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9th August 1998

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TNL crisis: "God save media freedom"

Harith Gunawardene, script writer of the popular TV political comedy Always Breakdown, which has now broken down, says the TNL high-ups who are shedding 'crocodile tears' about harassment, intimidation and interference, harassed, intimidated and interfered with his freedom of expression.Harith Gunewardena

The young script-writer said in a statement that all his copies were wetted by these same persons who are now crying foul.

"When I wrote a political satire on Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera's credit card scandal it was banned from the airwaves. That was their brand of media freedom," the statement said.

"Now these same people are running to this same Media Minister and the State media asking for media freedom. God save media freedom", Mr. Gunawardene said.

His statement comes in the wake of the resignation of TNL's News and Commercial Director Ishini Wickremesinghe Perera, wife of Sri Lanka Muslim Congress-PA MP, Asitha Perera, alleging constant harassment and interference.

Ms. Perera says in a letter to the Media Minister she could no longer work efficiently, effectively and independently.

The Free Media Movement (FMM) in a statement has condemned the harassment meted out to Ms. Perera and Chief News editor Sadda Mangala Suriyabandara and others at TNL who have suffered at the hands of TNL's management.

"Interference by owners has been a major issue in Sri Lanka's media establishment and often this interference stems from the political objectives of the owner," the FMM said

Ishini Wickremesinghe PereraThe FMM said it believed media must not only be free from state interference, but also from meddling by owners, and called upon all media owners to refrain from such interference. Expressing similar sentiments, the Prajathanthra, a foundation for freedom of expression, said: "When any media institution is owned by an individual or a private company, it is their duty to respect the editorial freedom of the journalist, which is an integral part of media freedom."

"Although the private sector in Sri Lanka has the right to set up independent media institutions, the reporting of news, presentation of features and the overall editorial content of such institutions should not be confined to promoting the political views and aspirations of the proprietors or the goals of the political parties they are aligned with.

"Media institutions both of the state and the private sector should be committed to preserving and encouraging the editorial freedom of the journalist."

"It is the view of our organisation that media freedom and the editorial freedom of the journalist should be protected from threats that come from the state, as well as, the new entrepreneurs in the media sector and the political parties they are aligned with."

Blast in goods train

By J.A.L. Jayasinghe

A bomb believed to be planted under an engine of a goods train went off last night between Hatton and Rozella injuring the driver and his assistant, Railway officials said.

The incident took place around 9.45 pm, officals of the Kandy Railway Contral Room said.

Badulla bound train services would be affected, they said.

Investigations into the incident are being conducted under the directions of DIG Central Province Sirisena Herath.

Diamond mass at St. Lawrence

St. Lawrence's Church, Wellawatte, celebrates its Diamond Jubilee today.

A festive High Mass to mark this historic occasion will be held at 7.30 am today, with Papal Nuncio Dr. Oswaldo Padilla as the main celebrant.

Yesterday evening a procession was held with the highlight being a massive float of the tree-lined church. This was followed by vespers where the chief celebrant was Anuradhapura's Bishop Emeritus Henry Gunawardene.

A team of Redemptrist Priests led by Fr. Rex Pillai conducted a two-week mission including house-to-house visits as part of the spiritual renewal for the Diamond Jubilee.

St. Lawrence, a martyr, is the patron saint of Colombo city.

Behave or get out, Vasu warned

The outspoken LSSP MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara has been warned against attacking the President or the government in public if he wishes to remain in the ruling PA, General Secretary D. M. Jayaratna said.

He said the warning had been given to Mr. Nanayakkara both by the PA and his own party, the LSSP.

In recent years, Mr. Nanayakkara has regularly spoken out against government policies, especially on issues such as privatisation and workers' rights.

Last Wednesday he and other LSSP members walked out of parliament when the government moved the motion for the extension of the emergency islandwide.

17 injured by hand grenade

Seventeen people, including a Pradeshiya Sabha member, were injured when a hand grenade exploded yesterday morning in a crowded town, Wehewa, in Rambukkana, police said.

They said the grenade was lobbed when an argument took place between two political groups.

The injured were admitted to the Rambukkana and Kegalle hospitals and no arrests have been made so far.

Corn project: farmers protest

A farmers' group has planned a mass protest in the Lunugamvehara area in the Hambantota district against a baby-corn cultivation project with foreign collaboration.

The General Secretary of the Kirindioya Joint farmers Association Ranjith Kumarasinghe said farmers representing various organisations would take part in the protest campaign at Lunugamvehara at 10 a.m. tomorrow.

