Talking at RSF Germany: Support Sri Lanka’s media freedom and professionalism needs!

Nalaka Gunawardene speaks on media freedom and media professionalism in Sri Lanka at Germany’s Reporters without Borders (RSF, or Reporter ohne Grenzen) in Berlin, 17 Nov 2017

On a brief visit to Berlin, Germany, to speak at a media research and academic symposium, I was invited by Germany’s Reporters without Borders (RSF, or Reporter ohne Grenzen) to address a side event at their office that looked at media freedom status and media development needs of Sri Lanka.

It was a small gathering that involved some media rights activists, researchers  and journalists in Germany who take an interest in media freedom and media development issues in Asia. I engaged in a conversation first with Anne Renzenbrink of RSF Germany (who covers Asia) and then with my audience.

I said the media freedoms have significantly improved since the change of government in Jan 2015 – journalists and activists are no longer living in fear of white vans and government goon squads when they criticise political leaders.

But the pre-2015 benchmarks were abysmally low and we should never be complacent with progress so far, as much more needs to be done. We need to institutionalise media freedoms AND media responsibilities. So our media reforms agenda is both wide ranging and urgent, I said (and provided some details).

I used my favourite metaphor: the media freedom glass in Sri Lanka is less than half full today, and we need to gradually fill it up. But never forget: there was no water, and not even a glass, before Jan 2015!

Sri Lanka has risen 24 points in the World Press Freedom Index that RSF compiles every year: 2016, we jumped up from 165th rank (in 2015, which reflected the previous year’s conditions) to 141st rank out of 180 countries assessed. The new ranking remained the same between 2016 and 2017.  Sri Lanka is still marked as red on the world map of the Index, indicating ‘Difficult situation’. We still have a long way to go…

When asked how European partners can help, I said: please keep monitoring media freedom in Sri Lanka, provide international solidarity when needed, and support the journalists’ organisations and trade unions to advocate for both media rights and media professionalism.

I was also asked about slow progress in investigating past atrocities against journalists and media organisations; recent resumption of web censorship after a lull of two years; how journalists are benefitting from Sri Lanka’s new Right to Information law; the particular challenges faced by journalists in the North and East of Sri Lanka (former war areas); and the status of media regulation by state and self-regulation by the media industry.

I also touched on how the mainstream media’s monopoly over news gathering and analysis has been ended by social media becoming a place where individuals are sharing news, updates – as well as misinformation, thereby raising new challenges.

I gave candid and measured answers, all of which are on the record but too detailed to be captured here. My answers were consistent with what I have been saying in public forums (within and outside Sri Lanka), and publicly on Twitter and Facebook.

And, of course, I was speaking my personal views and not the views of any entity that I am working with.

Nalaka Gunawardene at RSF Germany office in Berlin, next to World Press Freedom Index 2017 map

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[Op-ed] April Fools, All Year Round? A Call for Fact-Checking Our Media & Politics

Text of my op-ed article published in Weekend Express newspaper on 7 April 2017.

April Fools All Year Round? Op-ed by Nalaka Gunawardene, Weekend Express, 7 April 2017

April Fools, All Year Round?

By Nalaka Gunawardene

April 1 is observed in many countries as a day for fooling people with practical jokes and harmless fabrications. This aspect of popular culture can be traced back to the times of ancient Greece.

There is now a new twist to this tradition. Every day is beginning to feel like April Fools’ Day in the age of Internet pranks, clever satire and fake news!

Sadly, many among us who apply some measure of skepticism on April 1 are not as vigilant for the rest of the year.

Ah, how I miss the time when intentional misleading was largely confined to just one day. I’m old enough to remember how some Lankan newspapers used to carry elaborate – and seemingly plausible – stories on their front pages on April Fools’ day. The now defunct Sun and Weekend excelled in that delightful art of the tall tale. Of course, they owned up the following day, poking fun at readers who were fooled.

During the past two decades, our media landscape has become a great deal more diverse. Today we have 24/7 SMS news services, all-news TV channels, numerous websites and, of course, millions using social media to spread information (or misinformation) instantaneously.

But does more necessarily mean better? That is a highly debatable question. We seem to have too much media, but not enough journalism! At least journalism of the classical kind where facts are sacred and comment is free (yet informed).

That kind of journalism still exists, but along with so much else. Today’s global cacophony has democratized the media (which is to be celebrated). At the same time, it spawned veritable cottage industries of fake news, conspiracy theories and gossip peddlers.

Image source – American Journalism Review, 21 April 2015

Fact checking

What is to be done? The long term solution is to raise media literacy skills in everyone, so that people consume media and social media with due diligence.

That takes time and effort. Since misinformation is polluting the public mind and even undermining democratic processes, we must also look for other, faster solutions.

One such coping strategy is fact checking. It literally means verifying information – before or after publication – in the media.

In a growing number of countries, mainstream media outlets practise fact checking as an integral part of their commitment to professionalism. They seek to balance accuracy with speed, which has been made more challenging by the never-ending news cycle.

In other cases, independent researchers or civil society groups are keeping track of news media content after publication. In the United States, where the practice is well developed, several groups are devoted to such post-hoc fact checking. These include FactCheck, PolitiFact, and NewsTrust’s Truth Squad. They fact check the media as well as statements by politicians and other public figures.

In 2015, fact checking organisations formed a world network and this year, they observed the inaugural International Fact Checking Day.

Not coincidentally, the chosen date was April 2. (See details at: http://factcheckingday.com)

The initiative is a collaboration by fact checkers and journalism organisations from around the world, “with a goal to enlist the public in the fight against misinformation in all its forms.”

“International Fact Checking Day is not a single event but a rallying cry for more facts — and fact checking — in politics, journalism and everyday life,” says Alexios Mantzarlis, director of the International Fact-Checking Network at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in the US.

Oops!

