Lasantha Wickrematunge and the role of journalism in a rotten political culture

- lankastandard.com

“Lasantha could not be straight-jacketed, could not be chained. Lasantha, in paying my personal tribute to you, let me say that at the Holy Grail of Journalism, none will fail to weep over your blood, to pay unreserved homage. And should your medal of glory cast some soft hued shadow, it will be the shadow caused by the torch your hand holds out before that medal’s face while your spirit challenges one of us to dare to reach out, take that torch and with it burn the dross and sludge of this vile culture of crude tyranny that’s drowning the nation in shame.”

OF LASANTHA ….AND THE CREED OF SLAVES!

Legend has it that when Jesus Christ was pronounced dead after the spear of Centurion Longinus was thrust through his heart, a temple chief priest is said to have

"They will discover to their dismay that “ now it all begins” because his killing was just that one killing too many, not a killing of a mere political journalist or of just another crusader who knew he’d have to pay the ultimate price for his stance but the killing of a man, who, despite my earlier opinions to the contrary, will command Lankan history to re-assess his stature as a politician and journalist, a statesman sans mandate, a minister sans portfolio, a Judge who drove Judges into paroxysms of fear each Sunday, a lawman who made the Police shudder, an evangelist on fire for a cause, a man who could very easily have been a national level political leader had he chosen that path. This is the man they made the mistake of killing merely because his very existence terrorized them."

been heard saying “ Now it all ends”. Three days later, there was a huge public uproar with shouts of “He is risen, He is risen.” The temple priest scampered off to have a look at the tomb. With fear, his trembling hands handled the burial vestments Jesus had left behind in the empty tomb. He was then heard whispering in fear and awe “Now it Begins – Now it all Begins.”

Chief priests of murder

Be assured Lasantha, that when Lanka’s chief priests of murder most foul furtively handle your vestments, to wit, the pages of the Sunday Leader, every Sunday, they and the latter-day Pilates who strut the promenades of power will furtively examine their finger nails for some tell-tale signs of your blood that might not have been quite completely washed away.

Let’s keep that on the back burner for awhile with the thought that Lasantha Wickramatunge’s vestments which are the pages of the SUNDAY LEADER, will continue to haunt his detractors, his killers, who will never be able to rid themselves of the visage of Lasantha stalking them round every corner of every crooked path they trod.

Hundredfold more tormenting to vile hearts

Lasantha dead will prove a hundredfold more tormenting to vile hearts and minds which on some cursed day not long ago set their evil plans in motion to end his life, a life that only sought to make this country a better place for us to live in.

An evangelist on fire

They will discover to their dismay that “ now it all begins” because his killing was just that one killing too many, not a killing of a mere political journalist or of just another crusader who knew he’d have to pay the ultimate price for his stance but the killing of a man, who, despite my earlier opinions to the contrary, will command Lankan history to re-assess his stature as a politician and journalist, a statesman sans mandate, a minister sans portfolio, a Judge who drove Judges into paroxysms of fear each Sunday, a lawman who made the Police shudder, an evangelist on fire for a cause, a man who could very easily have been a national level political leader had he chosen that path. This is the man they made the mistake of killing merely because his very existence terrorized them.

Order derived through submission is not much of a safe guarantee

In ANARCHISM, Emma Goldman observes that “order derived through submission and maintained by terror is not much of a safe guarantee; yet, that is the only”Order” that governments have ever maintained. True social harmony grows out of a solidarity of interests.”

But social harmony is a mere myth in today’s Lankan socio-political ambience in which inequalities are rampant. It hence becomes a powerful slogan of the politician seeking power. And when that myth is being exposed for the deceptive baloney that it is, which is what Lasantha’s work accomplished to a nicety, it puts you on a direct course of confrontation against the establishment.

To secure and consolidate the political power obtained by selling this myth to the electorate, governments strenuously engage in ‘harmonizing’ society with verbose rhetoric that flows from the pens of kept wordsmiths, to create an illusion of reality of that myth. And that is further buttressed by enforcing the entire arsenal of power at its command, i.e: the law, police, soldiers, the courts, judiciary, prisons etc to “ bring into harmony”as it were, all the antagonistic elements of society- a superficial harmony enforced by the Damocles sword of brute force hanging over an entire nation.

“antagonistic elements of society”

Lasantha was one of those “antagonistic elements of society” who held up to public ridicule the state’s hilarious “commitments” to establish social harmony and had the public doubled up in laughter over this myth from the realms of absurdity by exposing every Sunday the spurious egalitarianism of the day’s corrupt political culture.

Courts of law, not of justice

In Goldman’s time the hydra-headed monster of extra-judicial killings was yet to reach out its sickening hands of death and sink its jaws into the bodies of men good and true to suck out their blood and nourish itself and its partners in heinous crime. It’s no wonder that the famous attorney Charles Darrow said ‘ there is no such thing as justice, in or out of court, there are courts of law, not of justice”. One simply does not take that hydra-headed monster to court – and then expect to live! .The courts will get you. Or the monster will. Very recently, a justice of the supreme court hightailed it for safer climes after delivering his verdict in the Sarath Fonseka “White Flag “ case.

