The Sunday TimesNews/Comment

13th October 1996



Vultures menace school girls in buses

By M. Ismeth

Outraged parents have called on the authorities to protect their school-going girls from sex perverts who loiter near bus halts close to schools awaiting a chance to board buses chock-full of girls to prey on them.

Angry parents speaking to 'The Sunday Times' say their children had complained of these men who board buses and harass them on the way. Not all the children were willing to talk through shame but others have.

A mother of one spoke of a man who had recently been spotted boarding buses near a school on several occasions. When he was followed and the girls had pointed to him he quickly got off the bus and disappeared. "But others have taken his place and the menace continues," the mother said.

Parents said, "At least one policeman should be posted at bus halts close to schools at closing time to protect our children from these human vultures. Why not police women?" another said. And still others were so angry they threatened physical violence against these men if they were spotted and the authorities did nothing about them

Gamini Dissanayake remembered

The Gamini Dissanayake Commemoration Committee has drawn up a series of programs to commemorate the 2nd death anniversary of the former leader of the opposition on the 24th of this month.

The main ceremonies begin on the 20th with a Bodhi Pooja and a Dhamma desana at the Kalutara Uggalgoda, Malasana Rajamaha Viharaya. On the following day there will be a memorial service at the Church of Our Lady, Queen of Peace, in Maligawatta.

There will also be special prayers and distribution of lunch packets at the Dewatagaha Mosque on the 24th. Family members of the late Gamini Dissanayake have also organized bana at his residence on the same day

It doesn't pay to pretend

A Tamil woman who pleaded guilty to the charge of pretending to be a Muslim woman, was given a suspended jail sentence by the Trincomalee Magistrate.

The Police told court that during a round-up operation by army personnel, the accused Nagalingam Raginidevi was arrested with a passport with her photograph but with the name, Packeer Kuttu Razika.

The accused was sentenced to six months rigorous imprisonment suspended for a period of five years, and fined Rs. 750/-.

Dead soldier back in three wheeler

By Daminda Balasuriya

A macabre comedy of errors was played out in a village in Yatiyantota where a 'dead' soldier came back to life.

All was set for the funeral on September 29, white flags decorated the funeral procession route and friends and relatives of the soldier H.P. Sugathapala of Mugunuwala were informed after the parents received news of his death on September 27 in a battle in the North-East where he was serving.

The cortege was brought in by a troupe of Army men in uniform to the soldier's home, mourners gathered around the coffin laid out at the home.

At the approach of midnight on September 28, however, another group of soldiers along with policemen from Yatiyantota came in and calling the deceased's brother to a side whispered something in his ear.

News was soon out that Sugathapala was not really dead but had only been injured in a skirmish with the Tigers in the North and that he was hospitalized. The coffin belonged to another soldier and had to be returned, the police told the brother.

Mourning soon turned into celebrations when the born-again soldier returned home in a three-wheeler. The white flags and pandals erected to honor a brave soldier were brought down. However, it was decided that a 7th day alms-giving which was planned for the soldier when he was presumed dead, was held in memory of other friends of his who had died at the front.

Buddhist monks protest Steel Corp. sale

Leading Buddhist monks have protested to President Chandrika Kumaratunga against government plans to privatize the Steel Corporation.

Over 60 prominent monks have sent a signed petition to the President calling for the immediate suspension of plans to privatize an institute which is a great asset to the country.

They said the Steel Corporation had a small beginnings at Oruwala but grew considerably over the years providing employment for many and helping the economy.

The monks said they were not against foreigners opening factories or investing in Sri Lanka. But selling the Steel Corporation out to foreigners when it is able to provide steel locally at prices less than current world market prices and pay duty to the government is irrational.

'Karunanidhi never helped Tamil groups'

The Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, had held talks with various Sri Lankan Tamil groups including the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Madras in December 1989 and February 1990 on instructions from the Center. This was stated by S. Guhan, former adviser to Mr. Karunanidhi, before the Jain Commission of Inquiry recently.

Desposing before the panel probing the conspiracy aspect of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, Mr. Guhan said at no point of time did Mr. Karunanidhi establish relations with Tamil groups except under orders from the Center. However, "Mr. Karunanidhi rendered no help - money or material - to Tamil groups", he added.

Giving details of the meetings between Mr. Karunanidhi and Tamil groups, Mr. Guhan said the then Prime Minister V.P. Singh, requested the then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister to discuss the Sri Lankan issue with various Tamil groups. "Mr. Karunanidhi met LTTE leaders Anton Balasingham, Yogi and Ms. Adele Balasingham, on three occasions - December 15 and 17, 1989, and February 16, 1990 - at the Port Trust Guest House in Madras".

