(United National Party (UNP) Parliamentarian Mangala Samaraweera has in a letter sent to media watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Asia programme Coordinator Bob Dietz complained about “Ceylon Today” editor Hana Ibrahim being the Sri Lanka country representative for CPJ)
Reproduced below is the letter:
July 10, 2012
Mr. Bob Dietz
Asia Programme Coordinator
Committee to Protect Journalists
Dear Mr. Dietz,
CPJ’s Sri Lanka Representative
On June 29, Sri Lankan law enforcement raided web media offices in Colombo, arresting eight journalists based on a warrant obtained citing offences committed under Section 118 of the Penal Code of Sri Lanka. Section 118 was a section of the Penal Code that was repealed in 2002, relating to criminal defamation.
The raid and subsequent arrests of staffers from Sri Lanka Mirror and Sri Lanka X News was, therefore, completely illegal and was little more than a politically motivated witch-hunt to silence some of the last vibrant media outfits remaining in the country.
This harassment meted out to the Sri Lanka Mirror and Sri Lanka X News has been roundly condemned by media rights groups and the international community. The missions of United States, United Kingdom and the European Union – and even the United Nations – last week expressed grave concern about the ongoing campaign to silence and oppress the free press in Sri Lanka, which all of these states and international organizations view as serious threats to democracy by the Sri Lankan political leadership.
While it is heartening that most media organizations and activist groups in Sri Lanka have expressed solidarity with the cause of this freedom of expression issue, it is distressing to note the negative, inflammatory and inaccurate reporting on this issue by the Ceylon Today newspaper, which I have now come to understand is edited by Sri Lanka’s CPJ Country Representative and alleged Media Activist, Hana Ibrahim.
Under Ms. Ibrahim’s mentorship,Ceylon Today and its sister newspaper Mawbima have taken a stoic position to defend the Sri Lankan government’s illegal action against the websites, in some cases going beyond the call of duty to report, and descending to actually provoking further action and arrests against journalists at the website and its administrators. It has failed to publish a single statement issued by foreign governments and the UN expressing concern over the raid, in its print edition. The US reaction is however published online in brief. (An annexure of links to these stories is provided).
In an editorial on Sunday July 8, 2012 entitled ‘When media freedom is abused’ Ibrahim ironically wrote in reference to the Sri Lanka Mirror Raid:
“Media and human rights groups, which have been extremely critical of government efforts to subjugate the media, in what can only be deemed as a knee-jerk reaction were quick to condemn the raid, deeming it a part of a broader effort to intimidate and harass all critical journalists
However not all situations can be viewed in such black and white contrasts.
For, lost in the blanket vilification of the government action is a simple yet disconcerting reality – the misuse and abuse of media freedom by a significant segment of the online media community, to hurt, vilify and defame others under the guise of unfettered journalism.
Unfortunately this was a responsibility missing in web journalism which equated media freedom to be the right to disseminate barefaced lies, crafty concoctions and fanciful fabrications as credible news, not only vilifying whomever they pleased by also misleading the public into accepting their mistruths and untruths as verified facts.”
The sentiment is ironic, especially as it comes in the wake of a slanderous and defamatory two page editorial published by Ibrahim in the June 24 issue of Ceylon Today blatantly attacking and vilifying former journalists at the newspaper who resigned in protest of the Ceylon Today Management’s arbitrary dismissal of Ibrahim’s predecessor and veteran journalist Lalith Allahakkoon from his position as Editor in Chief over an editorial independence issue.
Ibrahim’s smear campaign not only endangers these journalists once serving in her editorial, but also makes thinly veiled attempts to make prospective employers wary of recruiting the group that quit Ceylon Today in protest against editorial interference. Ibrahim who profited from Allahakkoon’s unethical and illegal sacking professes to be a media activist, yet hastened to resign from her position as a trustee of the Free Media Movement of Sri Lanka just days after sustained attempts to block the group from issuing a statement condemning the senior editor’s sacking failed.
Mr. Dietz, as a member of the opposition and a former Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka that sees the present political administration as a serious threat to Sri Lanka’s democracy and freedom of expression, I hold the CPJ and its mission to protect and provide safe haven to endangered journalists in Sri Lanka in high regard. I believe that your good offices have ensured that the lives of many Sri Lankan media personnel have been spared and for this, as an opposition that is deeply concerned about the breakdown of democracy in this country, we are most grateful.
It is for precisely these reasons that we view the conduct of your Sri Lanka representative with such concern. The targeted raids on the Sri Lanka Mirror and Sri Lanka X News and the ongoing harassment of journalists attached to these media outfits, if taken to the next level could prove deadly given present trends to suppress the free media in this country. In such an event, Sri Lanka Mirror and Sri Lanka X News Journalists could find themselves in the awkward position of being compelled to seek assistance from your Sri Lanka representative tasked with ensuring safe passage for media personnel who find themselves in danger in the country.
How could they in good conscience seek redress from Ms. Ibrahim when she has made it clear in the pages of her newspaper that she not only looks down upon these journalists but even feels the illegal actions of the state are justified? It is appalling that the supposed watcher of attempts to endanger the lives of scribes has descended to the level of not only branding the work of these journalists as “scurrilous and defamatory” but in justifying the government action against these websites, lends credence and legitimacy to the regime’s campaign of media oppression and stifling dissent.
If journalists and media outfits must now fear reprisal and attack from its own fraternity and more specifically media activists tasked with ensuring journalists’ safety, what recourse will they have? If this pro-oppression position is Ms. Ibrahim’s own, why does she continue to wear the misleading garb of media activist and campaigner for free expression?
I bring these facts before you in the hope that they will be taken note of, in light of the ever present climate of fear and danger under which Sri Lankan journalists report and bring to bear upon your chosen representative how this style of reportage only serves to further endanger the lives and livelihoods of these scribes.
Mangala Samaraweera, MP