He was the supreme crusader

Having walked the halls of justice ( ?), though for a short while, Lasantha was no rookie at the game and I told him at a chance meeting sometime before his murder that he’d better leave the country. But then, as I said earlier, it is only now, in retrospect, that I am beginning to understand that here was no run of the mill journalist, Lasantha was, as history will some day record, a far, far more rarefied human being than anyone gave him credit for: He was the supreme crusader who knew and was prepared to stick with his mission until he was killed. All he said was “ Thanks anyway.”

Only political journalist who proved that Lankan politics was rotten

I would venture so far as to say that no politician in this country ever did so much in so short a period of time to pull politics, society and the business world out of the cesspits of unrivaled corruption they’ve been dragged into, as he did. He will go down in Lanka’s history as the only political journalist who proved that Lankan politics was rotten, rotten beyond redemption. Little wonder that the guilty could no longer bear to be confronted by the Sunday Leader, week after week, year after year.

No, there was no way, as I told Lasantha, that he would be allowed to live

His killing only proved a point that really needed no proof, to wit, that every word he penned was an irrefutable and damning indictment of the carrion posing off as democrats, as humanists, as righteous patriots, living off the rotting flesh of the corrupt body politic of this country. The truths he exposed each week reduced them to a laughing stock both at home and abroad and much of what he wrote went immediately into the data bases of foreign missions in Colombo and from thence to their home offices. The evidence he had would have been damning in the highest court in the country and would have made world headlines if they were ever argued in court. No, there was no way, as I told Lasantha, that he would be allowed to live.

Pretenders with hideously base moral values went so far as to belittle him in comments carried in the print media

Pretenders with hideously base moral values who have ambled into the halls of journalism went so far as to belittle him in comments carried in the print media, proving beyond all doubt their sense of inadequacy as journalists in comparison to his style of writing. He towered above every media person in this country. Perhaps because he was really not a media person but an anachronism in terms of a crusader , a missionary perhaps, whose gospel damned him to death more than that of Christ whose gospel killed Him on the cross. It is debatable whether any journalist has ever, in the annals of Lankan journalistic history, evoked such terror across the entire spectrum of the establishment as Lasantha did.

Professional jealousy can be an ugly thing

Prabhakaran’s terrorism pales into insignificance. Professional jealousy can be an ugly thing when comments such as those which appeared in print which sought to belittle Lasantha, were in the first place shamelessly allowed to go to press in the first place.

Lasantha knew, in the context of the dangers posed to his life by the political culture of the day that he walked in the shadow of death because what he wrote, including the exposures of malfeasance and corruption, was not so much an attack on state or police tyranny as it was an anguished cry against the revolting depths of degradation into which the nation was being dragged by a totally rotten social and political culture in which we were being- and still are -ruled, not by the mandate and will of the people as it should be in a democracy but by the tyrannical will of a cabal ‘elected’ to power while proven valid votes cast in favour of opposing candidates such as Sarath Fonseka were found dumped in city garbage heaps.

Stupidity of the voters

And this of course keeps receiving a higher degree of approval from those who elected our rulers in such a manner that makes one wonder whether this country is even now entitled to universal franchise if the stupidity of the voters is anything to go by. Many fault him for having been a “Political” pawn. To those detractors, all that can be said in response is to quote Ambrose Bierce who said that “ Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” We journalists perhaps need to ponder more deeply on Bierce’s observation.

Apparently our politicians believe that what a man sows he shall not reap. That they are smart enough to get away with crime. Lasantha ripped the masks off their faces by merely exposing to the public the types of people who were political allies and close friends of these pretenders. And it was this that rankled to a very high degree.

A Trial, said Edison Haines in pensive mood, is the resolution of a dispute while an appeal is when you ask one court to show its contempt for the decision of another court, or I might add, a cabal that has planted men to administer that court.

Lasantha’s killing was a message to every journalist 

Many things are set in motion in the minds and hearts of men after a trial and an execution. It’s in the nature of man – as history testifies through the ages. Man has never been immune to the brutal, wanton slaying of an innocent man because Donne’s “no man is an island ” is an eternal truth. So, we need not send to ask for whom the bell tolls….!! Lasantha’s killing was a message to every journalist or anyone with a dissenting political opinion in this country.

What the killers fail to understand is that the opposite is equally true. If I might coin my own phrase to describe it, a bell has begun to toll, a bell that’s calling the people to worship at the altars of freedom of speech, human rights, media freedoms and dignity of the individual. The people are no longer deceived by the fatuous official assurances of media freedoms in the country. It’s a sick joke that makes the tawdry jokes of ancient Greece sound like nursery rhymes and gives hard porn a stature of acceptable cultural dimensions in comparison. Media freedom, yes ! Then come the death squads. AND THAT’S NOT CENSORSHIP ?

Lasantha was hated unto death because he ploughed up the ground from under their feet 

In his “ The Natural History of Nonsense”, Frederick Douglas says inter alia that “ Those who favour freedom and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without ploughing, rain without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the awful roaring of many waters”. Lasantha was hated unto death because he ploughed up the ground from under their feet with a vengeance that left them tottering on their pompous pedestals of power, he provided the thunder and the lightning and how awful would have been the roar of the many waters he stirred up, in the ears of the establishment !