Pinocchios

One visual icon for the Fact-Checking Day is Pinocchio, the fictional puppet character whose nose grew long each time he uttered a lie.

We in Sri Lanka urgently need a professional, non-partisan fact checking service to save us from the alarming proliferation of Pinocchios in public life. Not just our politicians, but also many academics and activists who peddle outdated statistics, outlandish claims or outright conspiracy theories.

Take, for example, the recent claim by a retired professor of political science that 94 Members of Parliament had not even passed the GCE Ordinary Level exam. Apparently no one asked for his source at the press conference (maybe because it fed a preconceived notion). Later, when a (rare?) skeptical journalist checked with him, he said he’d “read it in a newspaper some time ago” — and couldn’t name the publication.

A simple Google search shows that an MP (Buddhika Pathirana) had cited this exact number in September 2014 – about the last Parliament!

Given the state of our media, which often takes down dictation rather than asks hard questions, fact checking is best done by a research group outside the media industry.

A useful model could be South Asia Check, an independent, non-partisan initiative by Panos South Asia anchored in Kathmandu. It “aims to promote accuracy and accountability in public debate” by examining statements and claims made by public figures in Nepal and occasionally, across South Asia (http://southasiacheck.org).

See also: Getting it Right: Fact-Checking in the Digital Age: American Journalism Review, 21 April 2015

South Asia Check – home page captured on 10 April 2017

Nalaka Gunawardene is a science writer and independent media researcher. He is active on Twitter as @NalakaG

Night of Ideas in Colombo: Panel on Freedom of Expression and Cartooning

L to R - Kianoush Ramezani, Nalaka Gunawardene, Gihan de Chickera at Night of Ideas in Colombo, 26 January 2017

L to R – Kianoush Ramezani, Nalaka Gunawardene, Gihan de Chickera at Night of Ideas in Colombo, 26 January 2017

On 26 January 2017, the Alliance Française de Kotte with the Embassy of France in Sri Lanka presented the first ever “Night of Ideas” held in Colombo. During that event, participants were invited to engage in discussions on ‘‘A World in common – Freedom of Expression (FOE)” in the presence of French and Sri Lankan cartoonists, journalists and intellectuals.

I was part of the panel that also included: Kianoush Ramezani, Founder and President of United Sketches (Paris), an Iranian artist and activist living and working in Paris since 2009 as a political refugee; and Gihan de Chickera, Political cartoonist at the Daily Mirror newspaper in Sri Lanka. The panel was moderated by Amal Jayasinghe, bureau chief of Agence France Presse (AFP) news agency.

Human Rights Lawyer and activist J C Weliamuna opens the Night of Ideas

Human Rights Lawyer and activist J C Weliamuna opens the Night of Ideas in Colombo, 26 January 2017

In my opening remarks, I paid a special tribute to Sri Lanka’s cartoonists and satirists who provided a rare outlet for political expression during the Rajapaksa regime’s Decade of Darkness (2005-2014).

I referred to my 2010 essay, titled ‘When making fun is no laughing matter’ where I had highlighted this vital aspect of FOE. Here is the gist of it:

A useful barometer of FOE and media freedom in a given society is the level of satire that prevails. Satire and parody are important forms of political commentary that rely on blurring the line between factual reporting and creative license to scorn and ridicule public figures.

Political satire is nothing new: it has been around for centuries, making fun of kings, emperors, popes and generals. Over time, satire has manifested in many oral, literary and theatrical traditions. In recent decades, satire has evolved into its own distinctive genre in print, on the airwaves and online.

Satire offers an effective – though not always fail-safe – cover for taking on authoritarian regimes that are intolerant of criticism, leave alone any dissent. No wonder the former Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc inspired so much black humour.

This particular dimension to political satire and caricature that isn’t widely appreciated in liberal democracies where freedom of expression is constitutionally guaranteed.

In immature democracies and autocracies, critical journalists and their editors take many risks in the line of work. When direct criticism becomes highly hazardous, satire and parody become important — and sometimes the only – ways for journalists get around draconian laws, stifling media regulations or trigger-happy goon squads…

Little wonder, then, that some of Sri Lanka’s sharpest political commentary is found in satire columns and cartoons. Much of what passes for political analysis in the media is actually gossip.

A good summary of our panel discussion reported by Daily News, 30 January 2017

Part of the audience for Night of Ideas at Alliance Française de Kotte, 26 Jan 2017

Part of the audience for Night of Ideas at Alliance Française de Kotte, 26 Jan 2017

Audience engages the panel during Night of Ideas at Alliance Française de Kotte, 26 Jan 2017

Audience engages the panel during Night of Ideas at Alliance Française de Kotte, 26 Jan 2017

Night of Ideas in Colombo - promotional brochure

Night of Ideas in Colombo – promotional brochure

 

Sri Lanka State of the Media Report’s Tamil version released in Jaffna

Rebuilding Public Trust: Tamil version copies displayed at the launch in Jaffna, 24 Jan 2017

Rebuilding Public Trust: Tamil version copies displayed at the launch in Jaffna, 24 Jan 2017

Journalists, academics, politicians and civil society representatives joined the launch of Tamil language version of Sri Lanka’s Media Development Indicators (MDI) Report in Jaffna on 24 January 2017.

The report, titled Rebuilding Public Trust: An Assessment of the Media Industry and Profession in Sri Lanka, contains 101 recommendations for media sector reforms needed at different levels – in government policies, laws and regulations, as well as within the media industry, media profession and media teaching.

The report, for which I served as overall editor, is the outcome of a 14-month-long consultative process that involved media professionals, owners, managers, academics and relevant government officials. It offers a timely analysis, accompanied by policy directions and practical recommendations.

The original report was released on World Press Freedom Day (3 May 2016) at a Colombo meeting attended by the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition and Minister of Mass Media.

