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Letters to the Editor

30th March, 1997


Shame! 'Press Freedom' and children's rights

We humans all love freedom, and there has been many a battle and loss of life over generations for the sake of the word "freedom". In a democracy, we all believe we all are free, and the media is supposed to ensure freedom of the people through expression, in terms of achieving and safeguarding it. Whatever the party in power, it has and will be accused of interfering in the freedom of the press. In this context I believe the media quite rightly has a duty to protect the rights of the people they are supposed to represent without giving into bullying authorities. However, the media-men should remember that they have the obligation to protect the rights of the whole community and not their personal rights or rights of one sector of the community. At present, unfortunately the term 'press freedom" is used mainly in the context of politics.

Over the last few months there has been an increased awareness and reporting of child abuse, and we must thank the media for their part in making the people aware of the problem and sensitizing them.

One of the biggest issues especially relating to sex abuse is the social stigma it carries. Due to increased awareness more people are coming forward to report incidents. This alone is inadequate, since the next important task would be to protect these children. When doctors and social workers refer to protection, they mean, protection from further abuse. We must consider yet another form of protection; i.e., protecting the child and the family from the "cruel" society which 'stigmatizes' them rather than sympathize with them. The child and the family are often ostracized by society, and hence the need for confidentiality. In the absence of confidentiality, how are we going to overcome the issue of stigma? Wouldn't it prevent the abused from coming forward?

While praising the media for bringing up child abuse as a social issue, I blame some for irresponsible, sometimes erroneous and non-confidential reporting which brings shame and stigma to those abused. Is this the freedom of the press the people want? In reference to the "Beruwala incident", one paper showed a picture of a woman who was erroneously referred to as a prostitute. In a recent case regarding an incident of child pornography, the reports were so "accurate" that the people of the area had no difficulty in pinpointing the family. The mother and child, who have faced many agonizing moments from the loss of her husband in battle to this incident, have to face a vindictive society for the rest of their lives. What rights have these children or the mothers to protest about these reports? Do they have any lobbying power? In terms of press freedom Vs people's rights, a politician or a wealthy and powerful person would have enough "muscle" to sue the papers, making them accountable to the erroneous reports. However, who would protect these often poor and innocent victims of abuse?

Information regarding National Security quite rightly should be protected, provided the revelation actually would harm National Security. In the same context the reports on child abuse should be censored in a way to protect the child and family, if the information is going to harm the innocent victims.

We need a brave politician to take up this issue in Parliament to press for legislation. In the meantime, I appeal to all media-men to respect the dignity of children, and to refrain from publishing erroneous reports or divulging the identity of these children. If not, the media would prevent people from complaining, which would encourage the perpetrators, thus making the media-men "passive perpetrators".

Prof. D.G. Harendra de Silva,


Politics, education and the best school of all

It is gratifying to note many readers, write and peruse with absorbing interest letters on important topics. I enjoyed reading one such article titled "The Best School of All" bringing back happy nostalgic memories of a bygone era that laid emphasis on propriety, loyalty, punctuality and uniformity in schools. These phases of training called Discipline are something alien to the government and the people of this generation.

After we gained this so-called independence - the Freedom of the wild ass and the enactment of laws akin to jungle laws prohibiting and abolishing the death penalty, implying the principle of "survival of the fittest", there has been a complete change - upside down and downside up.

Vote-oriented, ill-conceived, ill-advised and low-grade education has now led to "no education". Education has to be geared in my opinion to world and not merely parochial needs.

Late S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike's "Sinhala Only" policy gave way to communal disharmony and tension.

Politically motivated appointment of District Ministers in the late forties to satisfy their ego, robbing and eroding the rightful powers of Government Agents caused the wreckage and ruination of Government Service.

By a treacherous and traitorous policy of dualism two former prime ministers were hell-bent on perpetuating the on-going communal in-fighting assuring no victory for either side influenced by personal, sadistic gainful and selfish motives. It is most important that the state should concentrate on education, free of all politics, as the second priority, the first being restoration of peace, bearing in mind the child of today is the father of tomorrow. Schools must be entrusted with the task of teaching their charges Truth, Love, Beauty, Restraint, Poise and Serenity among other things so that when they become fully-fledged citizens, they will not be impulsive, volatile, turbulent and practise continence and absistence with consummate ease.

In order to acquire and cultivate these noble qualities, it is of paramount importance that our leaders set the right example. Hence those aspiring to be politicians should be made to pass the following tests: (1) Seeds (2) Deeds (3) Means (4) E.Q and I.Q test in order to evaluate and assess their (1) Background (2) Past Records (3) Wealth (4) Educational Qualifications.

