Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe yesterday lambasted unnamed private media organisations of undermining democracy and attempting to push the country back to the Rajapaksa-era when they made easy money through corrupt deals.
The Prime Minister told an international gathering in Colombo that private media organisation heads and their editors were conspicuously absent from a UNESCO-sponsored seminar calling for an end to impunity for attacks against journalists.
Prime Minister Wickremesinghe asked if upholding press freedom had now fallen solely on his administration and a few civil society organisations while private media bosses remained silent.
He stressed that Sri Lanka’s media should be questioning him and his administration about the progress in the Lasantha Wickrematunga murder investigation. The Prime Minister vowed that he will not allow a handful of private media moguls to take the country back to the Rajapaksa-era when nine journalists, including the Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunga were assassinated.
Courts have been told that there was a huge cover-up of Wickrematunga’s January 2009 assassination which drew massive international condemnation of the Rajapaksa administration.
The new government which came to power in January 2015 has reopened the case, exhumed the body and ordered a fresh autopsy to establish the actual cause of death in order to ensure a credible investigation.
Fresh evidence showed that there had been a massive cover-up by the police and the judicial medical officer who carried out the first autopsy. The case is pending.
The Prime Minister said that private media had not pursued the attacks on their own colleagues during the former regime.
There was hardly any media interest in the disappearance of Prageeth Eknaligoda, the attacks on Keith Noyahr and Upali Tennakoon and the gun attacks on the Udayan newspaper where media workers were killed, the Premier said.
“The lack of coverage shows that the media is not interested in these cases. Are they trying to say they don’t need media freedom?” the Prime Minister asked. “Are they saying they want to go back to the Rajapaksa-era and allow journalists to be killed?”
“This silence (of the private media) will affect all media personnel.
This is not something that will affect me, but I will work to ensure the freedom of journalists.
The government is taking a keen interest in protecting the media and the rights of journalists, but I want to know if the private media has the same interest.”
The Prime Minister was addressing the one-day seminar organised by the UNESCO and the Ministry of Finance and Media on ending impunity for crimes against journalists.
According to UNESCO, nine journalists were killed in Sri Lanka with many more attacked, abducted or tortured between 2005 and 2015 when Mahinda Rajapaksa was President.
“Sri Lanka which ranked at the bottom of the Global Impunity Index (of the Committee to Protect Journalists) has now been removed from it as a result of the positive work done by the government over the last two years,” the Prime Minister added.