The Jaffna launch event was organised by the Department of Media Studies of the University of Jaffna, the Jaffna Press Club and the National Secretariat for Media Reforms (NSMR).

Students of Jaffna University Media Studies programme with its head, Dr S Raguram, at the launch of MDI Sri Lanka Tamil version, Jaffna, 24 January 2017

Students of Jaffna University Media Studies programme with its head, Dr S Raguram, at the launch of MDI Sri Lanka Tamil version, Jaffna, 24 January 2017

Reginald Cooray, Governor of the Northern Province, in a message said: “I am sure that the elected leaders and the policy makers of this government of Good governance will seize the opportunity to make a professionally ethical media environment in Sri Lanka which will strengthen the democracy and good governance.”

He added: “The research work should be studied, appreciated and utilised by the leaders and the policy makers. Everyone who was involved in the work should be greatly thanked for their research presentation with clarity.”

Lars Bestle of International Media Support (IMS) speaks at Sri Lanka MDI Report's Tamil version launch in Jaffna, 24 January 2017

Lars Bestle of International Media Support (IMS) speaks at Sri Lanka MDI Report’s Tamil version launch in Jaffna, 24 January 2017

Speaking at the event, Sinnadurai Thavarajah, Leader of the Opposition of the Northern Provincial Council, urged journalists to separate facts from their opinions. “Media freedom is important, but so is unbiased and balanced reporting,” he said.

Lars Bestle, Head of Department for Asia and Latin America at International Media Support (IMS), which co-published the report, said: “Creating a healthy environment for the media that is inclusive of the whole country is an essential part of ensuring democratic transition.”

He added: “This assessment points the way forward. It is now up to the local actors – government, civil society, media, businesses and academia – with support from international community, to implement its recommendations.”

Nalaka Gunawardene, Consultant Editor of Sri Lanka Media Development Indicators (MDI) Report, speaks at the launch of Tamil version in Jaffna on 24 Jan 2017

Nalaka Gunawardene, Consultant Editor of Sri Lanka Media Development Indicators (MDI) Report, speaks at the launch of Tamil version in Jaffna on 24 Jan 2017

I introduced the report’s key findings and recommendations. In doing so, I noted how the government has welcomed those recommendations applicable to state policies, laws and regulations and already embarked on law review and regulatory reforms. In sharp contrast, there has been no reaction whatsoever from the media owners and media gatekeepers (editors).

Quote from 'Rebuilding Public Trust' - State of Sri Lanka's media report

Quote from ‘Rebuilding Public Trust’ – State of Sri Lanka’s media report

Dr S Raguram, Head of Media Studies at the University of Jaffna (who edited the Tamil version) and Jaffna Press Club president Ratnam Thayaparan also spoke.

The report comes out at a time when the country’s media industry and profession face multiple crises stemming from an overbearing state, unpredictable market forces and rapid technological advancements.

Balancing the public interest and commercial viability is one of the media sector’s biggest challenges today. The report says: “As the existing business models no longer generate sufficient income, some media have turned to peddling gossip and excessive sensationalism in the place of quality journalism. At another level, most journalists and other media workers are paid low wages which leaves them open to coercion and manipulation by persons of authority or power with an interest in swaying media coverage.”

Notwithstanding these negative trends, the report notes that there still are editors and journalists who produce professional content in the public interest while also abiding by media ethics. Unfortunately, their work is eclipsed by media content that is politically partisan and/or ethnically divisive.

The result: public trust in media has been eroded, and younger Lankans are increasingly turning to entirely web-based media products and social media platforms for information and self-expression. A major overhaul of media’s professional standards and ethics is needed to reverse these trends.

MDI Sri Lanka - Tamil version being presented to stakeholders in Jaffna, 24 Jan 2017

MDI Sri Lanka – Tamil version being presented to stakeholders in Jaffna, 24 Jan 2017

MDI Sri Lanka - Tamil version being presented to stakeholders in Jaffna, 24 Jan 2017

MDI Sri Lanka – Tamil version being presented to stakeholders in Jaffna, 24 Jan 2017

The Tamil report is available for free download at:

https://www.mediasupport.org/publication/rebuilding-public-trust-media-assessment-sri-lanka-tamil-language-version/

The English original report is at:

https://www.mediasupport.org/publication/rebuilding-public-trust-assessment-media-industry-profession-sri-lanka/

Read my July 2010 op-ed: [Op-ed] Major Reforms Needed to Rebuild Public Trust in Sri Lanka’s Media

[Op-ed] Investigative Journalists uncover Asia, one story at a time

Op-ed written for Sri Lanka’s Weekend Express newspaper, 23 September 2016

Investigative Journalists uncover Asia, one story at a time

By Nalaka Gunawardene

Second Asian Investigative Journalism Conference: Kathmandu, Nepal, 23-25 September 2016

Second Asian Investigative Journalism Conference: Kathmandu, Nepal, 23-25 September 2016

The second Asian Investigative Journalism Conference in opens in Kathmandu, Nepal, on September 23.

Themed as ‘Uncovering Asia’ it is organized jointly by the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN), Centre for Investigative Journalism in Nepal, and the German foundation Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (2016.uncoveringasia.org).

Founded in 2003, GIJN is the world’s leading international association of investigative reporters’ and their organizations. Its membership includes more than 100 non-profits and NGOs in 45 countries. They are committed to expanding and supporting quality investigative journalism worldwide. This is done through sponsoring global and regional conferences, including the every-two-year Global Investigative Journalism Conference. GIJN also does training, links journalists together worldwide, and promotes best practices in investigative and data journalism.

For three days in Kathmandu, reporters from across Asia and beyond – including several from Sri Lanka – will swap stories, cheer each other, and take stock of their particular craft.

It is true that all good journalism should be investigative as well as reflective. Journalism urges its practitioners to follow the money and power — two factors that often lead to excesses and abuses.

