company's presses be sealed.

This is the second publication to be sealed off in two weeks, the first being the Uthayan in Jaffna which was closed down earlier this month.

Shutting down a newspaper is a drastic action. Apart from depriving the readers of their preferred or favourite source of information, there are attendant repercussions. The closure of the English language Leader has deprived the Irida Peramuna Sinhala readers of their Sunday reading as well, though there was no fault that the Irida Peramuna was found guilty of. Yet, that hapless publication has also been silenced, though not guilty of any transgression.

The financial consequences of the sealing of a press are serious, and extend to matters regarding how the staff can be paid. The govt. might well say that this should have been a matter that the publishers of Leader should have considered, before they published what they did last Sunday. Leader publications in their appeal to the three member Censorship Appeals Committee has stated that they were not given the warning that is prescribed under the PSO regulations. The Competent Authority claims otherwise.

In the melee, let's not lose sight of the woods for the trees. The issue is whether in critical times, a censorship of news is a necessary evil or whether it is counterproductive? We favour the latter conclusion. Censorship is as old-fashioned as World War II is in the context of modern warfare. Awake Lanka to the modern world and the Information Age

Suppression of information feeds rumour, and promotes ill-founded speculation. Pro-active enemy propaganda steals a march. When a newspaper known for its aggressive and critical approach to government policies and actions, is prevented from publishing, various interpretations are bound to be placed on such governmental actions. In the light of the above, we call on the government to reconsider its decision on the Leader and permit its continued publication. 

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