Who were the aggrieved plaintiffs? Who carried out the sentences ?

What was the Court that heard disputes against Lasantha Wickrematunge ? Let us for expediency in this context leave aside the other brutal assaults and killings and those incarcerated seemingly forever. Who were the Judges who pronounced the death sentence on Lasantha ? Where were the trials held? Was there ghoulish laughter after the killers were given their assignment? Huge sighs of relief and joy when the killers were paid off ? Fond hopes that “Now it all ends?” Who were the aggrieved plaintiffs? Who carried out the sentences ?

But if one keeps an ear to the ground as it were, one can very easily discern the subtle yet deep changes of sentiment in the minds, the thinking, of the general public

Lasantha Wickrematunge’s bloody killing ended nothing. True, for now the media has crawled into a shell of self-preservation. But it will yet prove to be the catalyst that drove the most telling socio-political change in this country. There are no immediate visible signs of this happening now. But if one keeps an ear to the ground as it were, one can very easily discern the subtle yet deep changes of sentiment in the minds, the thinking, of the general public, in the beginnings of a huge groundswell of anger against the social and political culture of the day.

The media is not the exclusive tool of the professional journalist

Few have been the instances when sober minded masses have been prodded into a stupid knee-jerk reaction when they are dealing with a political culture so saturated in egotism and an animalistic response to dissent or even – as in Lasantha’s case – the mere exposure of malfeasance in governance. That he was essentially a politician exploiting the power of the media for political ends alone is a value judgement lacking in common intelligence. The media is not the exclusive tool of the professional journalist.

Lasantha came out with the real McCoy

Architects, Accountants, the legal fraternity, the health sector and several others resort to the publishing of journals related to their professions. What then is so

Those responsible will curse themselves for the folly of this one foul deed too many. In the affairs of men, throughout history, it has been proved that there has always been a point of evil beyond which society does not allow itself to be pushed. That point was reached when hired killers, who will forever remain non est inventus ( cannot be found) without an iota of shame, brutally put to death a man who strove as no other in the annals of Lankan journalistic history, to clean up politics, business and society.

peculiar about a politician being the editor of a newspaper? Yet, some sections of the media which are obviously in the category of those who deserve neither liberty nor safety, went to great pains to put Lasantha on trial posthumously to prove his objective journalistic credentials, obviously smarting under the fact while they merely played a game of objective journalism, Lasantha came out with the real McCoy.

Those responsible will curse themselves for the folly of this one foul deed too many. In the affairs of men, throughout history, it has been proved that there has always been a point of evil beyond which society does not allow itself to be pushed. That point was reached when hired killers, who will forever remain non est inventus ( cannot be found) without an iota of shame, brutally put to death a man who strove as no other in the annals of Lankan journalistic history, to clean up politics, business and society. One often wonders whether a naïve and gullible public ( and dear God, they have the right to vote !) realizes that these murder squads fearlessly carry out their vile deeds BECAUSE THEY ARE ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN OF BEING PROTECTED FROM THE POSSIBILITY OF BEING BROUGHT TO BOOK. There were a few other journalists with missionary zeal in years gone by but those were days during which today’s raw animalism in politics was still in its very early nascent stages.

What can any intelligent man say of a sick man who puts his doctor to death because he wants to remain sick whilst projecting a picture of robust good health. I use this simple analogy to make it easy for the ordinary reader to understand just how sick our political and social culture is. What words can one possibly use to accurately define the animalism of men who seduce illiterate youth with huge financial rewards in return for putting to death men of the caliber of Lasantha Wickrematunge who, by simply being what he was, put to shame the entire legal fraternity, the state, the bureaucracy, the entire body politic as well as many sections of the media which have their fair share of fawning political sycophants in their rank and file.

People in powerful positions who callously exploit the gullibility of the semi-literate 

What can one really say of people in powerful positions who callously exploit the gullibility of semi-literate or less than semi-literate youth, turning them into killers and letting them loose on the finer segments of society, on men and women of a caliber not easy to replace, those who seek only to help the administration produce a socio-political culture that every Lankan can be proud of ? There will be no appeals for justice concerning any of these killings. Not in any court of law in this country. If people only understood what Lasantha was saying between the lines of his brand of journalism, that it was time for society to take the blinkers off and understand that Sri Lanka moved more than two decades ago from neo-fascism to overt fascism while quite glibly paying homage to democracy and taking the nation through the motions of democracy.

‘Necessity” said William Pitt, “ is the plea for every infringement of human freedom, it is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.” 

‘Necessity” said William Pitt, “ is the plea for every infringement of human freedom, it is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.” In retrospect I can now , to my own sense of personal shame, see that my rationale for a “more sober approach” to journalism seems more consonant with endorsing the “necessity for infringement” plea by tyrants. I am now amazed that Lasantha’s approach to journalism underscored the fact that he was not the type that subscribed to that plea, nor did he subscribe to the creed of spineless slaves who also justified the “correctness ‘of being made slaves by bowing to the argument of tyrants who justify their tyranny over the oppressed.