At the same time, investigative journalism (IJ) is actually a specialized genre of the profession of journalism. It is where reporters deeply investigate a single topic of public interest — such as serious crimes, political corruption, or corporate wrongdoing. In recent years, probing environmental crimes, human smuggling, and sporting match fixing have joined IJ’s traditional topics.

Investigative journalists may spend months or years researching and preparing a report (or documentary). They would consult eye witnesses, subject experts and lawyers to get their story exactly right. In some cases, they would also have to withstand extreme pressures exerted by the party being probed.

This process is illustrated in the Academy award winning Hollywood movie ‘Spotlight’ (2015). It is based on The Boston Globe‘s investigative coverage of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. The movie reconstructs how a small team systematically amassed and analyzed evidence for months before going public.

Spotlight: investigative journalism at work

Spotlight: investigative journalism at work

Nosing Not Easy

Investigative journalism is not for the faint-hearted. But it epitomizes, perhaps more than anything else, the public interest value of an independent media.

The many challenges investigative journalists face was a key topic at the recent International Media Conference of the Hawaii-based East-West Center, held in New Delhi, India, from 8 to 11 September 2016.

In mature democracies, freedom of expression and media freedoms are constitutionally guaranteed and respected in practice (well, most of the time). That creates an enabling environment for whistle-blowers and journalists to probe various stories in the public interest.

Many Asian investigative journalists don’t have that luxury. They persist amidst uncaring (or repressive) governments, intimidating wielders of authority, unpredictable judicial mechanisms and unsupportive publishers. They often risk their jobs, and sometimes life and limb, in going after investigative stories.

Yet, as participants and speakers in Delhi confirmed, and those converging in Kathmandu this week will no doubt demonstrate, investigative journalism prevails. It even thrives when indefatigable journalists are backed by exceptionally courageous publishers.

Delhi conference panel: investigative journalists share experiences on how they probed Panama Papers

Delhi conference panel: investigative journalists share experiences on how they probed Panama Papers

Cross-border Probing

 As capital and information flows have become globalized, so has investigative journalism. Today, illicit money, narcotics, exotic animals and illegal immigrants crisscross political borders all the time. Journalists following such stories simply have to step beyond their own territories to get the bigger picture.

Here, international networking helps like-nosed journalists. The Delhi conference showcased the Panama Papers experience as reaffirming the value of cross-border collaboration.

Panama Papers involved a giant “leak” of more than 11.5 million financial and legal records exposing an intricate system that enables crime, corruption and wrongdoing, all hidden behind secretive offshore companies.

This biggest act of whistle blowing in history contained information on some 214,488 offshore entities. The documents had all been created by Panamanian law firm and corporate service provider Mossack-Fonseca since the 1970s.

A German newspaper, Süddeutsche Zeitung, originally received the leaked data. Because of its massive volume, it turned to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), a Washington-anchored but globally distributed network of journalists from over 60 countries who collaborate in probing cross-border crimes, corruption and the accountability of power.

Coordinated by ICIJ, journalists from 107 media organizations in 80 countries analyzed the Panama Papers. They were sworn to secrecy and worked on a collective embargo. Within that framework, each one was free to pursue local angles on their own.

After more than one year of analysis and verifications, the news stories were first published on 3 April 2016 simultaneously in participating newspapers worldwide. At the same time, ICIJ also released on its website 150 documents themselves (the rest being released progressively).

Registering offshore business entities per se is not illegal in some countries. Yet, reporters sifting through the records found that some offshore companies have been used for illegal purposes like fraud, tax evasion and stashing away money looted by dictators and their cronies.

Strange Silence

 In Delhi, reporters from India, Indonesia and Malaysia described how they went after Panama leaks information connected to their countries. For example, Ritu Sarin, Executive Editor (News and Investigation) of the Indian Express said she and two dozen colleagues worked for eight months before publishing a series of exposes linking some politicians and celebrities to offshore companies.

Listening to them, I once again wondered why ICIJ’s sole contact in Sri Lanka (and his respected newspaper) never carried a single word about Panama Leaks. That, despite nearly two dozen Lankan names coming to light.

Some of our other mainstream media splashed the Lankan names associated with Panama Papers (often mixing it up with earlier Offshore Leaks), but there has been little follow-up. In this vacuum, it was left to civic media platforms like Groundviews.org and data-savvy bloggers like Yudhanjaya Wijeratne (http://icaruswept.com) to do some intelligent probing. Their efforts are salutary but inadequate.

Now, Panama Leaks have just been followed up by Bahamas Leaks on September 22. The data is available online, for any nosy professional or citizen journalist to follow up. How many will go after it?

Given Sri Lanka’s alarming journalism deficit, investigative reporting can no longer be left to those trained in the craft and their outlets.

Science writer Nalaka Gunawardene blogs at http://nalakagunawardene.com, and is on Twitter as @NalakaG.

සිවුමංසල කොලුගැටයා #284: දකුණු ආසියානු රජයන්ගේ මාධ්‍ය මර්දනයේ සියුම් මුහුණුවර හඳුනා ගනිමු

East-West Center 2016 International Media Conference in New Delhi, India, from September 8 to 11, 2016

East-West Center 2016 International Media Conference in New Delhi, India, from September 8 to 11, 2016

In this week’s Ravaya column (in Sinhala, appearing in the print issue of 18 Sep 2016), I discuss new forms of media repression being practised by governments in South Asia.

The inspiration comes from my participation in the Asia Media Conference organized by the Hawaii-based East-West Center in New Delhi, India, from September 8 to 11, 2016. Themed “South Asia Looking East”, it drew over 350 participants from across Asia and the United States.

Speeches and discussions showed how governments are more concerned about international media rights watch groups tracking the imprisonment and physical harassment of media and journalists. So their tactics of repression have changed to unleash bureaucratic and legal harassment on untamed and unbowed journalists. And also to pressurising advertisers to withdraw.

