| by Pearl Thevanayagam
(December 11, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) We blame politicians and politicians blame the media. But the media in Sri Lanka have taken a new path out of extricating themselves and into the limelight through self-promotion. Or rather through those intrepid and honest journalists who sacrificed their lives.
It is Lasantha Wickrematunga’s murder which brought his erstwhile and immediate wife of just 14 days, Sonali Samarasinghe, to earn a fellowship in the US. All the while the mother of his three children and his lifelong partner, Lasantha’s wife Raine Wickrematunga, a veteran and intrepid journalist who along with Lasantha founded Sunday Leader and who cut her teeth in journalism at Independent Newspapers which is now defunct, remain in exile in Australia.
Sonali, who gleaned her way into Sunday Leader while Lasantha dispatched his family down under to ensure their safety managed to trap the lonely editor into marrying her. Now she is big news and is espoused as a champion of media freedom. BBC, Reuters, Al Jazeera and CNN showered her with accolades as a champion journalist and martyr.
Another asylum seeker who claimed he was abducted is Nadaraja Guruparan of a Sri Lankan Radio broadcast. The fellow could not even remember the month, never mind the day he was abducted. He was paid airfare and hotel expenses by the Exiled Journalists Network UK and is now incommunicado.
Sunanda Deshapriya who is believed to have embezzled funds from Free Media Movement is now in exile. Tissainayagam is now earning a fellowship and his release was championed by CPJ (Committee to Protect Journalists). He is not entirely innocent of procuring NGO money supposedly from the LTTE.
One quick way to earn a journalism fellowship is to shout you were victimised.
One pattern emerges from these self-promoting journalists. They were never journalists in the first place. Their aim is to worm their way into the media solely for their self-aggrandisement. At least Lake House journalists openly say they would support any party in power. Not so with the champions of media freedom. They entice western media organisations and they appear to be neutral and send out regular press releases on human rights and press freedom.
How come Iqbal Athas, despite many death threats and bomb throwing at his residence never succumbed to seeking refuge in foreign climes or getting himself a fellowship abroad. Simply put, no journalism school could teach Iqbal the fundamentals of investigative journalism. He has it his veins and he cannot be bought with a few thousand dollars. Sunday Times lost a most intelligent and astute journalist of the finest calibre in Sri Lankan journalism. His Situation Report and CNN coverage were a joy to main readership and audience.
K. Sivaram alias Taraki was another journalist who was bumped off by the government. Not unlike Athas, he was a mine of information both from the LTTE and the government. And he never sought refuge in a foreign clime and upon his death he received many epitaphs from ambassadors including Japan and the US.
Nimalarajan was a stringer to the BBC and he certainly did not live it up in the capital. His only mission in life was reporting as it is and he paid for it with his life 10 years ago at the hands of the government supported thugs who killed him in a high security zone in Jaffna. At the time of his death he was supporting his extended family with the earnings from the BBC.
Journalists come in two categories; those who want to tell the truth at all costs and those who want tell stories as their masters wish them to do. Unfortunately our journalists are mainly subservient to the powers that be or they are mostly interested in their own welfare. Why should we blame the government for suppressing the media. Journalists themselves are genuflecting before powers and are interested largely in their own betterment.
(The writer is Asia Pacific Journalism Fellow at UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, California and a print journalist for 21 years. She can be reached at email@example.com)