The Sunday TimesNews/Comment

14th April 1996




Don't slam all for one error, say journalists

A journalists' organisation has said the government's suspension of news broadcasts by the Sirasa and Yes FM radio stations is an over-reaction to an erroneous news item. "To disallow all news broadcasts is to extend the negative effect of a single erroneous news item to all news reporting", the Foreign Media Jouranlists' Organisation said in a statement.

It called on the government to lift without delay the suspension imposed on news broadcasts of these stations.

The FMJO said:

"The FMJO views with grave concern the decision by the Government to disallow the Yes FM and Sirasa FM radio stations to broadcast news bulletins. The withdrawal of the right of these two stations to broadcast news bulletins follows the erroneous news item broadcast on Monday by Sirasa FM regarding the Emergency Regulations.

"The erroneous news bulletin was acknowledged as an error by the radio station within minutes of the broadcast and the correct information was repeatedly broadcast by the stations concerned.

"There was, no doubt, considerable public alarm and confusion for a short period of time following the original incorrect broadcast. However, the two stations acted quickly to rectify the error and did not allow the confusion to prevail for long.

"It is in this light that the FMJO views the decision to disallow news broadcasts by these two stations as considerable overreaction on the part of the Government. If the erroneous news item did cause public disorder and confusion, this matter could be dealt with adequately under the various relevant legal provisions. Indeed, if any criminal offense has been perpetrated it should be dealt with under the laws pertaining to these offenses.

"To disallow all news broadcasts is to extend the negative effect of a single erroneous news item to all news reporting. For example, if a media organisation publishes or broadcasts a defamatory news item, the entire news broadcast activities of the organisation are not suspended just because a single news item has been found defamatory.

"The FMJO calls on the Government to lift the restrictions imposed on Yes FM and Sirasa without delay so as to ensure that such a strong overreaction does not have an intimidatory effect on the country's mass media which is yet striving to assert its independence after the recent period of undemocratic controls and suppression during the previous regime."

New option for Upper Kotmale project

By Kshalini Nonis

A fresh environment impact assessment is being done and a new option being considered regarding the revival of the controversial Upper Kotmale Hydropower project, The Sunday Times learns.

The Kotmale project has come under fire from environmentalists who alleged that the original EIA was faulty and did not look into other environment friendly options, as required by the law.

The Upper Kotmale project involves building a dam across the Kotmale Oya in Talawakelle and as a result at least seven waterfalls fed by the Kotmale Oya will be affected.

According to environmentalists, the new option would consist of building a dam below the St. Clair and Devon waterfalls and would also generate more electricity than the Upper Kotmale project.

Last year, Environment Ministry Secretary, Cecil Amerasinghe, said the CEB's environmental assesment of the Upper Kotmale project had serious flaws and failed to address itself adequately to alternatives to the project.

"The CEB has also failed to adduce adequate reasons for rejecting environmentally friendly alternatives", he told the CEB and urged them to work out an EIA that addressed the earlier omissions.

Employers move to stop estate strike

By Arshad M. Hadjirin

The Employers' Federation of Ceylon (EFC) will try hard to avert the week-long proposed strike by plantation workers and reach a collective agreement with the unions involved, a spokesman for the EFC said.

This decision was arrived at a meeting of the EFC at which ways to counter this strike were discussed by representatives of the 23 estate management companies.

The companies later in a statement said that they have assured the unions that they appreciate the difficulties of the workers but emphasised the financial and practical difficulties confronting them to fulfill the demands of the workers.

E.F.G. Amarasinghe, General Secretary EFC told 'The Sunday Times' that they had several discussions with the CWC, LJEWU and unions affiliated to the JPTUC. They found out that 300 days of work and Rs. 8 per day increment are of paramount importance to them and that their stance on this is very firm.

But estate trade union sources said that they will go ahead with the strike to win their demands without delay. CWC leader S. Thondaman has already visited many plantations to further strengthen the stand of the workers' unions.

Mr. Amarasinghe said that Mr. Thondaman had assured at a meeting with the EFC, that this is not a tussle with the government but with the management companies and that he would see that the companies get a fair subsidy from the government to pay the rightful dues of the plantation workers.

He said that the companies have worked out how much the total cost of the Rs. 8 per day additional wage and 300 days wages, and that it would amount to a colossal amount. "But the Price Wage Supplement introduced by the companies on the directions of the government, is a better alternative, for the workers are compensated more when the prices are higher. This scheme has been in favour of workers in tea plantations but not in other areas."

Mr. Amarasinghe said that if the land - labour ratio is brought down to reasonable limits more work will automatically be given to workers. The companies had also requested the unions for mobility of workers to enable estates with excess labour to be transferred to estates which lack them. "This will obviously result in availability of more work", he said.

Estate policy: Chandrasekeran sees no difference between UNP and PA

Up-country People's Liberation Front leader P. Chandrasekaran, a deputy minister in the government, has said he sees no difference between the policies of the previous UNP regime and the PA as regards the estate privatization programme.

Speaking as tension grew on the plantations over the proposed strike by the CWC, Mr. Chandrasekaran said all he wanted was that the estate people's problems be listened to and that they should be the beneficiaries of any change of system.

In an interview, Mr. Chandrasekaran also challenged claims that CWC leader S. Thondaman was the king of the plantations. Future elections would tell a different story, he said.

Excerpts from the interview.

Q: What do you say about privatization of Estates?

A: Privatization is a global phenomenon. I am personally not for it or against it, but all I say is that whether in private hands or public, the workers must be the beneficiaries. The estate workers have their problems. I wish they be listened to.

Q: Do you see any difference between the privatization during the UNP regime and now?

A: Apparently both are the same to me. But during the former regime there was a lot of corruption when privatizing.

Q: Some say CWC leader S. Thondaman sees you as a threat to his interests as he braces for a strike:

A: It may be true that we are a threat to Mr. Thondaman. There is a polarized situation between us and them. That is why the situation is like what it is. But it is not the done thing as both of us are in the government. It would have been a different situation if either of us was in the opposition. I am now silent and I don't want to be a threat to him.

Q: Why are you silent on the North East issue, unlike Mr. Thondaman?

A: It is the government and the LTTE that should find a solution to the ethnic problem, not me. But one thing I can say is that the ongoing war is not a solution, as the government seems to think.

Q: What do you say about Mr. Thondaman's statement that the LTTE should be given a chance for five years to govern the North-East?

A: LTTE is at present the unofficial ruling party of the North, though it is illegal. So what Mr. Thondaman suggests has no basis.

Q: Is Mr. Thondaman the king of the estate sector as some claim?

A: Who says so? No party other than the CWC contested the elections in the estate sector, so Mr. Thondaman may have thought it that way. But in reality it is not so. Future elections will tell a different story. Now that the Kandurata Janatha Peramuna is also a powerful movement. nobody can guess which side will win the polls.

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