IS UN TRYING TO DESTABILISE PRESS FREEDOM IN SRI LANKA
by Dr. Tilak S. Fernando reporting from Colombo
In objective journalism there is a moral principle to follow - i.e.: Facts are sacred, the comment is free'. It is now crystal clear that the veteran Sri Lankan journalist and highly respected analyst on International affairs, Mohan Samaranayake's attempts to follow this philosophy by giving an interview to the Divaina newspaper, which was translated and published in the Daily News on 17 January 2007, has been able to upset the hornet's nest of the United Nations Office and its Colombo based spokesperson Olare Clinton to overstep her mark and go far beyond her professional and/or diplomatic boundaries by acting in a most domineering manner in telephoning the Daily News Editor to discuss his editorial responsibilities. This kind of behaviour requires total condemnation.
What Mohan Samaranayake had expressed eloquently in his press interview was not something new. For that matter one does not need to have a PhD in international affairs or politics to fathom the duplicity adopted by the International community in relation to the terrorism in other countries and the International attitude towards Sri Lanka.
Samaranayake's comments have been most academic, factual, impartial and forthright. Perhaps his criticism on the American Ambassador Robert O'Blake's media interview may have touched a sensitive nerve of the UN official's ego to react in such a rash manner. Equally, the journalist had referred as to how the Americans behaved when the USA invaded Afghanistan and how they pressurised Pakistan to restrain the supply of lorry loads of food to Afghanistan. It is wrong, in a democratic atmosphere, to disclose facts and comment freely on crimes against humanity and to expose the western media who had kept mum on the issue? Surely The United States of America does not own the UN?
One may also question whether is it a crime to compare Prabahakaran, the mass murderer who has killed thousands of people including political leaders both Sinhalese and Tamil in this country, including his own Tamil brethren who have gone and go against him, with Sadham Hussein's crime of ordering the assassination of 146 people? Is it a punishable offence to focus such information for the benefit of the newspaper readership and say, " No country in the world demands the summoning of Prabahakaran before the World Court Marshal"?
Mohan Samaranayake's analysis on the part played so far by the International Community had a balanced viewpoint, not sparing any country for that matter, which he thought had fallen out of line in analysing the issue on global terrorism. To substantiate his claims he had clarified and shown how the double standards work by both the Western countries as much as India in respect of terrorism. In his analysis he had mentioned how ' Internal Democracy invaded Iraq, killed Sadham Hussein's two sons and executed Saddam; the behaviour of Spain in respect of Basques Guerrillas and the Western countries influence on the Spanish Government; withdrawal of aid to Sri Lanka by Germany; British High Commissioner's comment that the ' Sri Lankan Army should act with utmost discipline when the British Army bombed even wedding receptions in Afghanistan, the Metropolitan police shot and killed an innocent passenger in the London Underground Railway right in front of other commuters who were aghast; why the powerful countries who allow Israel to attack Lebanon for the offence of abducting two Israeli soldiers by the Lebanese Hisbullah Guerrillas tell the Sri Lanka Government to enter negations with terrorists who attempted to assassinate Sri Lankan Army Commander and her Secretary of Defence etc. It is now established what Samaranayake expressed in his interview 'did not come under the definitions given on crimes on humanity, international relations and international courts of justice, as Saddham Hussain and LTTE are non controversial topics based on facts and 'theories on international law and relations ( Sarath Wijesinghe - D/N 20/1).
The only glitch, if that can be construed as a snag, in doing so was that when he thought of giving such examples in the interview objectively he had undoubtedly dipped his pen in garlic so that the writing when read would stink to high heaven!
'United Nations Organisation has been established for the protection and equality of everyone in the world with special emphasis on areas of human rights, living conditions, independence, freedom of expression and especially focusing on the freedom of independent journalism and journalists'. In that the context how could the Colombo based UN official account for her irrational behaviour in this instance?
It is common knowledge that even at the UN Colombo office there are pro-LTTE elements in employment, like in several other overseas missions and NGOs and INGOs based in Sri Lanka. It is therefore reasonable to assume that Mohan Samaranayhake too in this instance has become a victim of an orchestrated design of such a group within the UN office in Colombo! Not so long ago, the former UN Secretary General Kofi Anan was pushed into an embarrassing corner as a consequence of misguided information fed through to him by the UN officials in Colombo when he innocently sympathised with the LTTE terrorist leader Kauslyan's assassination. UN Colombo office records of impartiality towards Sri Lanka is not new and it has been exposed once before too when two former Heads in Colombo office, Peter Witham and Arve Ofstads, were given marching orders to leave the Country by the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry due to their jaundiced eye attitudes towards the LTTE terrorists.
Mohan Samaranayake may be an employee of the UN office in Sri Lanka who works under Olare Clinton (D/N 20/1). He is also a respected and independent journalist in this country. As an independent and objective journalist he has every right to be impartial and be constructive and objective in his criticism or writing. That what is meant by press freedom after all! In that context If the United Nations intention is to promote Human Rights in Sri Lanka it is high time that they should look very carefully about the behaviour of some of their staff employed in their Colombo office rather than allowing their representatives to behave irrationally and view things with squinted eyes
Journalist is an invaluable public servant and media is his weapon to expose, through constructive criticism, any authority, person, corporation or an institution, all of whom are accountable to the public, when they fall out of line or when there are flows in their organisations or even if they are seen to abuse their power and privileges. What a society expects of journalism would be unbiased, constructive and objective viewpoints in the interest of the society. Such reports will always be appreciated and recognised as high standards of journalism. Undoubtedly, it will benefit the profession and humanity as a whole rather than the journalist himself becoming a liability to his society
Mohan Samaranayake's plight appears to be a serious case of vitimisation and going far beyond the boundaries of press freedom where the UN office should be ashamed of. It will very much become a Foreign Ministry matter now to take it up very seriously on a diplomatic measure and to ensure that justice prevails; equally those responsible and guilty be brought to book immediately.
This will also become a bounden duty of the journalist fraternity in Sri Lanka and its International counterparts to ensure that highhanded acts of this nature should not allowed to repeat again from Sri Lankan soil by foreigners or this particular incident be allowed to be swept under the carpet!
It is very unfortunate that some of the foreigners who land in this country on the pretext of working for the welfare, human rights and peace promotion, under various names and categories, appear to be taking the reins of various operations to their own hands willy nilly and are trying to dictate terms to the people in this country as much as to the State at times! Mohan Samaranayake's incident is such a clear-cut example and the time is ripe for the Sri Lanka Government and the public at large to think seriously whether such highhanded behaviour by foreigners be allowed to continue in this country.
One wonders whether the same corridor that opened for the UN officials Peter Witham and Arve Ofstadt in leaving the country is in the horizon for Olare Clinton!