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Buddha, Jesus, Lincoln, Marx and Mervyn Silva

world Updated: May 04, 2010 15:20 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times
sri lanka

I fail to understand, why the new deputy media minister, Mervyn Silva, is called a thug. Or someone who would be a jester in the courts of powerful politicians but for his violent streak. Or, for that matter, someone with a history of violence against the media.

At an interaction with foreign journalists last week, the minister came across as a man with much, maybe unrequited, love for journalists and a bottomless sense of history: Silva said he was like the Buddha, Jesus, Gandhi, Lincoln, Lenin, Marx, Engel and Jinnah in his relentless pursuit of justice.

A diminutive man in a shirt, a sarong, dark glasses and rings, Silva welcomed us to his home with high walls and plush cars in the traditional Lankan way, with a betel leaf, and made us sit around a table overflowing with sandwiches, fish rolls, cakes and tea.

But what was most palatable was his unabashed affection for the media.

"I will even cook for media people," Silva said in Sinhalese; a follow-up surely to his first gregarious statement as media minister: "I will sleep separately from my wife at night to take calls from reporters."

But you have attacked the media, I complained.

"Its what the newspapers write," he said. What about the attacks carried out on television stations? "Did anyone see me?" he shook his head.

People in the media, he said, are teachers. "But teachers should behave."

In between, he said decisions have to be about the truth and not about the Constitution.

He went on. "Tell the truth. Otherwise, there could disciplinary action," Silva said as he handed out plates.

About journalists fleeing the country, Silva said: "many got themselves thrashed to get another country's visa."

As we left, his words were still ringing. "…a new media culture is needed…one which suits Sri Lanka."

"In what country do you appoint an arsonist to put out fires?" Reporters without Borders asked after Silva's appointment.

I have no clue but cynics would say in Mervyn Silva's Sri Lanka, of course.