Stating that no minutes of the meeting were maintained, Mr. Guhan said the Chief Minister had also met leaders of other Tamil groups like EPRLF, TELO and PLOTE. There were four meetings with them separately and in groups. "At the end of every meeting, the Chief Minister used to send messages to the Prime Minister. Very often he would report through Murasoli Maran who was also present at the meetings. But there were no written communications".

The former adviser to Mr. Karunanidhi, who said he himself was present at those meetings, stated that one issue taken up with the LTTE was whether the Tigers were prepared to enter the North-Eastern Provincial Council (NEPC) if it was reconstituted. "The LTTE leaders said they were not prepared to enter the Council through back door. They wanted the NEPC dismissed and fresh elections held. They had even promised that they would not display arms during elections."

Mr. Guhan said former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had also told Mr. Karunanidhi that the latter could go to Colombo and discuss the issue of Tamils there. Mr. Gandhi had assured the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister of all help in meeting LTTE representatives in the Sri Lankan capital. "However, it was never followed up by the Government," he added.

Stating that it was the Government's policy to support Tamil militants, Mr. Guhan referred to an incident in which the Madras police had seized arms from militants but had to return them at the advice of the Center. "The former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran had given Rs. 4 crores to LTTE and it was published with photographs in many newspapers," he said.- The Hindu

'Impossibly naive journalist will be ultimately his own worst enemy'

Cushrow Irani is the Editor of Statesman, one of India's English Language newspapers having a wide national outreach. Published from Calcutta, it has a reputation as being one of the more liberal newspapers in India. He was here recently to witness the proceedings of The Sunday Times versus Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga case.
By Kishali Pinto Jayawardana

In an age of easy cynicism and quick compromise, of small men and smaller causes, meet one crusader who enjoys fighting his enemies with his back to the wall. Cushrow Irani, one of India's more reputed opinion makers believes that the more powerful his opponent, the better.

"To make a difference in this world, you must put your neck out for what you believe in. I work and live by this motto. If everyone holds back waiting for the other to start, it will be the collective neck of all that is - wrong," he says.

I ask him whether he is referring to the media in Sri Lanka. He chuckles but refuses to answer.

"You think you people are going through bad times? You should see the third rate strategies adopted by the Indian Government to keep us in line through the years. But we fought them and we are fighting them still," he declares.

His brushes with authority do not appear to have caused him any harm. Irani is rubicund and rosy cheeked, looking refreshed and fighting fit after a week long session in Hultfsdorp observing the case of The Sunday Times Vs Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga.

It has been an interesting experience," he observes somewhat wryly.

Irani is Editor of Statesman, one of India's English Language newspapers having a wide national outreach. Published from Calcutta, it has a reputation as being one of the more liberal newspapers in India and along with the Times of India, The Indian Express, The Hindu, The Hindustan Times and the Economic Times, mould opinion of the country's ruling elite.

Irani has also been twice Chairman of the prestigious International Press Institute, a gathering of newspaper editors from all over the world to exhibit solidarity on issues of media freedom. He is the second Asian to hold the post after Sri Lanka's doyen of journalism Esmond Wickremesinghe.

Speaking to The Sunday Times shortly before he left for India, Irani reminisces over his experiences in fighting for the rights of journalists in India.

A lawyer by training, he however did not practice law because the rule was there that one had to be twenty one years to join the Bar, and he was only nineteen when he passed out.

"I was too impatient to wait those few years," he says and adds tongue in cheek that impatience has always been one of his cardinal weaknesses.

His legal training however did not go to waste. It proved invaluable in his many confrontations with the Government, sometimes at a provincial level but many times with New Delhi. Media freedom in India had its moments of glory, but its darkest days were in the mid 70's when an increasingly authoritarian Indira Gandhi imposed a national emergency on the country, and muzzled the press which had been strongly critical of her actions.

The government imposed press censorship, was arbitrary and enforced for the stupidest reasons. For example, newspaper reports showing Prime Minister's son Sanjay Gandhi in the company of persons of dubious reputation were censored. So too were press stories of an actress friend of the Gandhi family who had been convicted of shoplifting in England. All this was done on the basis that publication of the reports would endanger national security in India.

"It was ridiculous I had great fun collecting all these laughable censorship orders and - showing them to journalists from around the world when the International Press Institute met, " says Irani.

He emphasizes the importance of maintaining effective links with journalists worldwide when the media is threatened inside ones own country. In the 70's the Indian press built up such a solidarity with the American and British journalists that the support extended was tremendous.

Of course his position as Chairman of the International Press Institute helped to internationalize media events in India. When he was appointed Chairman, it was not long before he realized that a serious effort must be made to draw in editors from hitherto - inaccessible places.

Editors and journalists can do a great deal to promote conflict resolution in their own countries, if motivated in the right manner, he points out. And on appropriate occasions, journalists should also not be afraid to claim the protection of the law, respecting of course the authority of the law.

