by Uditha Kumarasinghe
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was critical of the conduct of a few privately- owned newspapers and said the biggest threat to the free media culture stemmed from the media itself and urged the media to criticise the government and point out shortcomings but not rouse racism.
The premier was speaking at the 20th anniversary of the Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum (SLMMF) at the Sports Ministry auditorium, Colombo yesterday. A leading authority in the Sinhala Language Prof. J.B. Disanayake, veteran journalists Manik de Silva, V. Thanabalasingham, M.L.M. Mohideen and attorney-at-Law Shiraz Noordeen were felicitated.
The Premier assured that the Government will not permit LTTE- remnants to revive terrorism. President Maithripala Sirisena and the Government has the responsibility to create a democratic society and ensure national security, the public should not entertain any doubts otherwise, he said.
Citing an example, the Premier quoted two headlines which appeared in a privately-owned English daily.” That newspaper in its first news story had attempted to give the impression that the TNA and Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan had forcibly entered an Army camp in Kilinochchi and in the second story, it confirmed the revival of the LTTE,” he said.
“A privately-owned Sinhala daily and its English dailies were behind this campaign. These newspapers carry fabricated news stories and call upon former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, whom the Premier described as’ king Dutugemunu’ to become a ‘king’ as it were,” he said.
Actually, this is the latest slogan for the Joint Opposition’s May Day rally. Another private Sinhala daily carried a lead story on the VAT scam and later published another story on the SriLankan Airline debt issue. However, they couldn’t drag the issues as they wished to hoodwink the public and therefore they twisted the story bringing up the issues of the Opposition Leader’s entry into an Army camp and the LTTE revival.
He said if anybody has an issue regarding Sampanthan’s entry into an Army camp, they can raise it in Parliament. But some privately-owned newspapers had obtained comments from Dinesh Gunawardena, Wimal Weerawansa and Gunadasa Amarasekara on this issue. Why couldn’t they directly ask Sampanthan about it. The Premier said that he and Opposition Leader Sampanthan would respond to this issue in Parliament.
Referring to the recent recovery of suicide jacket in Kilinochchi, the Premier said investigations were underway to ascertain whether these ex-LTTE members arrested in connection with the incident were attempting to form a separate terrorist group or not. Now the suspects are not detained under the PTA but under normal law. We hope to introduce new laws as based on those in Britain to prevent terrorism, he said.
Under President Sirisena’s government, even former Media Spokesman of the LTTE Daya Master could also query about this incident. The Premier queried as to who would have questioned about the disappearance of journalist Pradeep Eaknaligoda during the tenure of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The Premier commenting on a news item about the LTTE’s revival bid and that a TNA youth leader was arrested which appeared in a private English daily, said that even Police Spokesman ASP Ruwan Gunasekara had not spoken to the journalist or made any comment on that incident. “Then why does this newspaper imply about a revival of the LTTE? If they say so, this had happened during the regime of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as they had links with the LTTE and not during the good governance regime of President Sirisena. We have only to find out whether this is a terrorist act or not,’ he said.
The Premier said that he would give 24 hours to the journalist who wrote that news item to complain to the Police whether what he had written was correct. The Premier said if he doesn’t do so the journalist and the editor of that newspaper will have to be summoned before Parliament.
“The Media has a responsibility to discuss this kind of unethical media practice. Otherwise, the media remains silent and later puts the blame on us. The Press Complaints Commission is against this type of media practice.
The Premier queried as to whether the media took action on these matters. “The Media should criticise the government, but should not attempt to rouse racism. We fought for peace and to ensure law and order in the country. Therefore, we leave it to the media to fulfil their responsibility,” he said.
There were two or three officers in the Government intelligence service who give information to the media. They are expected to act in a sensible manner without being politically motivated, he said. If they acted in a responsible manner, the war would have been over a few years before.
Those who are responsible for the killing of journalists and parliamentarians should be brought to book, the premier said. Regional Advisor-Asia Pacific International Media Support, Denmark Dr. Ranga Kalansooriya and Deputy Director Naleemiah Institute, Beruwala As-Sheik Agar Mohamed also spoke.