By C. A. Chandraprema.
Speaking during the committee stage debate on the budgetary allocation for the Ministry of Mass Media and Parliamentary Affairs, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said that a compensation plan would be implemented for 44 media persons who were killed due to political reasons under the former regime. He said that President Maithripala Sirisena had also supported the move to pay compensation to these murdered journalists. When he speaks of 44 media personnel having been killed during the previous administration, he is referring to the list put out by media NGOs such as the Media Movement for Democracy (MMD).
The list put out by the MMD of journalists killed since 2004 is by and large acknowledged by other media NGOs such as the Free Media Movement (FMM) which has a more comprehensive list of murdered ‘media persons’ going back to the early 1980s. The list of 44 killings that the prime minister speaks of dates from early 2004, not from late 2005 when the Rajapaksas assumed power. So there is some overlap with the latter part of President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s rule. That may not be any cause for concern for the PM because that too falls into the period of the ‘previous regime’ as far as he is concerned. The list of 44 murdered journalists (as well as others associated with media institutions) compiled by the media NGOs is as follows:
2004 May 31, Aiyathurai Nadesan of the Virakesari ; 2004 August 16, Kandasamy Aiyar Balanadaraja of the Thinamurusu; 2004 December 11, Lanka Jayasundara of the Lankadeepa; 2005 April 28, Dharmaratnam Sivaram of the TamilNet, Daily Mirror and Virakesari; 2005 June 29, Kannamuththu Arsakumar circulation officer of the Elanatham; 2005 August 12, Relangi Selvarasa an announcer of the SLBC; 2005 August 29, David Selvaratnam security guard of the Sudaroli; 2005 September 30, Yogakumar Krishnapillai distribution officer of the Elanatham; 2005 December 2, writer N. Faleel the Kattankudy Divisional Secretary; 2005 December 22, K. Navaratnam Circulation officer of the Thinakkural; 2006 January 24, Subramanium Sugitharajan Trincomalee correspondent of the Sudaroli; 2006 February 1, S. T. Gananathan, who ran a Tamil news agency; 2006 May 3, B. G. Sagayadas circulation manager of the Uthayan; 2006 May 3, Rajaratnam Ranjith Kumar circulation inspector of the Uthayan; 2006 July 2, Lakmal de Silva of the Lakbima; 2006 July 27, Mariyadasan Manojanaraj distribution agent of the Virakesari and Thinakurral; 2006 August 15, Sathasivam Baskaran circulation Dept. of the Uthayan; 2006 August 20, Sinnathamby Sivamaharaja, Manager of the Namathu Elanadu; 2007 February 12, S. Ravindran printing technician of the Namathu Elanadu; 2007 February 15, Subramanium Ramachandran reporter of the Namathu Elanadu; 2007 April 16, Chandrabose Sudakar writer to the Elanatham; 2007 April 29, Selvarasa Rajivarman contributor to the Uthayan and Thinakural ; 2007 August 1, Sahadevan Nilakshan part time writer and university student; 2007 August 21, Sivathamby Sivarasa of the Elanadu; 2007 November 5, A. S. Siddiranjan sales agent of the Yarl Thinakural; 2007 November 17, Vadivelu Nimalaraj proof reader of the Uthayan; 2007 November 27, Isaivishi Chempian of the Voice of Tigers; 2007 November 27, Suresh Limbio technician of the Voice of Tigers; 2007 November 27, T. Dharmalingam of the Voice of Tigers; 2007 December 5, W. Gunasinha reporter of the Divaina; 2008 May 28, P. Devakumar of Shakthi TV; 2008 October 6, Rashmi Mohamed Sirasa TV; 2008 October, Rasaiah Jeyanthiran journalist of the Elanatham; 2009 January 9, Lasantha Wickremetunga of the Sunday Leader; 2009 February 12, Punyamurthy Satyamurthy journalist of the Elanatham; 2009 March 5, Shashi Madan distribution agent of the Elanatham; 2009 March 13, ; distribution agent of the Elanatham; 2009 April 9, Rajkumar Dense, computer operator of the Elanatham; 2009 April 25, Jeyaraja Sushidara printing technician of the Elanatham; 2009 May 14, Anthony Kumar reporter Elanatham; 2009 May 14, Thuraisingham Darshan computer operator of the Elanatham; 2009 May 18, Isaipriya of the LTTE TV station; 2009 May, Tirukulasingham Thavabalan head of the Voice of Tigers
Of these only four are Sinhalese. Lanka Jayasundara of the Lankadeepa was killed on 11 December 2004 in a bomb blast at a musical show in Colombo featuring Sharuk Khan. W. Gunasinha reporter of the Divaina was killed in an LTTE land mine explosion in December 2007 and neither of these deaths can be connected to either the Chandrika Kumaratunga or the Mahinda Rajapaksa governments. The 2006 killing of Lakmal de Silva of the Lakbima is still shrouded in mystery as is the 2009 killing of Lasantha Wickrematunga. With regard to the latter, the then opposition leader and chief opposition whip went so far as to name in parliament the individual who they thought was responsible for Lasantha’s death but since then, there has been absolute silence about Lasantha’s murder even though the disappearance of Prageeth Ekneligoda is being probed. In any case, there is the possibility that state related actors could be involved in both Lakmal Silva’s and Lasantha’s deaths.