An estimated 5,000 acres are to be allocated for the project and farmers fear the cultivation of baby-corn would affect other plantations.

The farmers will also protest against the failure of authorities to provide an alternative irrigation scheme for the proposed baby-corn project.

Farmers in the area were summoned to the police station on Friday and police officers appealed to them not to take part in the protest.

New Army censor takes over

Major General Sathis Jayasundera, succeeded Major General Jaliya Nammuni, as the Army Censor. The latter has gone on leave before retirement.

Maj. Gen.Jayasundera has also assumed duties as General Officer Commanding of Operations Command, Colombo and as acting Deputy Chief of Staff of the Army.

Who's the favoured lady?

A female medical officer of the Peradeniya University has been given 25 months full pay leave for post graduate studies abroad when regulations permit only one month's leave, the auditor general has pointed out.

This officer attached to the non-academic staff had obtained the special leave on two occasions and received a salary of more than Rs. 150,000, it has been revealed.

Stop Russia's collpase

How it looks, it is often said, depends on where you sit. The Financial Times reported General Alexander Lebed's public letter as a serious front page story. The International Herald Tribune relegated it to an inside page with a headline that suggested it must be a Lebed joke. The new governor of Siberia was reported as threatening to take over a local missile base and its portion of Russia's nuclear arsenal with it.

Meanwhile the Russian Parliament, the Duma, has started once again impeachment proceedings against Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Always the number one charge is that Yeltsin initiated the breakup of the Soviet Union whose denouement, if Lebed is not joking, is still to come.

No one inside Russia says it, but the truth becomes more apparent every day if Mikhail Gorbachev had stayed in power and engineered a gentler transition, not only would the Soviet Union be whole, the wars in Chechnya, Tajikistan, Georgia, Dagestan, Uzbekistan, Armenia and Azerbaijan would never have happened and there would be no dangerous struggle for oil and pipelines around the Caspian Sea. Not least, the nuclear armoury would be safe, neither its rockets dangerously rusting in their silos, nor its scientists and materials being bought away by rogue states, nor likely to fall out of the experienced hands in Moscow that control the authority for use.

We could also surmise that the Soviet economy would have made a slower but steadier conversion to capitalism, even though Gorbachev's own economic policies were muddled, to say the least. With one hand he was encouraging Grigory Yavlinsky to win US support for a rapid change-over to the market. With the other he was making appointments, such as Valentin Pavlov as prime minister, an unimaginative, old-school conservative.

When Gorbachev was invited to the Group of Seven Summit in London in June, 1991, the contradictions showed. And the West, mistakenly, offered no financial carrot to help what would have been, even in the best circumstances, a bumpy transition to smoother path.

The West made the same mistake with the new Yeltsin regime in late 1991.

Yegor Gaidar was appointed economic overlord with a mandate for sweeping reform. But the West held back, seemingly a prisoner to old beliefs that Russia was somehow a future threat. The top westerner to visit Moscow at this time was David Mulford, the US Treasury's under-secretary, whose mission was to find out who would pay the debts of the old Soviet Union.

Either with Gorbachev or in the early Yeltsin years the West could have swung the balance in favour of intelligent reform and enabled a less fraught transition one with rather few gangsters and monopolies, with less inflation, less pauperization and thus much calmer political relationships.

Now today we see the West in the persona of the International Monetary Fund desperately trying to plug the holes in a sinking Titanic. Whereas help before might have cost, according to Professor Richard Layard of the London School of Economics, two percent of NATO's defence spending it will now cost much more to right the ship.

Moreover, instead of being able to run down NATO as Russia prospered, disarmed and continued its pro-western policies of the late Gorbachev and early Yeltsin years, there is a slow but steady return to the Cold War years.

Hopefully this is to overstate it. The "end" is too easily hyped up. Two years ago at the time of Yeltsin's heart operation, the papers were full of reports of Russia as "disintegrating", "mafia-ridden" and "on the verge of another revolution".

Yet somehow the country weathered the worst. To some extent the tales of suffering are overstated. The dramatic rise in the death rate for men, for example, should be balanced by the fact that women no longer have to spend 20 hours a week in line, often in the biting cold. Housing and heating are still incredibly cheap for most people.

Russia has deep foundations in industrial life, in transportation and above all, in education, the great legacies of the Soviet system. Because of its political turbulence, Russia may seem to be falling behind its big developing country rivals, China, India and Brazil. But once it finds its political and managerial equilibrium it will leave them far behind.

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