US envoy: Challenging time for journalists

By Himal Kotelawala, Pix by Sanka Vidanagama

Delivering the keynote address at the graduation ceremony of the 2009 batch of the Sri Lanka College of Journalism (SLCJ) held on Thursday at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute (SLFI), Colombo, Ms. Valerie Fowler, US Deputy Chief of Mission to Sri Lanka congratulated new journalists fresh out of College and reminded them the importance of adhering to the duties expected of them.

David Stephens (Above) and Mirdhula Thambiah (Below) receiving their awards from SLCJ Chairman Kumar Nadesan
Achala Dissanayake (Above) receiving the Best Student award and Nabeela Hussain (Below) receiving her award from Ms. Fowler.

Recent times have been challenging for journalists in Sri Lanka, but even in such an environment journalists are duty bound to be purveyors of truth, watchdogs of public interest and defenders of democratic rights and principles, Ms Fowler said.

“People fear reporting the truth; they hesitate before writing or producing stories and consequently self-censor their reporting; or they succumb to the bribes and influence pervasive in the environment around them. In the process, such an environment also takes its toll on the public at large and on democratic traditions as a whole. I am confident that these challenges are temporary and the future will be brighter for journalists in Sri Lanka,” she said.

“People will seek to influence you to get you to cover a story the way they want it to be told. Or they will attempt to coerce you into hiding the truth. But you have to stand above this and remain steadfast in your commitment to be a purveyor of the truth. As journalists, you are also duty bound to be watchdogs of the public interest. It’s happened time and again that journalists have uncovered acts of corruption or malfeasance that threatened public safety and the public interest,” she said.

In the modern era Ms. Fowler said, the press has played a critical role as one of the pillars of democracy. Apart from the traditional three branches of government in a democracy – legislature, judiciary and the executive –the media has acted as a kind of fourth branch, helping to ensure the traditional arms of the government remain honest and serve the people, she said.

“Media demands our leaders operate in an environment of transparency and fairness. If not, the media is there to tell the truth and expose injustice, all for the sake of preserving and protecting our rights. This is true in any democratic country,” she added.

Sixty students of the 2009 batch of the SLCJ were awarded Diploma in Journalism certificates at a ceremony attended by present and past students of the College, leading figures in the media industry and other dignitaries including Chairman of the Sri Lanka Press Institute (SLPI)/SLCJ Kumar Nadesan; CEO, SLPI C.R. de Mel; Director SLCJ Namal Perera; Programme Manager FOJO Media Institute, Sweden Johan Romare; Former Director of the SLCJ Mr. P. Balasingham and CEO, Press Complaints Commission of Sri Lanka (PCCSL) Kamal Liyanaarachchi.

Sivasithamparam Kirupa, a student from the Radio – Tamil class was awarded Best Student in the Radio Stream, while Achala Dissanayake (Print – English) was awarded Best Student in the Print Stream. Dhananji Ratnayake from the TV – Sinhala class bagged the award for Best Student in the TV stream.

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