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Sri Lankan Journos Accused Of Corruption

Jun 25, 2010 6:12:13 AM - thesundayleader.lk

IFJ - Stand Up For Journalism

Accusations about the Asia office of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) turning a blind eye to financial irregularities in Sri Lanka’s media organizations led to several key figures being ousted from office at this year’s IFJ world congress.

The Federation of Media Employees Trade Unions (FMETU) has accused the Asian leadership of the IFJ for not heeding warnings of financial mismanagement in Sri Lanka’s media organizations. The IFJ Asia office was criticised of not being interested in at least making an inquiry.

The general secretary of FMETU Dharmasiri Lankapeli made this accusation at the IFJ World Congress held in Spain. It was held under the theme Journalism: In Touch with the Future. Dharmasiri Lankapeli, General Secretary of Federation of Media Employees Trade Unions and Kanchana Marasinghe, National Organizer of Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association Represented Sri Lanka

Representing Sri Lankan journalists Lankapeli said that a huge amount of money issued to several projects has gone unaccounted. Addressing leading media activists he added “it is still unknown to most of us the way how money was spent”.

None of the candidates who were backed by the IFJ Asia office were elected to leading positions. Christopher Warren, the Former President of IFJ was only able to secure the final place in the executive committee.

The presentation made by FMETU General Secretary Dharmasiri Lankapeli is reproduced in full.

Dear colleagues,

I bring good wishes from all our colleagues in the Federation of Media Employees Trade Unions or better known as the FMETU. It is an honor to be present here at this World Congress and represent our country, Sri Lanka.

I would like to have a few minutes to tell you everyone about Sri Lanka. I think you have already heard about what’s happening there now. We have always talked about the plight of journalists in Sri Lanka; they have been assassinated, abducted, threatened and tortured in several ways during past few years. However the situation is still quite same even if those incidents have been revealed to the whole world.

As a result of having a disastrous war in the country for decades now Sri Lanka is facing lot of problems including IDP s.

I’m not going to talk about those problems right now. However I want to draw your attention to what happened after certain events and projects organized by IFJ Asia office and the critical situation faced by our media organizations.

Let me remind you that it was in 2001 that FMETU became a full member of IFJ. In 2003, the first project, the Tolerance Prize was introduced for journalists, and we could make that a brilliant success through our organization. There we could get together with several other media organizations as well.

Afterwards in 2004, with the immense support of IFJ we could financially support all those journalists and Media workers who were distressed by Tsunami. Thus IFJ together with FMETU could draw a lot of attention and good name from people all around the country. Then only IFJ gets to meet both SLWJA and FMM.

Then at first Asia Office starts to work together with Free Media Movement. All the projects and events were handed over to certain individual and it was him who initiated to organize those events. Even if the activities were run by FMM, it was always said that those events were organized by all five media organizations. We had been disagreeing all along to what’s happening but it was always disregarded.

Dear General Secretary, a huge amount of money was issued for those projects, and it is still unknown to most of us the way how money was spent.

How could such things be possible?

Is it fair that we let such things happen where as we are suppose to stand against corruptions and frauds and establish good governance everywhere.

Our struggle was always very internal because at a time where freedom of expression is suppressed, the government could have easily taken our conflicts as a weapon against us.

Making the safety issue a point, every individual who was involved in such projects has now left the country. Therefore, now it’s only us, those who remaining at the country have to answer all the questions raised against our organizations.

I would say it’s unfair when only a few of them had their lives in danger, many individuals took it as a chance to go abroad and leave behind the accusations which followed them. It is still doubtful who supported all these people to leave the country at once without any inquiry.

As a result now our media organizations are now quite weakened and fingers are pointed against us.

I would like to say that I’m also one of those journalists whose life is in an utter danger; however I managed to face this critical situation without leaving at once.

Even if I was asked to leave the country though I thankfully refused to leave everything behind and run away. To the diplomat who brought this suggestion of leaving the country what I told was that FMETU and I even been in streets with the current president to protect all democratic rights including media freedom when he was in the opposition.

I even got to know through media that I’m there at the top of the hit list they have created recently.

If Asia Office paid their least attention on the facts we revealed FMETU certain that things would not have been this awful. It is doubtful whom they wanted to defend, since they are not least interested in finding what really happened.

Thus our organizations were weakened all along.

On the other hand they even didn’t let us continue our work independently; for example the online petition against the imprisonment of Tissanaiyagam was disregarded saying that it’s merely a personal opinion. However by now government has declared that he would be released quite soon. Therefore you see how practical our organization is in making such a petition to get him released. I also take this opportunity thank you everyone who supported us by signing the petition.

Because of above mentioned incidents, as individuals and organizations, what we have done on behalf of the freedom of expression has been in vain.

Therefore there is a foremost need of taking these facts into discussion and do whatever necessary to strengthen our media organizations in Sri Lanka.

At last but not least, I would like to tell you that if we are unable to fix this situation it’s impossible that we unite together and work against the government’s suppression of freedom of expression.