By Shamindra Ferdinando
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe yesterday alleged that an influential section of the media was working overtime to bring back the Rajapaksas to power regardless of the irreparable losses caused by the previous administration to the media.
Delivering the keynote address at a UNESCO Conference on Regional Cooperation to Promote Freedom of Expression and the Rule of Law in Asia through Ending Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists at the Taj Samudra, PM Wickremesinghe, referring to a spate of killings and other incidents, including the assassination of The Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickrematunga, disappearance of Prageeth Ekneligoda and brutal assaults on the Deputy Editor of The Nation Keith Noyar and Rivira Editor Upali Tennakoon, said that the absence of owners of media organisations as well as editors, except for two heads of state-owned institutions and editor of a privately run media organisation, at the event, revealed their lack of interest.
The PM pointed out that those who were not present there turned a blind eye to repeated attacks on the Jaffna-based Uthayan and other Tamil media.
The UNP leader asked whether the lukewarm response of the top media personnel as well as owners to the UNESCO event was an indication they didn’t want media freedom, whether they want the Rajapaksas back in power or restore the Rajapaksa rule by destroying the incumbent government.
Alleging the media had never inquired from him what had happened to Lasantha Wickrematunga, PM Wickremesinghe claimed that they ignored atrocities perpetrated on the media.
Wickrematunga’s wife, Sonali Samarasinghe Wickrematunga, Minister, Sri Lanka’s Permanent Mission in New York was among the audience.
PM Wickremesinghe said he wasn’t sure whether his speech would be published. “There would be fresh attacks on me tomorrow but this is the truth,” the PM said, strongly condemning the failure on the part of the media to take up Wickremetunga’s assassination with the then government.
The UNP Leader alleged that the media groups that had employed journalists targeted by the previous government were silent about atrocities committed by the Rajapaksa, though his government represented the interests of the media.
The UNP leader alleged that some media organisations were much more interested in doing business with the previous government than protecting those who were employed by them
Declaring that the incumbent government couldn’t protect media freedom on its own, Premier Wickremesinghe alleged that some media organisations were busy trying to bring the Rajapaksas back into power at the expense of democracy.
The PM acknowledged that there could be shortcomings on their part but they remained committed to protect journalists.
The decision on the part of the media not to report certain matters and relentlessly target the government revealed their strategy meant to somehow help the Rajapaksas back into power, he asserted.
The PM said that since the change of government in 2015 January there hadn’t been attacks on journalists.
The UNP leader reiterated his commitment to bringing responsible for attacks on the media to book.
Law and Order and Southern Development Minister Sagala Ratnayake, addressing the second session, which exclusively dealt with the situation in Sri Lanka briefly explained the status of Wickremetunga’s assassination investigation. Minister Ratnayake said that current inquiries had been focused on persons who used six telephone numbers.
Minister Ratnayake also insisted on his commitment to bringing investigations to a successful conclusion.
Ratnayake sought an opportunity to explain the status of investigations after police spokesman SP Ruwan Gunasekera briefed the gathering on the inquiries with the focus on Wickremetunga assassination. The top UNPer called Wickrematunga assassination inquiry a complicated case.
Editor of Uthayan Dewanayagam Premananda challenged the police spokesman’s statement with regard to his paper. He alleged that the police spokesman’s statement wasn’t acceptable and contrary to his assertion that there had been 37 ‘attacks’ during the previous administration.
Premananda subsequently handed over a file containing information regarding those incidents to Minister Ratnayake, who promised to inquire into them.