The Sunday Times Editorial

5th January 1997

47, W. A. D. Ramanayake Mawatha Colombo 2. P.O. Box: 1136, Colombo 2.
Telex: 21266 LAKEXPO CE
EDITORIAL OFFICE Tel: 326247,328889, 433272-3 Fax: 423258, 423922
ADVERTISING OFFICE Tel: 328074, 438037
10, Hunupitiya Cross Road, Colombo 2. Tel 435454, 548322

Terrorising the free media

Our smart CID sleuths who were woefully unaware that an assassin was in President Premadasa's kitchen for several months, appear to be quite clever and bold in harassing or detaining journalists.

They are supposed to be hand picked personnel who work by the brain rather than the notorious brawn of the khaki breed but most of our CID men today are just acting like political robots or stooges without questioning the legality or validity of what they are told to do. So they barge into the TNL office at night search for the chairman, compel news director Ishini Wickremesinghe Perera to walk up to the ill famed fourth floor despite an illness and then detain her.

On its part the government's antagonism towards the independent media appears to be turning into a phobia or paranoia with some of them seeing journalists as terrorists. Otherwise by what terrible twist of imagination did they decide to charge Ishini Wickremesinghe Perera under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

When reading the preamble of the PTA it is very clear that the law is aimed at those who advocate the use of force or the commission of crime. The charge against the TNL news director was the telecasting of a story of a LTTE attack on an STF camp in the East. The government-owned SLBC and another private radio station had also reported this story initially, but only the TNL was targeted for prosecution. The charge against the TNL news director is not on falsity of the story but that the news item might have caused communal disturbances. So it is considered an act of terrorism.

This government is still engaged in an all out battle against the most ruthless terrorist group in the world. Instead of using all the state machinery including the CID against the LTTE, the government is with disturbing regularity throwing CID hounds on the trail of journalists as if they were terrorists. Also during the week, security officers of a Deputy Minister from the Gampaha district assaulted another TV crew filming a crash on the highway after which people set fire to a lorry. It seems to be a re-emergence of the era of little bit of totalitarianism' that came from satanic voices in the 1970's. History always repeats itself they say.

Section 2 (1) (h) of the PTA under which Ishini is charged reads as follows:

"By words either spoken or intended to be read or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise causes or intends to cause commission of acts of violence or religious, racial or communal disharmony or feelings of ill-will or hostility between different communities or racial or religious groups." The devolution package is bound to be debated soon. Let it be known that not only the media, but anyone, repeat any citizen can be charged under this provision if they dare oppose the PA's package.

The PA leaders have shown they are no respectors of persons - all are treated like criminals if they dare slip up or oppose or criticise.

The government and its leaders jointly and severally must be ashamed of what they are doing to democracy or what is left of it. This is not the media acting as terrorists. It is more a case of terrorism against the media.

Go to the Political Column
Return to the Editorial/Opinion contents page

Go to the Editorial Archive