Spare a thought for Sri Lanka’s journalists

9 October 2007 – With England’s cricketers taking a 2-1 lead in the five one-day internationals against Sri Lanka, and the prospect of a thrilling test series starting in December, it is unsurprising for British interest to focus on whether the tsunami-damaged cricket ground at Galle will be ready on time.

Meanwhile Sri Lanka is ravaged by a most uncivil war, in which journalists and journalism are literally caught in the cross fire between political factions. More than 70,000 people have died in the conflict over the last 30 years. The cricket authorities may be convinced that sufficient security arrangements are in place to guarantee that international matches can take place safely, but local journalists have no such assurances.

At least 16 media workers have been killed in the last two years, and death threats against journalists are commonplace. Newspaper offices have been attacked and printing supplies restricted. Delivery drivers have been assassinated and journalists have been ‘disappeared’. Many have fled, especially from the Jaffna area in the north east where the Sri Lanka military, death squads and Tamil militants from the LTTE are active and brook no criticism from anyone engaged in independent journalism. Censorship and coercion restrict the free flow of information, and even foreign journalists are at risk if they get too close to stories either side would prefer not to be covered.

Having worked with journalists in Sri Lanka over the last five years MediaWise is proud to be associated with two events in London this week which will turn the spotlight on the risks they face.

On Wednesday 10 October the Exiled Journalists’ Network is holding its second Press Freedom Forum in the Atlee Room, Portcullis House, Westminster with Colombo-based guest speakers Sunanda Deshapriya of the Sri Lanka Free Media Movement, Tamil News Manager for ABC Radio Network Nadaraja Kuruparan, human rights lawyer Seyed Bazeer from the Sri Lankan Muslim Information Centre in London and Chandana Keerthi Bandara of the BBC Sinhala service.  They will be joined by speakers from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Press Institute and the World Editors Forum. The event will be chaired by NUJ President Michelle Stanistreet

The following evening Sunanda Deshapriya and Nadaraja Kuruparan will discuss the current human rights situation in Sri Lanka with Prof Sumantra Bose from the London School of Economics, Al Jazeera producer Juliana Ruhfus and BBC radio presenter George Arney at the Frontline Club, Paddington.

We hope these events will receive the media attention they deserve. Recent fact-finding missions to Sri Lanka have highlighted the crisis facing its journalists. Without vocal support from media professionals and concerned citizens outside Sri Lanka, independent journalists there face a future of silence, exile or death.

Mike Jempson
Director, MediaWise

(Bulletin No 143)

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