When citizens turn on journalists…

My latest op ed essay has just been published by Asia Media website of the University of California Los Angeles.

It’s titled: When citizens turn on journalists
Nalaka Gunawardene describes the disturbing trend of vigilantism against professional and citizen journalists

Once again I talk about the multiple pressures and risks faced by mainstream and citizen journalists alike when they try to cover matters of public interest in my native Sri Lanka. This is particularly so for photojournalists and videographers who simply must go out with tools of their profession.

Here are the few opening paras:

Friday, February 29, 2008

Colombo — For over two decades, Sri Lanka’s state-owned radio and television stations — located next to each other in residential Colombo — have been heavily guarded by police and army. This fortress-like arrangement is due to their being high on the list of targets for Tamil Tigers engaged in a bitter separatist war for a quarter century.

The joke is that the stations are just as likely to be attacked by outraged listeners or viewers. Considering the endless state propaganda they dish out day and night, that’s not as far-fetched as it sounds.

But shooting the messenger never solves any problem, as Sri Lanka’s deeply divided combatants — and their die hard supporters — need to be constantly reminded. Attacks on journalists and media organisations have increased several fold in the past two years, and the World Association of Newspapers ranked Sri Lanka as the third deadliest place for journalists (six killed in 2007) — behind only Iraq and Somalia.

As if this was not depressing enough, we have seen another disturbing trend emerge: authorities and citizens alike turning on reporters and photojournalists in public places, suspecting them to be agents of mayhem and terror.

Read the full essay on UCLA Asia Media

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