Lasantha simply did not subscribe to the creed of those slaves

It’s more than an embarrassingly humbling realization that commands a retraction of all my arguments of ten years ago. Does not make me feel comfortable to know that I was one of the kind identified as “they who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety”. This fact, irrespective of what excuses we offer to justify our” giving up essential liberty” shows exactly how vast the difference in integrity was between men such as Lasantha and myself. And believe me, after 40 years in the profession I can tell you that I am just one of several scores of that ilk. How it can be reconciled with one’s duty to “ be there as a husband and father” for one’s family is a tough ask. I must however admit that I have never felt any deep commitment to champion human rights, media freedoms and such similarly lofty ideals – not beyond a certain self imposed limit in any case.

I warned him over a decade ago, on many, many occasions, that a long irreversible rot had saturated the body politic already and he’d die at their hands one day

I warned him over a decade ago, on many, many occasions, that a long irreversible rot had saturated the body politic already and he’d die at their hands one day. Any suggestion of adversarial confrontation via journalism or any other sphere will always spawn retaliation. Discretion, he did not believe, was the better part of valour. To him , change was a crying imperative that could not be put off a moment longer.

His most complex nature that was dominated by an ultra-idealism

Along with his political colleagues and a network of bureaucrats who often made available much damning information to him, he had launched out on a mission from which there was no turning back. He was committed to the hilt. Many might have seen in him a useful cat’s paw and took advantage of his most complex nature that was dominated by an ultra-idealism which perhaps unduly brushed aside extremely serious threats to his life.

If you happen to be looking for Lasantha’s true killers however, in my book, they were those who exploited that nature of his to publish and be damned

If you happen to be looking for Lasantha’s true killers however, in my book, they were those who exploited that nature of his to publish and be damned. The men on motor cycles who shot him and put him to the sword were mere pawns in this dirty game of political chess that continues to be played out, while they enjoyed all the security they wanted for themselves, their wives and children. In my book that was reprehensible.

My sympathies are more with those young, disillusioned, semi-literate and frustrated young gunmen who see no future for themselves

Politicians on the one hand used his pen. Politicians across the divide put the bullets into the motor cyclists guns. The latter proved more destructive. Not for long. Not for too long, as history has repeatedly proved. You’d perhaps find it more shocking when I tell you that my sympathies are more with those young, disillusioned, semi-literate and frustrated young gunmen who see no future for themselves. No easy options. They are victims of the strata of poverty they come from, victims of the rabble-rousing Marxist revolutionary promoters of violence, strutting the political stage in the garb of democrats who callously exploit these hapless young men for their foul crimes. Young men who are victims of a racist approach to education that saw English medium education done away with, a decision that deprived our youth of the wings needed for promising jobs abroad.

When did our voters give anyone a mandate to kill men of integrity? 

Can Lankan politics sink lower? When did our voters give anyone a mandate to kill men of integrity? What words would aptly define the nature of such politicians? To my thinking, these hapless young men were exploited in no less a repulsive manner than that in which Lasantha was made use of. On both sides of the divide, those who used Lasantha and those who have turned our youth into killers still live on. One sings hosannas to Lasantha, the other ensures the killers are kept safely under wraps, well rewarded for their services.

At the core of his journalism, was the fact of his total, uncompromising and fearless commitment to pull Sri Lanka out of the miasmic cultural bog into which our political leaders had dragged the country

He willingly laid his life on the line and it ended as I warned him it would end, over ten years ago : with his death, his utterly needless death. But there was always this nagging feeling at the back of one’s mind that , driven by some ultra-idealistic sentiment, irrespective of being used by scheming politicians, he full well knew that he’d pay the ultimate penalty for it someday. OR WAS HE THE WILLING IDEALIST , WILLING TO GO THE WHOLE HOG BECAUSE PERHAPS HE WAS PREDESTINED TO DO SO AND PERHAPS KNEW IT IN HIS INNER SELF ? So at the core of his journalism, despite all the pros and cons, was the fact of his total, uncompromising and fearless commitment to pull Sri Lanka out of the miasmic cultural bog into which our political leaders had dragged the country.

But it was most difficult to convince Lasantha that democracy died – totally, way back in 1956 

In a democratic society, like it or not, none could question Lasantha’s right to do what he did in the manner he did it, because at the end of the day what mattered was that evils in the body politic, in society, in business and the bureaucracy were splattered all over the pages of the Sunday Leader every Sunday, with damning documentary and substantive evidence that could stand up in a court of law. But it was most difficult to convince Lasantha that democracy died – totally, way back in 1956 when the thirst for political power , at any cost, saw the birth of a crude and exploitative ,unprincipled political culture emerge in the first Bandaranaike regime.

A substitute court has been in session in this country for a very, very long time

In the case of Lasantha’s killing, who were on the jury and who was the Judge ? Are we expected to believe that the executioner was both jury and judge also? In today’s local political culture, opposition politicians know who does not have the better, the smarter lawyer ! they are the ones who brought human rights violation cases to court and were suddenly found dead. Nor are the smarter lawyers, judges and jury found in the hallowed ( or shallowed ?) halls of justice. Oh no ! Not by a long shot ! A substitute court has been in session in this country for a very, very long time. That was the court that dealt effectively with the findings of the three 1994 Commissions’ reports on the Disappearances of Persons. I was nauseated to see a major player in that cover up pretending grief at Lasantha’s funeral. How low can human nature sink to ?

