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Sri Lanka should not gag media

The Sri Lankan government, riding on the high of military victory, could possibly do better by giving space to dissenting opinion, even if it is inconvenient. Sutirtho Patranobis writes.

world Updated: May 13, 2009 14:31 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times

It’s been one volatile week in Sri Lanka. The fighting in the north is reaching a violent climax. The military coiled itself around the remaining LTTE as tightly as a tourniquet. The Tamil Tigers gasped for air as their conventional military capabilities dwindled. In desperation, they even urged the US – to cast inside India’s presence in the region – and send warships to the Lankan waters. They said it was time for some ``gun boat diplomacy’’.

In Colombo, Vesak Poya (Buddha Purnima) was celebrated with surreal paper lanterns, huge pandols and lot of illumination. The city streets, especially Galle road, were packed with celebrating families and friends out for late night meals and some fresh air on the ocean front.

In the middle of the celebrations, and as the news of civilian deaths poured out of the war front, Channel 4 journalist, Nick Walsh, and his cameraperson were thrown out of Sri Lanka for sullying the country’s image. They apparently managed to do that in a four-minute story dealing with the conditions in a camp for the displaced.

"Who is this? You rang me earlier? Is this Channel 4? You have been accusing my soldiers of raping civilians? Your visa is cancelled, you will be deported. You can report what you like about this country, but from your own country, not from here", Walsh quoted defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa in his blog, adding: ``I'm missing out my interjections, but that's pretty much how you get deported in Sri Lanka.’’

A sardonic defence ministry called him ``wonder boy of Channel 4’’. ``Even a semblance of a balancing act is absent to give even an iota of respectability; obvious intention is to discredit the security forces and…an act by the biased media to save Prabhakaran, the child snatcher,’’ the ministry said.

The government targeted the BBC for biased reporting, saying its reports on the deaths of civilians were blown out of proportion and an effort to ``sanitise’’ the LTTE.

But what shocked everyone was the treatment that The Hindu – perceived to be an unabashed ally of Mahinda Rajapaksa – got. Its Chennai edition was repeatedly confiscated at the airport, because on certain days, it carried statements made by Tamil Nadu CM K Karunanidhi and opposition leader, J Jayalalithaa, on Sri Lanka. The newspaper’s distributor published a newspaper advertisement apologising to its readers for the inconvenience. The government, riding on the high of military victory, could possibly do better by giving space to dissenting opinion, even if it is inconvenient.

First Published: May 13, 2009 13:46 IST