We unreservedly condemn Saturday's attack on ITN and Rupavahini crews assigned to cover the UNP convention at Welisara. We do so not because we are great fans of the State media or endorse their spin-doctoring but because we firmly believe that media personnel are not there for thugs to rough up or account for at will, whatever their faults may be.
The UNP's kneejerk reaction has been to deny its involvement in Saturday's attack. It says it had not invited the State media and the incident occurred outside the venue of its convention. Therefore, it says it should not be blamed for the attack. This argument has been put forth by UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake. One is intrigued! His skewed logic reminds us how the UNPtried to avoid blame for an attack on journalists way back in 1993.
In that year, a group of UNP dissidents led by Lalith, Gamini and Premachandra, who had made an abortive attempt to impeach President Ranasinghe Premadasa was conducting a leaflet distribution campaign opposite the Fort Railway station against the government of the day. No sooner had the protest kicked off than hordes of UNP thugs appeared from nowhere and set upon the UNP dissidents and media personnel, wielding as they did pistols, bicycle chains, knives, swords and knuckle-dusters. Cameras were smashed and we the members of the Fourth Estate ran for dear life but sustained bumps on our heads as well as cuts and bruises on our limbs at the hands of UNP goons wreaking havoc all round quite professionally in full view of the public as well as the police. Later, the then Minister of Defence D. B. Wijetunga audaciously claimed that some irate train commuters had assaulted the protesters and journalists for blocking the entrances and exits at the railway station! And we asked in the columns of this newspaper whether commuters usually carried pistols, knives, bicycle chains etc besides their packets of meal (bath mul) when they went to work.
So, the UNP cannot fool the discerning people by claiming that none of its supporters were involved in Saturday's attack.
It is a supreme irony that the State media making a hue and cry over Saturday's incident remained virtually mum when Minister Mervyn Silva stormed the Rupavahini Corporation in 2007. Initially, there was a live coverage of the unfolding drama with the protagonist, Mervyn, being given an 'overdose' of his own medicine but there was no follow-up.
Other arms of the State media either blacked out the incident or reported very little of it. When some Rupavahini workers came under retaliatory attacks by thugs later on, members of the State media shamelessly capitulated to government pressure, abandoned their protests and smoked the peace pipe with the politically backed perpetrators. They are notorious for acting like the three proverbial monkeys when the privately owned media institutions and their journalists are attacked by pro-government elements; they get agitated only when the culprits happen to be enemies of their political masters.
Regrettably, a section of the so-called independent media which lost no time in condemning Mervyn to the stake for his 'foray' into the Rupavahini Corporation are making a revolting attempt to whitewash the UNP over the Welisara attack.
The JVP last week banned the State media from covering its events. The UNP has not only followed suit but also chosen to absolve itself of the responsibility for Saturday's attack on some flimsy grounds. How can these two knights in shining armour claim to be champions of democracy and the freedom of expression while imposing bans on a section of the media? After all, the UNP forgave the LTTE and had no qualms about inviting the terrorists to talks despite the fact that they had killed tens of thousands of civilians and dozens of UNP leaders including President Premadasa.
The JVP, which killed thousands of UNPers in cold blood, is now on honeymoon with the UNP, some of whose present-day leaders were responsible for capturing, torturing and killing many JVP top guns including Rohana Wijeweera. So, is there any reason why the JVP and the UNP cannot forgive journalists of the State media?
One may be justified in demanding that the State media behave. Similarly, the self-appointed champions of democracy and media rights must practise what they preach.