The immediate post-1956 period newspapers chronicle the genesis of today’s repugnant socio-political and business cultures in the country. Amazingly, Lasantha would refuse to face reality and I think- and this is my own personal feeling- just could not stop himself from allowing himself to be used by those who eulogized him at his graveside. As with those rights lawyers, the lives of witnesses have a tendency to be rather short, with sudden and brutish ends. THEY KNEW HE WOULD BE KILLED !!

Hence all politicians prefer to resort to the use of the media rather than the courts of law

Hence all politicians prefer to resort to the use of the media rather than the courts of law. When you’re not quoted in the media, your safety is assured. Lasantha’s safety was not. His sense of social responsibility, despite the issue of politics spurring on his brand of journalism, made him a man of greater integrity who displayed a level of social responsibility impeccable enough to make one look with distaste at the country’s legal fraternity, at our halls of justice. He might not have been as politically ‘ savvy’ as Hulftsdorp.

But chew on this if you feel like it : He was more politically correct. Where being savvy was conducive to being comfortable and compatible with an increasingly corrupt and invasive political and social culture, Lasantha’s “ correctness” was in not being disposed towards sharing a bed or dining with legal, political or bureaucratic carrion. I always thought that Lasantha should have at least come to terms with the truism that freedom is not something that anybody can be given.

Freedom is something people take and the people are as free as THEY WANT TO BE. And this is where Lasantha failed 

Freedom is something people take and the people are as free as THEY WANT TO BE. And this is where Lasantha failed in how he communicated with the people and where his brand of sensationalist journalism missed the entire objective of educating the masses, making them aware of what they needed to be aware of if they were to be made to want emancipation. One must first know one is a slave to want to be free. Yet others choose to be slaves.

His killing will act as the catalyst to prod society into that reaction

He also did not agree with me that the trend at the polls, rigging notwithstanding, proved beyond any doubt that Lankan society had largely embraced this culture of tyranny and his brand of journalism, while creating discontent against the existing political order did nothing to imbue in the readership a sense of personal dignity, of pride, self respect, honour nor did it stir them to any social or political action. Now, his killing will act as the catalyst to prod society into that reaction.

Websites such as the Lanka Standard will be the catalyst to drive that social force into action

It is only when journalism performs this role satisfactorily that voters with a new mindset will elect representatives of unblemished character to parliament – AND THAT ALONE WILL ENSURE THE ELIMINATION OF THIS ABHORRENTLY CORRUPT POLITICAL/SOCIAL CULTURE WE’RE DROWNING IN. A desperate idealist was Lasantha, flailing at evil but only making contact with hot air, very hot air, succeeding in making that evil come out destructively against him. A social consciousness of reality was not fully awakened to assert its dignity, its rights. But websites such as the Lanka Standard will be the catalyst to drive that social force into action.

Lasantha was essentially a political voice crying out for cultural reform

The art of the journalist is to bring society to a realization of what its personality in the fullest sense of human dignity has a right to be and must be. That alone will trigger a revolution in national thinking which will then be expressed peacefully, soberly, at the polls. Lasantha was essentially a political voice crying out for cultural reform. This was the hidden crux of his brand of journalism. Whatever he did, he did it so effectively that he was deemed to be a threat of such great magnitude that he had to be snuffed out. That tells us a lot about the political culture of our times. It tells us that journalism must return to being journalism and not a poor apology for journalism. Only then can a non-violent social transformation and a return to sanity be ushered in.

Wretchedly inept and rudderless parliamentary opposition ever

To now deal with the gross violation of human and media rights. That media men and dissenting voices are silenced via brutal death or assault by political minions sans orders emanating from some quarter above is what is naively being foisted on an intelligent public to believe. Democracy in Sri Lanka is bludgeoned, savaged into submission and it’s all because we have been cursed with perhaps the most wretchedly inept and rudderless parliamentary opposition ever, an opposition that has no answers to our grave national issues and has repeatedly proved itself incapable of wresting power from the existing order let alone being capable of restoring democracy.

Those guilty of these savage killings will never be found. What does that tell us? It tells us we are not a democracy anymore

Those guilty of these savage killings will never be found. What does that tell us? It tells us we are not a democracy anymore. It tells us we are ruled by a fascist

"That total abdication of social responsibility by the legal fraternity one may assume , is a manifestation that nobody wants to be another Ambepitiya . Politicians et al have persuaded sections of the media disposed towards them to carry out openly hostile political agitation against the state and its bureaucracy. And the state and the bureaucracy hit back with their arms of the media . Journalism ? Time to grow up and get the blinkers off"

political culture. Into what incredibly ghoulish depths of human depravity can a nation be plunged? There is a total loss of trust in the integrity of the processes of the legal system which cannot even enforce an order to arrest a murder suspect because of political protection afforded that suspect.

