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article imageOp-Ed: World Press Freedom Day and Sri Lanka

By Heike Winnig     May 3, 2010 in World
After almost three decades of civil war, press freedom is seriously compromised. Every journalist in Sri Lanka knows his work will be scrutinized by a tyrannical government that ignores principles of editorial independence.
Sri Lanka’s opposition voices have been minimized or silenced. Journalists have been killed, detained, or suddenly vanished. Naturally, a self-serving government perceives the journalist's duty to inform exclusively through the prism of self-interest.
Weeks before World Press Freedom Day -- which was created by the UN General Assembly in 1993 -- an appointment occurred as if to prove this point. On April 23, Mervyn Silva, a politician with an established record of physical and verbal violence against journalists, was appointed Deputy Minister of Information within the Sri Lankan government. The ethical motivation of a journalist is to inform and educate because the world needs to know and has a right to know, but when self-preservation is at stake, how difficult must it be for any journalist to avoid pre-emptive self-censorship?
Reporters without Borders want Mervyn Silva removed as Media Deputy Minister. “The Sri Lankan government has again distinguished itself by assigning key posts to very controversial figures implicated in attacks on press freedom,” Reporters without Borders said. “The ruling party’s victory in the parliamentary elections is being marred by this kind of appointment, which is casting serious doubt on its ability to carry out reconciliation and reconstruction."
On March 23, 2010, Reporters without Borders appealed to President Mahinda Rajapaksa to order the release of the results of the police investigation into leading cartoonist and political reporter Prageeth Eknaligoda’s disappearance two months ago. The police have shown no interest in finding this opposition journalist alive, while government ministers have made contradictory statements that have spread confusion about the circumstances of his disappearance.
“With some senior officials such as defense minister Gotabhaya Rajpaksa still suggesting that Eknaligoda staged his own disappearance, we urge the president to provide credible information about what happened to him,” Reporters without Borders said.
Opposition journalist Ruwan Weerakoon is meanwhile still being held by Sri Lanka’s police, although he is in very poor health, according to Reporters without Borders. The fear that he will be prosecuted is very real.
Sri Lanka is not alone in the enforcement of silencing those who want to communicate to the world about the horrors and violence seeming as the norm in other countries like Pakistan and Honduras, where seven journalists have been murdered within the past 40 days. Even Fiji and Israel are suppressors of freedom of speech.
Anthony Thasan, a.k.a Shoba Sakthi, a.k.a Rocky Raj, is the author of Gorilla, trans. by Anushiya Sivanarayanan, a novel of autofiction, in which he describes the Welikada Prison massacre of 1983 where more than 50 political prisoners were slaughtered.
“First of all, I wrote the novel in 2004 when the civil war was still on. But that apart, the Welikada massacre is an atrocity that has gone without justice. It was a planned massacre with government support. And there has been no investigation or attempt to provide justice for the victims,” he says.
Thasan continues, “My narration is based on first person accounts of what happened in there. I met several survivors, cross-checked the facts, and the time and manner in which events unfolded. This account is as close to reality as it is possible to get.”
In 1993, the United Nations General Assembly declared May 3rd to be World Press Freedom Day to raise awareness to the importance of freedom of the press, and remind governments of their duty to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression enshrined under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and marking the anniversary of the Declaration of Windhoek, a statement of free press principles put together by African newspaper journalists in 1991.
World Press Freedom Day is a time to contemplate the terrible sacrifices made by reporters around the world. It is a day to honor those who have risked and paid with their lives to carry out their duties as journalists. Journalism can potentially be one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Knowledge is power, and those who dare to pass it on may pay dearly.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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