Basically this is governments trying to break the spirit and commercial viability of free media instead of breaking the bones of outspoken journalists. And it does have a chilling effect…

In this column, I focus on two glaring examples that were widely discussed at the Delhi conference.

In recent months, leading Bangladeshi editor Mahfuz Anam has been sued simultaneously across the country in 68 cases of defamation and 18 cases of sedition – all by supporters of the ruling party. Anam was one of six exceptional journalists honoured during the Delhi conference “for their personal courage in the face of threats, violence and harassment”.

In August, an announcement was made on the impending suspension of regional publication of Himal Southasian, a pioneering magazine promoting ‘cross-border journalism’ in the South Asian region. The reason was given as “due to non-cooperation by regulatory state agencies in Nepal that has made it impossible to continue operations after 29 years of publication”.

Bureaucracy is pervasive across South Asia, and when they implement commands of their political masters, they become formidable threats to media freedom and freedom of expression. Media rights watch groups, please note.

”බලවත් රජයක් හා ස්වාධීන මාධ්‍ය අතර ගැටුමකදී නිරන්තරයෙන්ම පාහේ මුල් වට කිහිපය ජය ගන්නේ රජයයි. බලපෑම් හා පීඩන කළ හැකි යාන්ත්‍රණ රැසක් රජය සතු නිසා. එහෙත් අන්තිමේදී ස්වාධීන මාධ්‍ය ජය ලබනවා!”

”කියවන විට ලිවීම සිය මාධ්‍ය කලාව ලෙස නිර්වචනය කර ගත් කීකරු මාධ්‍යවලට නම් කිසිදු රටක රජයකින් හෝ වෙනත් බල කේන‍ද්‍රවලින් තාඩන පීඩන එල්ල වන්නේ නැහැ. එහෙත් එසේ නොකරන, පොදු උන්නතිය වෙනුවෙන් පෙනී සිටින මාධ්‍යවලට (free press) පන්න පන්නා හිරිහැර කරන සැටි දේශපාලකයන් මෙන්ම නිලධාරී තන්ත්‍රය හොඳහැටි දන්නවා. හීලෑ කර ගත නොහැකි මාධ්‍යවේදීන් හා කතුවරුන් හිරේ දැමීම, ඔවුන්ට පහරදීම හෝ මරා දැමීම බරපතළ ලෝක විවේචනයට ලක් වන නිසා ඊට වඩා සියුම් අන්දමින් මාධ්‍යවලට හිරිහැර කිරීමට දකුණු ආසියානු ආණ්ඩු දැන් නැඹුරු වී සිටිනවා, මාධ්‍ය නිදහසට එල්ල වන ප්‍රකට තර්ජන (භෞතික ප්‍රහාර හා නිල ප්‍රවෘත්ති පාලනයන්) ගැන ඇස යොමා ගෙන සිටින ජාත්‍යන්තර ආයතනවලට පවා මේවා හරිහැටි ග්‍රහණය වන්නේ නැහැ!”

මේ වටිනා විග්‍රහයන්ට මා සවන් දුන්නේ 2016 සැප්තැම්බර් 8-11 දින කිහිපය තුළ ඉන්දියාවේ නවදිල්ලියේ පැවති ජාත්‍යන්තර මාධ්‍ය සමුළුවකදී (East-West Center 2016 International Media Conference).  අමෙරිකාවේ හවායිහි පිහිටි ඊස්ට්-ටෙස්ට් කේන‍ද්‍රය තවත් කලාපීය හා ඉන්දීය පාර්ශ්වකරුවන් සමග සංවිධානය කළ මේ සමුළුවට රටවල් හතළිහකින් පමණ 350කට වැඩි මාධ්‍යවේදී පිරිසක් සහභාගි වුණා.

මා එහි ගියේ ආරාධිත කථීකයෙක් හා එක් සැසි වාරයක මෙහෙයවන්නා ලෙසින්.

තොරතුරු අයිතිය, විද්‍යුත් ආවේක්ෂණය, සමාජ මාධ්‍ය, ගවේෂණාත්මක මාධ්‍යකරණය, පාරිසරික වාර්තාකරණය ආදී විවිධ තේමා යටතේ සැසිවාර හා සාකච්ඡා රැසක් තිබුණත් වැඩිපුරම අවධානය යොමු වුණේ මාධ්‍ය නිදහසට එල්ල වන පීඩන හා තර්ජන ගැනයි.

මෙය දේශපාලන සංවාදයකට සීමා නොවී මාධ්‍යවල වෘත්තියභාවය, ආචාරධර්මීය ක්‍රියා කලාපය හා මාධ්‍ය-රජය තුලනය ආදී පැතිකඩද කතාබහ කෙරුණා.

Mahfuz Anam speaks at East West Center Media Conference in Delhi

Mahfuz Anam speaks at East West Center Media Conference in Delhi

සමුළුවේ ප්‍රධාන භූමිකාවන් රඟපෑවේ (සහ මාධ්‍ය නිදහස උදෙසා අරගල කිරීම සඳහා පිරිනැමුණු විශේෂ සම්මානයක් හිමි කර ගත්තේ) මෆූස් අනාම් (Mahfuz Anam) මාධ්‍යවේදියායි.ඔහු බංග්ලාදේශයේ අද සිටින ජ්‍යෙෂ්ඨතම එසේම ලොව පිළිගත් පුවත්පත් කතුවරයෙක්. කලක් යුනෙස්කෝ සංවිධානයේ තනතුරක් හෙබ වූ ඔහු සියරට ආවේ මාධ්‍ය ක්ෂේත්‍රයේ සක්‍රිය වීමටයි.