Journalism ? Time to grow up and get the blinkers off

That total abdication of social responsibility by the legal fraternity one may assume , is a manifestation that nobody wants to be another Ambepitiya . Politicians et al have persuaded sections of the media disposed towards them to carry out openly hostile political agitation against the state and its bureaucracy. And the state and the bureaucracy hit back with their arms of the media . Journalism ? Time to grow up and get the blinkers off.

Planting information in sections of the media which lend themselves to be used as political cat’s paws

These trends of thought are what Lasantha’s brand of journalism churns up in our minds.This is the atmosphere, the animal culture in which our children and future generations are destined to survive in, in which the economy is expected to grow, in which the local and foreign entrepreneur is expected to expand business activities. The opposition non-starters, wannabe’s and non-entities have no argument whatsoever with Robert Frost’s assessment of a jury. And hence we witness it planting information in sections of the media which lend themselves to be used as political cat’s paws.

Journalism is all about being a force for a dignified peaceful resolution

Journalism is all about being a force for a dignified, peaceful resolution of ills that beset the country. It’s not about character assassination and vituperative poison pen warfare for ulterior political ends masquerading as journalism. Recent trends in journalism have begun to nudge the public into taking a good long look at its bona fides and sundry claims. The conclusion in many circles is that there’s been a growing crisis in the sphere of media ethics born of a direct political sponsorship. This very

"Journalism is all about being a force for a dignified, peaceful resolution of ills that beset the country. It’s not about character assassination and vituperative poison pen warfare for ulterior political ends masquerading as journalism. Recent trends in journalism have begun to nudge the public into taking a good long look at its bona fides and sundry claims. The conclusion in many circles is that there’s been a growing crisis in the sphere of media ethics born of a direct political sponsorship. This very fact makes it confrontational and hence is seen as a voice that must be silenced. On the other hand, the savaging of the media irrespective of how it expresses its self is also a confirmation of the fact that there is no democracy in Sri Lanka" (File Photo) Photo shows a protest led by journalist and activist Poddala Jayantha. Poddala Jyanatha was abducted and brutally attacked. He now lives in exile.

fact makes it confrontational and hence is seen as a voice that must be silenced. On the other hand, the savaging of the media irrespective of how it expresses its self is also a confirmation of the fact that there is no democracy in Sri Lanka.

A matter of two wrongs not making one right. Where journalism is expected to be a communication of information and ideas, it has become a tool in the hands of politicians to communicate destructive emotions and feelings.

As Philip Atkinson said in a study of journalism and politics, “ our words are becoming merely the noise of our emotions, our use of language is gradually returning to that of animals, which means, so is our understanding, because language is understanding.”

In my opinion we perhaps also have a social obligation to rethink our approaches to journalism, to examine the correctness of our manner of communication and the correctness of our motives. Perhaps if we were to be a bit more judicious in these two aspects of communication there would not be the tragic fallout our fellow journalists have had to suffer. For after all is said and done, the man of intelligence can surely interpret the cultural/political significance of what our blood splattered streets are all about.

Take a good, long look at the blood of journalists, of political opponents and others who express dissenting opinions that is licked up by scavenging stray dogs off our sidewalks and roads. Do we really have to inordinately sensationalize these crimes and carry out politically stoked media vendettas against the criminals instead of telling off all the politicians, close media ranks and formulate a strategy to ensure our freedoms in a manner that does not precipitate violence against us? On the one hand our profession urges moderation, negotiation, discussion, compromise and consensus but does not deem it appropriate to first apply those principles to our own work.

I find the contradiction utterly lacking in logic. But no one has the right to take or do harm to the lives of media men. It’s a tragedy of huge proportions that this however has been the norm between politics and journalism over the past two decades or more, in Sri Lanka.

“This is a Court of Law young man, not a Court of Justice”

If this is democracy, pray tell me, where are its freedoms? And what then is tyranny ? THIS TYRANNY WOULD NOT BE THERE, IRRESPECTIVE OF HOW THE MEDIA EXPRESSES ITS SELF, HAD MORAL ROT NOT SET INTO AND ERODED THE SYSTEM OF EDUCATION IN THE COUNTRY. This rot affected the legal system and it is said that where the legal system fails society and fails the nation, that is where politicians, with impunity, begin to violate a nation’s rights in every sphere. Why the impunity ? Because , as Oliver Wendell Holmes put it to an innocent young man wrongly accused of a crime, “ This is a Court of Law young man, not a Court of Justice”.

It might have been very, very hard for him to know he was dying before he lost consciousness

And when the legal structure of a country is controlled by an all-powerful and invasive legislature, a despotic oligarchy that smacks of fascism in disguise, the Courts of Law can become very dangerous health hazards. Lasantha did it his way but never made it to Courts. So near – and yet so very, very far! It might have been very, very hard for him to know he was dying before he lost consciousness.

To get back to journalism and politics, one gets this distinctly uncomfortable feeling that a wide cross section of the media in Sri Lanka is to some measure influenced by direct political links to the several parties in the country. Journalism, I think, ought to have a sense of balance and social responsibility and be a force for peaceful change, be a catalyst for a revolutionary change in thought patterns instead of stoking socio-political violence, restoring through one’s writing a return to sanity, to reason, convicting people of truth instead of using the media as a public gallows on which every political adversary is strung up.

