the government's difficulty in trying to wean away one of the world's
most brutally fascist terrorist organisations from war, and though
there were celebration yesterday on the completion of one year without
hostilities, it is clear all is not well in the frontlines. Jaffna
and Trincomalee faced an LTTE-sponsored hartal. Res ipsa loquito
- the facts speak for themselves.
of Defence has in the meantime survived the opposition's no confidence
motion, no doubt with the votes of Tamil parties controlled by the
seeming indifference to the affairs of State is deceptive of his
true stature as a person who is astute and knows the ways of the
world. All we want him to do is to be more assertive as the nation's
Defence Minister and key player vis-a-vis the LTTE. His contribution
is needed to ensure the security of the State and her people, in
the still very likely event that the LTTE kicks the negotiating
table to return to its former ways.
The very fact
that this and other independent newspapers have been criticising
government on our apprehensions about aspects of the peace process,
and that the government has not taken any of us to courts or bashed
our heads in, is a measure of the creditable aspect of this government
in matters that relate to press freedom.
It is still
not to say that even this government has a totally clean sheet on
this score. There was the case of some 'friendly persuasion' to
stop a statement from the Mahanakyake Theras very early in the quest
to get the LTTE to the negotiating table. Then there are the cases
of the visa termination of a questionable foreign correspondent,
and the occasional verbal barrage against a defence correspondent.
But to give
credit where it's due, the government may have mishandled the peace
process at times, and mishandled the economy, but good marks need
to be given for the way it handled the press.
A free press
is one of the pillars that sustain advanced liberal democracies
anywhere in the world. The draconian and archaic criminal defamation
laws which were used by the despotic leaders of the last government
were repealed unanimously by an enlightened parliament less than
a year ago.
Only the I's
need to be dotted and the T's crossed from a Freedom of Information
Act that will open government to greater scrutiny and make citizens
aware of the workings of government. A self-regulatory Press Complaints
Commission has just been set up by the industry based on a code
of ethics, drafted by practitioners. There is a College of Journalism
in the offing.
Press Union was very much in the forefront of the fightback of the
Sri Lankan media when it challenged the former government which
was kicking the press around. The Sri Lankan press must salute that
organisation of over 500 newspapers throughout the 54 member grouping,
for its moral and actual support during those periods of distress.
victory from these battles, the Sri Lankan press has now the onerous
responsibility of promoting media freedom and social responsibility
as they pledged to do in 1998 under what was called the Colombo
Declaration , and we are happy that the formation of the Sri Lanka
Press Institute by the three main unions of the profession, the
Newspaper Society of the Publishers, the Editors' Guild and the
Free Media Movement has resulted in this body assuming that responsibility
for the betterment of what has been called the fourth estate. Thereby,
we have become not only, in a sense, a success story, but a beacon
of hope for others in the Commonwealth, who are undergoing trying
times the independent journalists of this country underwent yesteryear.