The Sunday Times Editorial

17th November 1996

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Damage control

At a time when western countries, some of them under right-wing pressure, are beginning to tighten the laws on immigrants or refugees Sri Lanka finds itself in a mess over the expulsion of Danish journalists from this country after Demark surreptitiously deported a Sri Lankan citizen back home without telling a soul. The question is whether the Sri Lankan government got caught to a charade by the multifaceted Eelam Incorporated to show the people of these western countries that the island is yet not safe for Tamil refugees to be sent back? Did we fall for the trap and kill the messenger?

Some Danish journalists might have been influenced by Eelam lobbies, knowingly or unknowingly, to whip up a good international story. But we have no proof and it seems the four Danish journalists who came here to monitor Chitra Rajendran's case were investigative reporters from the mainstream media of that country in search of a human interest story. Have we then fallen for a trap here too and made much ado about nothing?

On the other hand, there are some questionable and dubious issues swirling around the whole episode. Danish officials are known to have accompanied the teenage girl from Copenhagen to the Colombo airport, but they apparently just dumped her there and flew back without briefing Sri Lankan officials on the background to the events that unfolded in Denmark.

Then we saw the Danish journalists flying here as tourists or students and pursuing the story without getting proper media accreditation from the Department of Information. That is a procedure that is followed according to international norms of journalism.

Danish media authorities have insisted that the four journalists were on official assignments and their detention was a violation of widely accepted media principles. But the journalists should also have known better. They ought to have understood the need for accreditation in a tight security situation. Lots of the daggers could have been avoided if the cloaks had been dropped.

Now that the journalists have been deported perhaps with some reason, we hope that diplomatic channels in Colombo and Copenhagen will come alive to ensure that the damage is controlled.

Casino bomb

In that horrible era of political executions, corruption scandals and Joe Sims, one-time Deputy Minister Ranjan Wijeratne stood up in Parliament and said that as long as he was in the Cabinet he would not agree to this religious country being turned into a casino city like Las Vegas or Monte Carlo. The nation shook when General Wijeratne spoke. But hardly had the reverberations died down when the widely respected Defence Chief was blasted in a yet mysterious car bomb explosion.

Some five years later a casino bomb has hit Sri Lanka again. The PA's third budget has proposed that legalised casinos be permitted to operate in big city hotels. The licence fee will be Rs. 5 million a year and the government expects an annual revenue of Rs. 450 million from these big-time casinos on separate floors of some five-star hotels and along high ways and by ways with all the attendant side shows and wheeler-dealing.

It is well known that even now scores of casinos are part of the local Mafia with links to those in high political powers. So the moral decay of a gambling society is already taking place. Just as we cannot legislate for morals, we cannot also legalise what is immoral.

Religious leaders have expressed horror over the proposal to legalise casinos saying we are buying moral bankruptcy for Rs. 450 million. A Buddhist prelate has warned that legalised casinos might precipitate a national disaster while a Catholic Bishop has said the casino represents institutionalized robbery.

Sri Lanka today is bitterly divided on party political, racial and other issues. We cannot allow some chips in a mess of pottage to further divide us. The anticipated revenue will not be obtained for sure. So the government would be well advised not to go ahead with this gamble.

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