This will debar murderers and potential murderers, rapists, drug addicts and gangsters from entering Parliament or any local authority. Legislation should be introduced and laws enacted in our supreme legislature enshrining these requirements in the Constitution for all prospective political candidates. In this context, the words of the world's greatest playwright are most befitting:-

Senators are a boil,
A plague - sore, an embossed carbuncle
In the corrupted blood of the state
- King Lear

Most smiling, smooth, detested parasites
Courteous destroyers, affable wolves, meek bears
Trencher-friends, Time's flies, power and fortune-seekers
Cap-and-knee slaves, vapours and minute Jacks
- Timon of Athens

However, I will be failing in my duty if I do not profess that there are exceptions to this rule. I am more than aware there are gentlemen and gentlewomen of good birth and breeding with finest of qualities worthy of admiration and emulation and deserving the highest praise. May this tribe breed fast.

Gerald de Alwis


What a bizarre situation?

As a senior citizen concerned about the integrity of our senior public servants I find the position adopted by the Ay. G. in his press interview bizarre and gravely disquieting.

Because Sri Lanka is a small country, says the Ay. G., a judge can take up a case where "a relative or close friend" is involved provided he is going to decide against that relative or close friend, but not otherwise.

But at what stage can the judge know he is going to hold against or for the friend or relative? Surely, it can only be after the prosecution and the defence have closed their cases? If a judge were to decide for or against a party to a case prior to hearing the case in full he would be surely misconducting himself? So, a judge hears a case involving a close friend or relative in full, and then, if he is not going to find against that friend or relative, he withdraws from the case, which then will have to be heard de nova.

The new judge will come to the case in the full knowledge that his brother judge had formed the view that there was no case worth prosecuting. So he starts with a preconception about the case. Is this the position the Ay. G., in all seriousness, is proposing? Can he name a single case in which a judge heard a case involving a friend or relative to the end and then withdrew on the ground that he was going to find in favour of that friend or relative? Similarly, argues the Ay. G., a Deputy Solicitor General can supervise a case involving his brother-in-law provided he has made up mind to go for the kill. If, however, at any stage, he decides the brother-in-law must be let off the hook he should at that stage (but not before) declare his interest in the case and withdraw.

Singapore is a much smaller country than Sri Lanka. Can one, for a single moment, imagine that the judges and the state prosecutors in that country would adopt the position taken by our Ay. G.?

Selwyn Herft

Colombo 10

End this madness

It was a common sight to see posters of the various candidates who contested the recent Local Govt. elections with their photographs pasted on road sign boards, Postal letter boxes, telephone booths, public toilets, public transport, street lamp posts, public and private buildings and parapet walls in every nook and corner of the country.

The Anderson Golf Link Housing Complex in Colombo 5 was no exception to this poster madness. All the walls of the flats in this Housing Scheme were plastered with these posters.

To add insult to injury, the Police visited the Scheme on the eve of the election and tarred the posters and the walls and ruined the beauty of this place.

The National Housing Authority or the Common Amenities Board is not interested in the cleaning and colour washing of these flats. The responsibility of cleaning and colour washing of the flats has fallen on the flat dwellers now. Some of these flats were neatly colour washed only a few weeks before the Nomination Day. To the dismay and disappointment of all the flat dwellers in this scheme, the Election Posters and Police Tar Brush have ruined the beauty and appearance of this Housing Scheme.

According to Election Laws of the country pasting of posters and hanging of banners across roads is said to be illegal and an offence.

Therefore it is not understood why the Law Enforcement Authorities allowed these illegal activities to take place so blatantly under their own nose.

We hope and pray that in future the Election Commissioner will instruct the relevant authorities to strictly adhere to the Election Laws and see that his instructions are not brazenly violated by the candidates and their agents.

The City Fathers of the newly elected Colombo Municipal Council have a great responsibility in keeping the Colombo City clean and a safer place for the Rate-payers to live in.

It is suggested to the newly appointed Mayor of Colombo and the Councillors of the Colombo Municipal Council to start their onerous duties by first removing the Election posters put up by them in the City.

Flat Dweller

Colombo 5

That horrible poster

The March 16 issue of The Sunday Times carried a report - with pictures of a grieving wife and daughter - to the effect that the daughter of that Hakmana businessman, Buddhadasa Jayasekere who had been put to death on a tyre pyre, swooned as soon as she recognised her father in that horrible poster.

It is evident that the political parties lack the capacity to feel that the poster would bring helpless grief to those to whom the man was dear.

The sublime idea behind that poster, seems to have been that it would inspire the people to abandon one party and get on the bandwagon of the other. But one cannot even guess to what extent that poster had that desired effect, in view of the fact that this reader was sickened by it.

Shouldn't the use of posters of this genre, to make politicial gains, be prohibited, for one can't escape the thought that they have the potential to brutalize the young.?

Wijaya Ranaweera


More letters to the editor * The sham test and interview * A dumping ground * Blocking of side drains in Galle MC area * How to enjoy old age * Chidren have to go home when it rains * Thoughts at Easter-tide

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