ඔහු එරට මුල්පෙළේ පුවත්පතක් වන Daily Star කතුවරයා මෙන්ම ප්‍රකාශකයාද වනවා. ඩේලි ස්ටාර් බංගල්දේශයේ වඩාත්ම අලෙවි වන ඉංග්‍රීසි පුවත්පතයි. එය මීට වසර 25කට පෙර අනාම් ඇරඹුවේ එරට මිලිටරි පාලනයකින් යළිත් ප්‍රජාතන්ත්‍රවාදී මාවතට පිවිසි පසුවයි.

ප්‍රජාතන්ත්‍රවාදය, පුරවැසි අයිතිවාසිකම්, විවෘත ආණ්ඩුකරණය හා රාජ්‍ය විනිවිදභාවය වැනි පරමාදර්ශයන් වෙනුවෙන් ඔහුත්, ඔහුගේ පුවත්පතත් කවදත් පෙනී සිටිනවා.

බංග්ලාදේශයේ අතිශයින් ධ්‍රැවීකරණය වී ඇති පක්ෂ දේශපාලනය ඔහු විවෘතවම විවේචනය කරනවා. මේ නිසා දේශපාලකයන් ඔහුට කැමති නැහැ. මීට පෙරද නොයෙක් පීඩනයන් එල්ල වුවත් ඔහුගේ මාධ්‍ය කලාවට ලොකුම තර්ජනය මතු වී ඇත්තේ ෂේක් හසීනා වත්මන් අගමැතිනියගේ රජයෙන්.

බලයේ සිටින ඕනෑම රජයක් සහේතුකව විවේචනය කිරීම අනාම්ගේ ප්‍රතිපත්තියයි. අධිපතිවාදී රාජ්‍ය පාලනයක් ගෙන යන හසීනා අගමැතිනියට මෙය කිසිසේත් රුස්සන්නේ නැහැ. ඇය, ඇගේ ආන්දෝලනාත්මක පුත්‍රයා හා දේශපාලන අනුගාමිකයන් ඩේලි ස්ටාර් පත්‍රයට හිරිහැර කිරීමට පටන් ගත්තේ මීට වසර 3කට පමණ පෙරයි.

එහෙත් එය උත්සන්න වූයේ 2016 පෙබරවාරියේ. එරට ටෙලිවිෂන් නාලිකාවක් සමඟ කළ සාකච්ඡාවකදී අනාම් එක්තරා පාපෝච්චාරණයක් කළා. වත්මන් අගමැතිනිය 2007දී විපක්ෂ නායිකාව ලෙස සිටියදී ඇයට එරෙහිව මතු වූ දුෂණ චෝදනා සිය පුවත්පතේ පළ කිරීම ගැන ඔහු කණගාටුව ප්‍රකාශ කළා.

එවකට එරට පාලනය කළේ හමුදාව විසින් පත් කළ,  ඡන්දයකින් නොතේරුණු රජයක්. එම රජය හසීනා අගමැතිනියට එරෙහිව මතු කළ දූෂණ චෝදනා, නිසි විමර්ශනයකින් තොරව සිය පත්‍රයේ පළ කිරීම කර්තෘ මණ්ඩල අභිමතය අනිසි ලෙස භාවිත කිරීමක් (poor editorial judgement) බව ඔහු ප්‍රසිද්ධියේ පිළිගත්තා.

එම දූෂණ චෝදනා එරට වෙනත් බොහෝ මාධ්‍යද එවකට පළ කරන ලද නමුත් මෙසේ කල් ගත වී හෝ ඒ ගැන පසුතැවීමක් සිදු කර ඇත්තේ ඩේලි ස්ටාර් කතුවරයා පමණයි.

කතුවරුන් යනු අංග සම්පූර්ණ මිනිසුන් නොවෙයි. ඔවුන් අතින් ද වැරදි සිදු වනවා. ඒවා පිළිගෙන සමාව අයැද සිටීම අගය කළ යුත්තක්.

එහෙත් මේ  පාපොච්චාරණයෙන් හසීනා පාක්ෂිකයෝ දැඩි කෝපයට පත් වූවා. මහජන ඡන්දයෙන් නොව බලහත්කාරයෙන් බලයේ සිටි රජයක් එකල විපක්ෂ නායිකාවට කළ චෝදනා පත්‍රයේ පළ කිරීම ඇය දේශපාලනයෙන් ඉවත් කිරීමට කළ කුමන්ත්‍රණයක කොටසක් බව ඔවුන් තර්ක කළා.

අනාම් මේ තර්කය ප්‍රතික්ෂේප කරනවා. 2007-8 හමුදාමය රජයට එරෙහිව තමන් කතුවැකි 203ක් ලියමින් ප්‍රජාතන්ත්‍රවාදය යළි ස්ථාපිත කරන මෙන් ඉල්ලා සිටි බව ඔහු මතක් කරනවා. එසේම දූෂණ චෝදනා මත හසීනා අත්අඩංගුවට ගත් විට එයට එරෙහිව ප්‍රබල විරෝධතා මතු කළේත් තම පත්‍රය බව ඔහු කියනවා. (2008දී හසීනාගේ අවාමි ලීගය යළි බලයට පත් වූ විට එම චෝදනා සියල්ල කිසිදු  විභාග කිරීමකින් තොරව අත්හැර දමනු ලැබුවා.)

Mahfuz Anam, center, the editor of The Daily Star, Bangladesh’s most popular English-language newspaper, outside a court in Rangpur District, March 2016

Mahfuz Anam, center, the editor of The Daily Star, Bangladesh’s most popular English-language newspaper, outside a court in Rangpur District, March 2016 [Photo courtesy The New York Times]

පෙබරවාරි ටෙලිවිෂන් සාකච්ඡාවෙන් පසු සති කිහිපයක් තුළ රටේ විවිධ ප්‍රදේශවල උසාවිවල අනාම්ට එරෙහිව අපහාස නඩු හා රාජ්‍ය ද්‍රෝහිත්වය (sedition) අරභයා නඩු දුසිම් ගණනක් ගොනු කරනු ලැබුවා. මේ එකම නඩුවකටවත් බංග්ලාදේශ රජය සෘජුව සම්බන්ධ නැහැ. නඩු පැමිණිලිකරුවන් වන්නේ හසීනාගේ පාක්ෂිකයෝ.