Media freedoms do not support the argument that one can go about striking matches in a room full of unprotected explosives without setting off a very destructive explosion

Journalists need to realize that in the context of today’s bloody political culture, media freedoms do not support the argument that one can go about striking matches in a room full of unprotected explosives without setting off a very destructive explosion. And no amount of breast beating about the violation of media and human rights will change that fact.

Argument for non-violence: We know that vituperative hate mongering that masquerades as journalism can be more savagely violent than an actual, violent, physical resistance movement

Martin Luther King Jr. put it in almost sublime terms when he said that “the non-violent approach does not immediately change the heart of the oppressor. It first does something to the hearts and souls of those committed to it. It gives them new self respect. It calls up resources of strength and courage that they did not know they had. Finally, it reaches the opponent and so stirs his conscience that reconciliation becomes a reality.” We know that vituperative hate mongering that masquerades as journalism can be more savagely violent than an actual, violent, physical resistance movement.

Lasantha stood distinctly apart from his peers

On the other hand is the truly committed form of journalism that balances the duty and obligation to keep the people informed about anything they have a right to know, with no ulterior motives. Lasantha stood either somewhere between these extremes or was outside its realm, standing distinctly apart from his peers. If one is put to death or assaulted for having acted in honourable ways, there would then be a genuine and lasting public outcry against a political culture that perpetrates such violence. One is hence either part of the destabilizing socio-political forces masquerading under the profession of journalism or one is a voice of wisdom, a constructive revealer of truth who understands that we are dealing with a political culture that is a brute force that tolerates no dissent.

Exploitation of the media by timid and inept politicians

Richard Roberts in his analysis of the personality of the State, observed that a people will not always submit to authoritarian suppression, they will sooner or later, journalists and journalism notwithstanding, assert their personality and demand their rights. This is the dynamic of all great social and political upheavals. And the exploitation of the media by timid and inept politicians becomes an appendage to such socio-political upheavals. This is why the establishment, fearing loss of its authoritarianism, take out those who stand in their way. And those who adopt an adversarial stance for vested political objectives obviously end up as victims of a threatened establishment.

Roberts observed that the French revolution was the “consequence of an oppressed human nature discovering its ‘self’ or coming to a realization of its true identity, realizing its power and bursting its chains ” – and all the great historical struggles for liberty have sprung from the demand of the national personality, that is, of the people, for emancipation from a political culture that savages the dignity of the person in a democracy or any other form of government.

Lasantha stirred these sentiments into the beginnings of life

Roberts argues that the legitimate heritage of the human personality is for unfettered but considerate liberty, room to grow, room to express itself. Lasantha stirred these sentiments into the beginnings of life. That heritage does not include the facility to exercise one’s rights in an obnoxious manner that merely reveals the fact that those rights are being demanded for the express purpose of dragging one’s political opposites through the sludge of gutter journalism and hold them up to immense public ridicule. This is a far cry from journalism’s obligation to educate the nation about its rights, direct them, with a sense of socio-political responsibility, into channels of emancipation from docile slavery to authoritarian rule that emasculates the national personality.

Any system, said Roberts, which denies the people this room is predestined to bankruptcy and destruction. He has been proved right in every nation that has been suppressed. But journalism does not have to stoke social violence and resort to gutter journalism to effect social emancipation via political change or as some have it, to effect political emancipation through a change in society’s spirit.

Lasantha was a man who looks you in the eye without flinching, one who did not subscribe to the creed of slaves, a man who stood apart

Walking a tight rope between these extremes of journalism, the image that emerged of Lasantha was that of a man who looks you in the eye without flinching, one who did not subscribe to the creed of slaves, a man who stood apart. Even in death, he will remain anathema to the foul adherents of today’s utterly corrupt political culture which proves the totality of the death of all moral values in the body politic.

Journalism must be that force and not a tool in the hand of opportunistic politicians. When the latter is the case, it is as repulsive as the state controlled media in any country except that opposition politicians don’t send goons after them in retaliation

Constructively aggressive journalism will help bring social perspectives into clear focus and motivate the public to a constructive response that will lead to the national personality ultimately taking orderly action to assert itself. Being a force for orderly socio-political change is a far cry from being a catalyst for violent socio-political upheaval. Journalism must be that force and not a tool in the hand of opportunistic politicians. When the latter is the case, it is as repulsive as the state controlled media in any country except that opposition politicians don’t send goons after them in retaliation. But that’s purely because they are not in power and have nothing worth protecting that would warrant the need to put a journalist to death.

Departure from reason and morality in Sri Lanka

Dealing with the arrogation of unfettered authority by the state, one can best describe it as a virtual re-scripting of the rise of the Third Reich which was an example of a nation losing control of its senses when one considers the huge masses flocking to the Nazi rallies, a phenomenon described by historians as an unprecedented, complete and utter disregard and departure from reason and morality. We’ve witnessed this departure from reason and morality in Sri Lanka in the choices of the people over the past two decades at our elections.