There are two Muslims on this list. Of these A. L. M. Faleel may have been a part time writer but he was no media person. He was a public servant – the Divisional Secretary of Kattankudy at the time he was killed. The other Muslim mentioned is Rashmi Mohamed of Sirasa TV, who was killed in the same bomb blast that killed Maj Gen Janaka Perera. Neither of these two deaths can be connected to governments.
The rest of the 38 media persons killed are Tamils. It is important for the government to be aware as to who these Tamil ‘media persons’ are. There is a vibrant if small Tamil mass media in this country. The Virakesari, Thinakural, the Jaffna edition of the latter known as the ‘Yarl Thinakural’, the Uthayan and its sister paper the Sudaroli, the Valampuri and even the Thinamurusu run by the EPDP can be considered the legitimate Tamil media. In addition to these newspapers, there were propaganda organs of the LTTE like the Elamurusu in the 1980s and 1990s and its latter day offshoots the Eelanadu and Namathu Eelanadu. Those working for the Elanadu and Namathu Elanadu and electronic media belonging to the LTTE like the Voice of Tigers are members of the LTTE. About 20 of the 38 Tamil ‘media persons’ listed above were members of the LTTE. In practical terms, there may be only a marginal difference in the ideological trajectory of a legitimate Tamil newspaper like the Uthayan and the Eelandu which belonged to the LTTE. But, one newspaper is run as a part of the private media industry whereas the other is a part of a terrorist organisation. There is a difference. When the prime minister says that the government is going to pay compensation to the families of 44 journalists killed by the previous regime they include these 20 LTTE cadres. The government has obviously not done a study to find out who these murdered ‘journalists’ are. The prime minister comes from a family with deep roots in the media industry. He, of all people, should be aware that if 44 real journalists had been killed by the government, the media industry would have ceased to exist. Nobody would have joined a mediorganisation and even those already working in the industry would have been looking for other jobs. Only about 10 of the names mentioned above, Lasantha Wickremetunga, D. Sivaram, Kandasamay Balanadaraja, Lanka Jayasundera, Relangi Selvarasa, Subramanium Sugitharajan, Lakmal de Silva, W. Gunasinha, P. Devakumar and Rashmi Mohamed can be considered journalists in the proper sense of the term. Of these, half were killed by the LTTE. State related actors can be suspected only in the case of Lasantha Wickrematunga, Lakmal de Silva and S. Sugitharajan. D. Sivaram and Lanka Jayasundera were killed by non-LTTE, non-state actors. In the case of Sivaram, it was proved to be the doing of a rival Tamil group.
If you eliminate the LTTE cadres from the list of Tamil media persons killed, there still are a fair number of Tamil persons left on the list. If one looks at the profiles of the murdered Tamil ‘media persons’ who were not directly working for the LTTE, it can be seen that it was far more dangerous to work in the circulation or administrative department of a Tamil newspaper than to be a journalist. It can be the case that when one needs to stop a newspaper from circulating, one way to do that is to terrorise those distributing it. The JVP also tried similar tactics in the late 1980s. So, even though many of those killed were not journalists in the proper sense of the term, they, too, should be taken into account in talking of the suppression of the media.
In any event, the government should be very careful as to who it pays compensation to on the basis that they were journalists. As a journalist myself, I wish to register my protest at lumping Lasantha Wickrematunga with LTTE cadres involved in running the Tiger newspaper. Sivaram was an LTTE supporter, but he had an identity as a journalist independent of his connection to the LTTE. The prime minister should be aware that these figures of journalists supposedly killed by the Rajapaksa government were compiled by media NGOs who have a vested interest in inflating data relating to media suppression. Such tainted figures and data should not form the basis for governmental decision making.
The much longer list of murdered media personnel compiled by the Free Media Movement has actually listed the editor of ‘Wedihanda’ the newsletter of the JVP’s death squad in the late 1980s as a murdered newspaper editor! According to the MMD list reproduced above those who served in the LTTE propaganda arm have also been considered journalists. Is it too much to ask that journalists in legitimate private media organisations be distinguished from terrorists? It is one thing for a media NGO to compile lists lumping real journalists and terrorists together but it will be another thing altogether for a government to pay compensation to dead terrorists on the grounds that they were media persons. If the government wants to pay compensation for real journalists killed, they should perhaps get the relevant list from a body like the Editor’s Guild which has real newspaper editors as members.