මේ වන විට අපහාස නඩු 68ක් හා රාජ්‍ය ද්‍රෝහිත්වයට එරෙහි  නඩු 18ක් විභාග වෙමින් තිබෙනවා. මේවාට පෙනී සිටීමට රට වටේ යාමටත් වග උත්තර බැඳීමටත් ඔහුට සිදුව තිබෙනවා.

නඩු පැවරීමට අමතරව වෙනත් උපක්‍රම හරහාද තම පත්‍රයට හිරිහැර කරන බව අනාම් හෙළි කළා. පත්‍රයට නිතිපතා දැන්වීම් ලබා දෙන ප්‍රධාන පෙළේ සමාගම් රැසක් රාජ්‍ය බලපෑම් හමුවේ නොකැමැත්තෙන් වුවත් එය නතරකොට තිබෙනවා. මේ නිසා ඩේලිස්ටාර් දැන්වීම් ආදායම 40%කින් පහත වැටිලා.

”එහෙත් මධ්‍යම හා කුඩා පරිමානයේ දැන්වීම්කරුවන් දිගටම අපට දැන්වීම් දෙන බවට ප්‍රතිඥා දී තිබෙනවා. මේ ව්‍යාපාරිකයන්ගේ කැපවීම අගය කළ යුතුයි. ආණ්ඩු බලයට නතු නොවී, බිය නොවී, ස්වාධීන මාධ්‍යවලට අනුග්‍රහය දක්වන ව්‍යාපාර ඉතිරිව තිබීම අපට ලොකු සවියක්” අනාම් ප්‍රකාශ කළා.

කුඩා හා මධ්‍යම පරිමාන දැන්වීම් කරුවන්ට අමතරව බංගලාදේශයේ වෘත්තිකයන්, බුද්ධිමතුන් හා කලාකරුවන්ද ඩේලිස්ටාර් හා එහි කතුවරයා වෙනුවෙන් කථා කරනවා. සෙසු (තරඟකාරී) මාධ්‍ය කෙසේ වෙනත් මහජනයා මෙසේ ස්වාධීන මාධ්‍යවල නිදහස වෙනුවෙන් කථා කිරීම ඉතා වැදගත්.

මාධ්‍ය නිදහස රැකීමට වීදි උද්ඝෝෂණ කළාට පමණක් මදි. අන්තවාදීන්ගේ හා මර්දනකාරී ආණ්ඩුවල පීඩනයට ලක් වන මාධ්‍ය ආයතනවලට ප්‍රසිද්ධියේ සහාය දැක්වීම ද අවශ්‍යයි.

නවදිල්ලි සමුළුවේ අවධානයට ලක් වූ තවත් මාධ්‍ය මර්දනයක් නම් නේපාලයේ කත්මණ්ඩු අගනුවරින් පළ කැරෙන හිමාල් (Himal) සඟරාවේ අර්බුදයයි.

Kanak Mani Dixit (left) and Kunda Dixit struggling to save Himal South Asian magazine

Kanak Mani Dixit (left) and Kunda Dixit struggling to save Himal South Asian magazine

හිමාලයට සාමුහිකව හිමිකම් කියන භූතානය, ඉන්දියාව, නේපාලය, ටිබෙටය, පකිස්ථානය හා චීනය යන රටවල් කෙරෙහි මුලින් අවධානය යොමු කළ මේ ඉංග්‍රීසි සඟරාව, වසර කිහිපයකින් සමස්ත දකුණු ආසියාවම ආවරණය කැරෙන පරිදි Himal Southasian නමින් යළි නම් කළා.

සාක් කලාපයේ රටවල (විශේෂයෙන් ඉන්දියාවේ) හොඳ කාලීන පුවත් සඟරා ඇතත් දකුණු ආසියාව ගැන පොදුවේ කථා කරන එකම වාරික ප්‍රකාශනය මෙයයි. ජාතික දේශසීමාවලින් ඔබ්බට ගොස් සංසන්දනාත්මකව හා තුලනාත්මකව සමාජ, ආර්ථීක, දේශපාලනික හා සංස්කෘතික ප්‍රශ්න ගවේෂණය කිරීම දශක තුනක් තිස්සේ හිමාල් සඟරාව ඉතා හොඳින් සිදු කරනවා.

2016 අගෝස්තු 24 වනදා හිමාල් සඟරාවේ ප්‍රකාශකයන් වන දකුණු ආසියානු භාරය (Southasia Trust) විශේෂ නිවේදනයක් නිකුත් කරමින් කියා සිටියේ නේපාල රජයේ ආයතනවලින් දිගින් දිගටම මතුව ඇති බාධක හා අවහිර කිරීම් නිසා කණගාටුවෙන් නමුත් සඟරාව පළ කිරීම නතර කරන බවයි.

”හිමාල් නිහඬ කරනු ලබන්නේ නිල මාධ්‍ය වාරණයකින් හෝ සෘජු භෞතික පහරදීමකින් හෝ නොවෙයි. නිලධාරිවාදයේ දැඩි හස්තයෙන් අපට හිරිහැර කිරීමෙන්. කිසිදු දැනුම් දීමකින් හෝ චෝදනාවකින් තොරව අපට ලැබෙන ආධාර සියල්ල අප කරා ළඟා වීම වළක්වා තිබෙනවා. අපේ සියලු ගිණුම් වාර්තා ඉහළ මට්ටමක ඇති බවත්, සියලු කටයුතු නීත්‍යනුකූල බවත් රාජ්‍ය ආයතන සහතික කළත්, අපට එල්ල වන පරිපාලනමය බාධක අඩු වී හෝ නතර වී නැහැ” එම නිවේදනයේ සඳහන් වුණා.