We are approaching a replay of history in Germany and France before the revolution and the war. We’ve departed from reason and morality. The state subscribes publicly to Voltaire’s “I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” But apparently there are unknown forces, so we are expected to believe, which thumb their noses at what the establishment subscribes to.

Perhaps we need to rethink our role in the context of today’s brutish political realities. Else, there will be no effective journalists around when the country is in dire need of them

Lasantha had the right to do what he did irrespective of what it engendered notwithstanding its pros and cons. It’s a constitutional guarantee the violation of which is yet to be commented upon by our legal luminaries. This proves my point that we need to practice our profession in a manner that subscribes to the values and principles enunciated by Martin Luther King Jr. Perhaps we need to rethink our role in the context of today’s brutish political realities. Else, there will be no effective journalists around when the country is in dire need of them.

“A people who are hopelessly enslaved but falsely believe they are free”

If this putrid socio-political culture, which has its genesis in the state take over of the Lake House press, does not leave the reader with a feeling of gagging, of bitter nausea, it is because our senses have been bludgeoned to the extent that many of us instinctively turn away from the bitter truth that we are under a state of tyranny. It matters not what the source of that tyranny is. There is an undeniably tangible and suffocating tyranny that’s saturating the very air we breathe. And so we are wont to find release in ignoring what’s staring us in the face, to not dwell on these trends. To paraphrase Goethe, we have become “a people who are hopelessly enslaved but falsely believe they are free”. If proof were needed, Lasantha’s killing proved that we are indeed enslaved but falsely think we are a free people. We, as a nation, are at the crossroads of history at which the French found themselves immediately before the revolution.

CHANGE WILL COME. History proves that such a social resistance is absolutely inevitable. And the media does not have to prostitute itself to politicians for that change to take effect. That change will come when the people take a stance and say in unison “That’s enough.”

The French coined a self-deprecating phrase for it : “Adieu panniers, vendanges sont faites” which effectively translates into “ farewell to life’s sweet cup, the vintage is over, goodbye to our hopes, all is over”. No guillotine could possibly have had a cutting edge as mercilessly sharp as that phrase that cut through the comatose collective national French psyche. The sheer weight of the then agonizing socio-political ethos could not have been expressed in a more hopeless cry of a national spirit, a nation’s soul, crushed into subjugation. That’s when the worm turned – with very little help from a then very ineffective media. That cry was the catalyst that shook that nation awake to reassert its personality. Lasantha’s killing might well prove to be as effective as that plaintive “farewell to life’s sweet cup….”

Sir Winston Churchill once observed that “ Medals not only glitter, they sometimes cast shadows. ”

Fearlessly pointing his fingers of accusation at the tyrants, Lasantha, the rookie lawyer, the politician and journalist par excellence, presented his brief every Sunday morning in the court of public opinion to defend the people’s rights, to strike a blow for a return to lofty cultural standards and an honourable political culture.

The more refined sectors of society unreservedly award to Lasantha the nation’s first ever medal of glory for unequalled integrity in political journalism and social responsibility

His detractors would be tempted to grudgingly quote Churchill, knowing full well that the more refined sectors of society unreservedly award to Lasantha the nation’s first ever medal of glory for unequalled integrity in political journalism and social responsibility, by claiming that though his medal glitters, it casts some dubious shadows. How they must envy that unique medal that can only hang well on a flawless icon of integrity.

Lasantha: A flawless icon of integrity

Lasantha could not be straight-jacketed, could not be chained. Lasantha, in paying my personal tribute to you, let me say that at the Holy Grail of Journalism, none will fail to weep over your blood, to pay unreserved homage. And should your medal of glory cast some soft hued shadow, it will be the shadow caused by the torch your hand holds out before that medal’s face while your spirit challenges one of us to dare to reach out, take that torch and with it burn the dross and sludge of this vile culture of crude tyranny that’s drowning the nation in shame.

I’m not being facetious when I say it will be tough to find eager takers. Your spirit is destined to inspire the campaign that the Sunday Leader must continue. And be assured that the cry of your blood, though it might not hasten the change you sought, has already ignited in men’s hearts and minds a thirst for the dignity of life that your journalism, in the final essay, was all about and has become the catalyst for that change. The intellectual and emotional dynamics of social change which you imbued in the national psyche are already affecting public opinion and political ardour….. and now it all begins Lassa.

Now it all begins. But what a terrible price you had to pay for it.

How does one say Au Revoir to a legend that walks so tall even in death?

The Bible says that when the enemy comes in like a flood, God shall raise a STANDARD against him, even if it does have the prefix of “LANKA”. What a strange coincidence that your wife must chose such a name for her blog. Perhaps the Joan of Arc spirit will prevail with more success than that which the French teenager tasted.

Guess it has begun, eh Lassa? Guess no one ever does hear the first subterranean rumblings which precede a Tsunami that devours everything in its path, including paid sycophants who make verbose attempts to cosmetically cover-up the ugliness of truth.

BUT HECK, THE VINTAGE AIN’T OVER…

NOT BY A LONG SHOT.

When Sri Lanka has reasserted her priorities she will thank you for sacrificing your life for her dignity, pride, her freedom. I’m betting that that change is just around the corner.

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