In those troubled days when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi appeared to forget her promises of better governance and a better deal for the Indian people, Indian newspapers took her Government to court on many occasions.

"The Statesman enjoyed taking her to court. We did it once every few months," says its editor. In one instance, the newspaper was sent a notice under the Companies Act to show cause why an unspecified number of directors could not be appointed by the Government to the editorial board due to allegedly serious mismanagement on the part of the newspaper. When asked to specify what mismanagement had taken place, all that the government could come up with was the Statesman had done wrong to print more copies than it could well because newsprint was an essential commodity.

"Of course this was done to frighten us. It was a transparent device," remarks Irani contemptuously. The case came up before Justice A.N. Senn who was known to be an honest and fearless judge. He held with the Statesman, "long afterward, I met justice Senn after he retired, and he told me what really transpired behind the scenes during the court case," says Irani.

Apparently, the Government Prosecutor had called Justice Senn and told him, "the Statesman is giving us a lot of trouble. Indira Gandhi wants something to be done about it."

Justice Senn had replied bluntly, "Are you talking to me in my judicial capacity? Do not talk to me about this matter further." After the Bench had ruled in favor of the Statesman, Justice Senn had received another call from an agitated Prosecutor.

"What have you done? The Government is most displeased," Justice Senn was told. Immediately the judge had thundered, "If you do not apologize and shut up, both you and your Chief Minister will be hauled up before me tomorrow for contempt of court."

Not surprisingly, that was the last of phone calls from Government lawyers to the presiding judge.

More recent cases of defamation cases being brought against his paper are detailed by Irani. The instances are legion.

"Criminal defamation is no longer an effective part of the law in fully functioning democracies," he points out.

For a person who alleges that he is defamed, English law for instance allows civil damages. The English courts are careful in their decisions to be liberal, as otherwise they may be upset by the European court to which English citizens have a right of appeal. Several decisions of the English law courts have in fact been overruled by the European court, specifically on the subject of media rights.

The American law is even more liberal. Here a politician complaining of defamation must show that there was malicious intent on the part of the journalist to defame. Moreover the American courts have opined that the level of tolerable criticism and public comment regards a politician is appreciably higher than for ordinary persons. By the very nature of the public office that they hold, they must be prepared to take up just and sometimes even unjust jibes and comments.

"In short, they must not take themselves too seriously, remarks Irani.

Journalistic error is therefore permissible up to an extent in the exchange of information and ideas. It is because of this attitude adopted by the American courts that former Indian Premier Moraji Desai lost his case against American press baron Randolph Hearst. In this case, Hearst had relied on information supplied to him by the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) and had published press reports claiming that Desai was a paid agent of the CIA. An infuriated Desai sued Hearst. What the court hearing the case asked was this, "Was Hearst acting maliciously when he alleged this? The answer was in the negative and Desai lost the case.

Irani agrees with this reasoning of the American court. A margin of editorial error is almost inevitable given today's instant information era.

"It is almost totally impossible for an editor to check all the stories that he receives from reasonably reliable sources," he says. What is important is the sincerity of the newspaper concerned. If in general, it steers a middle course without making wild and unfounded allegations against particular politicians at every given opportunity, then if some mistakes are made occasionally surely this is permissible?

"We too have made mistakes. But the Indian public continues to support us. No one, after all is infallible," he comments.

For him, it is the public appreciation of what a newspaper is trying to achieve that makes the life of a journalist worthwhile at the end of the day. Popular interaction with the press in this manner is very evident in India.

He cites one instance particularly close to his heart which took place when he was returning to Calcutta and a wizened old man came up to him at the airport and said in Hindi, "Don't let them terrorize our paper. We are with you."

Irani had asked him, "How do you read the Statesman? Do you read English?"

The old man had said, "No, but I get my son to read it for me."

So much about the rights of journalists. But what about the duties of journalists? Mistakes aside should not deliberately unethical journalism to be condemned in the strongest possible terms?

Irani agrees promptly. In the first place, he observes that journalists should never ask for special privileges. If they do this, it often means that someone in authority will be set up to watch over them. Instead, journalists should claim the normal rights of free speech and opinion available to every citizen of the land.

Over and above this, journalists should not make any politician the "darling of the press." Irani pinpoints a good example of this in India when the Indian Express editorially commented after Rajiv Gandhi came to power.

"I can now die in peace. The country is in the hands of a good and honest man." Afterwards they had good reason to regret their words as the Gandhi Government became plagued with a number of massive corruption scandals.

This is one mistake the media should never make, he emphasizes. Journalists should instead observe politicians of all colors and convictions with an impartial eye. A corrupt or impossibly naive journalist will be ultimately his own worst enemy and will be judged effectively by his public.

Continue to the News/Comment page 4 - Afghanistan- containment of Islam, 'Cheer them on', Preme to Sirima: I'll be the crow you be the king coconut

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