වෘත්තීය කර්තෘ මණ්ඩලයක් මඟින් සංස්කරණය කැරෙන, ලිපි ලියන ලේඛකයන්ට ගරුසරු ඇතුව ගෙවීම් කරන, දැන්වීම් ඉතා සීමිත මේ සඟරාවේ නඩත්තු වියදම පියවා ගත්තේ දෙස් විදෙස් දානපති ආධාරවලින්. සඟරාවට ආධාර ළඟා වීම වැළැක්වීම හරහා එය හුස්ම හිරකර මරා දැමීම එහි විරද්ධවාදීන්ගේ උපක්‍රමයයි.

මෙසේ කරන්නේ ඇයි? හිමාල් සඟරාවේ ආරම්භකයා හා අද දක්වාත් සභාපතිවරයා නේපාල ක්‍රියාකාරීක හා මගේ දිගු කාලීන මිත්‍ර කනක් මානි ඩික්සිත් (Kanak Mani Dixit). 2012 අගෝස්තු 12 මගේ තීරු ලිපියෙන් සිංහල පාඨකයන්ට ඔහුගේ ප්‍රතිපත්තිමය අරගලයන් මා හඳුන්වා දුන්නා.

සිවුමංසල කොලූගැටයා #78: කනක් මානි ඩික්සිත් – හිමාල කඳු සොළවන පුංචි වැඩකාරයා

කනක්ගේ මාධ්‍ය විවේචන හමුවේ දැඩි ලෙසි උරණ වී ඔහුට නිලබලයෙන් පහර දීමට මූලිකව සිටින්නේ නේපාලයේ බලය අයථා ලෙස භාවිත කිරීම විමර්ශනය කරන රාජ්‍ය කොමිසමේ ප්‍රධානියා වන ලෝක්මාන් සිං කාර්කි.

2013 දී කාර්කි මේ තනතුරට පත් කරන විට ඔහු එයට නොසුදුසු බව කනක් ප්‍රසිද්ධියේ පෙන්වා දුන්නා. එහෙත් දේශපාලකයන් පත්වීම ස්ථීර කළ අතර එතැන් පටන් මේ නිලධාරීයා නිල බලය අයථා ලෙස යොදා ගනිමින් සිය විවේචකයන්ට හිරිහැර කිරීම ඇරඹුවා.

2016 අප්‍රේල් මාසයේ දූෂණ චෝදනා මත කනක් ඩික්සින් අත් අඩංගුවට ගෙන ටික දිනක් රඳවා තැබුණා. මේ ගැන එරට හා විදෙස් මාධ්‍ය හා මානව හිමිකම් සංවිධාන දැඩි විරෝධය පළ කළා. අන්තිමේදී කනක් සියලු චෝදනාවලට නිදොස් කොට නිදහස් කරනු ලැබුවේ නේපාල ශ්‍රේෂ්ඨාධිකරණය විසින්.

කනක්ට සෘජුව හිරිහැර කිරීම ඉන් පසු අඩු වූවත් ඔහු සම්බන්ධ මාධ්‍ය ප්‍රකාශන, ස්වේච්ඡා ආයතන හා සිවිල් සමාජ සංවිධානවලට නොයෙක් බලපෑම් කිරීම දිගටම සිදු වනවා.

හිමාල් සඟරාවට හා දකුණු ආසියාව භාරයට හිරිහැර කිරීම මේ ප්‍රහාරයන්ගේ එක් පියවරක්. මේ අත්තනෝමතික නිලධාරියාට දේශපාලන බලයද ඇති නිසා අන් නිලධාරීන්  ඔහුට එරෙහි වීමට බියයි.

රාජ්‍ය තන්ත්‍රයේ මුළු බලය යොදා ගෙන පුංචි (එහෙත් නොනැමෙන) සඟරාවකට හිරිහැර කරන විට එයට එරෙහිව හඬක් නැගීමට බොහෝ නේපාල මාධ්‍ය ආයතන  පැකිලෙනවා. එයට හේතුව මර්දකයා තමන් පසුපස ද එනු ඇතැයි බියයි. මේ අතින් නේපාල තත්ත්වය බංග්ලාදේශයට වෙනස්.

පොදු උන්නතිය වෙනුවෙන් නිර්ව්‍යාජව පෙනී සිටින මාධ්‍ය ආයතනයක් හා කතුවරයෙක් මර්දනයට ලක් වූ විට ඔවුන් වෙනුවෙන් හඬ නැගීම ශිෂ්ඨ සමාජයක කාගේත් වගකීමක්. හිමාල් සඟරාව හා කනක් ඩික්සින් වෙනුවෙන් මේ හඬ වැඩිපුරම මතුව ආයේ ඔහුගේ මෙහෙවර අගයන සෙසු දකුණු ආසියාතික රටවලින්.

මේ ලිපිය ආරම්භයේ මා උපුටා දැක්වූ පලමු උධෘතය මෆූස් අනාම්ගේ. ඊළඟ උධෘතය කනක්ගේ  සොහොයුරු කුන්ඩා ඩික්සිත්ගේ. මෆූස්, කනක් හා කුන්ඩා වැනි කතුවරුන්ට සහයෝගිතාව දැක්වීම නවදිල්ලි සමුළුව පුරාම දැකිය හැකි වුණා.

අවසානයේ මාධ්‍ය ජය ගන්නා තුරු මර්දනයට ලක් වන මාධ්‍ය ආයතන හා මාධ්‍යවේදීන් සමඟ සහයෝගයෙන් සිටීම ඉතා වැදගත්.