[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.

Advertisements

[Echelon column] Balancing Broadband and Narrow Minds

This column originally appeared in Echelon business magazine, March 2014 issue. It is being republished here (without change) as part of a process to archive all my recent writing in one place – on this blog.

Image courtesy Echelon magazine

Image courtesy Echelon magazine

Balancing Broadband and Narrow Minds

By Nalaka Gunawardene

Are we cyber-stunted?

I posed this question some weeks ago at Sri Lanka Innovation Summit 2013 organised by Echelon and News 1st. We were talking about how to harness the web’s potential for spurring innovation.

We cannot innovate much as a society when our broadband is stymied by narrow minds. How many among the (at least) 3.5 million Lankans who regularly access the web have the right mindset for making the best use of the medium, I asked.

We didn’t get to discuss it much there, but this bothers me. Sri Lanka has now had 19 years of commercial Internet connectivity (the first ISP, Lanka Internet Services, started in April 1995). That’s a long time online: we have gone past toddler years and childhood (remember dial-up, anyone?) and been through turbulent ‘teen years’ as well.

Technology and regulation have moved on, imperfect though the latter maybe. But psychologically, as a nation we have yet to find our comfort level with the not-so-new medium.

There are various indicators for this. Consider, for example, the widespread societal apprehensions about social media, frequent web-bashing by editorialists in the mainstream media, and the apparent lack of public trust in e-commerce services. These and other trends are worth further study by social scientists and anthropologists.

Another barometer of cyber maturity is how we engage each other online, i.e. the tone of comments and interactions. This phenomenon is increasingly common on news and commentary websites; it forms the very basis of social media.

Agree to disagree?

‘Facts are sacred, comment is free’ is a cherished tenet in journalism and public debates. But expressing unfashionable opinions or questioning the status quo in Lankan cyber discussions can attract unpleasant reactions. Agreeing to disagree rarely seems an option.

Over the years, I have had my share of online engagement – some rewarding, others neutral and a few decidedly depressing. These have come mostly at the multi-author opinion platforms where I contribute, but sometimes also through my own blogs and twitterfeed.

One trend seems clear. In many discussions, the ‘singer’ is probed more than the ‘song’. I have been called unkind names, my credentials and patriotism questioned, my publishers’ bona fides doubted, and my (usually moderate) positions attributed to personality disorders or genetic defects! There have been a few threats too (“You just wait – we’ll deal with traitors soon!”).

I know those who comment on mainstream political issues receive far more invective. Most of this is done under the cover of anonymity or pseudonymity. These useful web facilities – which protect those criticising the state or other powerful interests – are widely abused in Lankan cyberspace to malign individuals expressing uncommon views.

There are some practical reasons, too, why our readers may misunderstand what we write, or take offence needlessly.

Poor English comprehension must account for a good share of web arguments. Many fail to grasp (or appreciate) subtlety, intentional rhetoric and certain metaphors. Increasingly, readers react to a few key words or phrases in longer piece — without absorbing its totality.

A recent example is my reflective essay ‘Who Really Killed Mel Gunasekera?’. I wrote it in early February shortly after a highly respected journalist friend was murdered in her suburban home by a burglar.

I argued that we were all responsible, collectively, for this and other rising incidents of violence. I saw it as the residual product of Lankan society’s brutalisation during war years, made worse by economic marginalisation. Rather than barricading ourselves and living in constant fear, we should tackle the root causes of this decay, I urged.

The plea resonated well beyond Mel’s many friends and admirers. But some readers were more than miffed. They (wrongly) reduced my 1,100 words to a mere comparison of crime statistics among nations.

I aim to write clearly, and also probe beyond headlines and statistics. But is such nuance a lost art when many online readers merely scan or speed-read what we labour on? In today’s fast-tracked world, can reflective writing draw discerning readers and thoughtful engagement any longer? I wonder.

Too serious

Then there is the humour factor – or the lack of it. Many among us don’t get textual satire, as Groundviews.org discovered with its sub-brand called Banyan News Reporters (BNR). Their mock news items and spoofs were frequently taken literally – and roundly condemned.

The web is a noisy place, but some stand out in that cacophony because of their one-tracked minds. They are those who perceive and react to everything through a pet topic or peeve. That ‘lens’ may be girls vs boys, or lions vs tigers, or capitalism vs socialism or something else. No matter what the topic, such people will always sing same old tune!

Tribal divisions are among the most entrenched positions, and questioning matters of faith assures a backlash. It seems impossible to discuss secularism in Sri Lanka without seemingly offending all competing brands of salvation! (The last time I tried, they were bickering among themselves long after I quietly left the platform…)

Oh sure, everybody is entitled to a bee or two in her bonnet. But what to do with those harbouring an entire bee colony — which they unleash at the slightest provocation?

I just let them be (well, most of the time). I used to get affected by online abuse from cloaked detractors but have learnt to take it with equanimity. This is what economist and public intellectual W A Wijewardena also recommends.

“You must treat commentators as your own teachers; some make even the most stupid comment in the eyes of an intelligent person, but that comment teaches us more than anything else,” he wrote in a recent Facebook discussion.

He added: “Individual wisdom and opinions are varied and one cannot expect the same type of intervention by all. I always respect even the most damaging comment made by some on what I have written!”

Moderating extreme comments is a thankless and challenging job for those operating opinion platforms. If they are too strict or cautious, they risk diluting worthwhile public debates for which space is shrinking in the mainstream media. At the same time, hate speech peddlers cannot be allowed free license in the name of free speech.

Where to draw the line? Each publisher must evolve own guidelines.

Groundviews.org, whose vision is to “enable civil, progressive and inclusive discussions on democracy, rights, governance and peace in Sri Lanka” encourages “a collegial, non-insulting tone” in all contributors. It also reminds readers that “comments containing hate speech, obscenity and personal attacks will not be approved.”

Colombo Telegraph, another popular opinion and reporting website, “offers a right to reply for any individual or organisation who feels they have been misreported”. Sadly, this courtesy is not available in many online news and commentary websites carrying Lankan content.

In the end, even the most discerning publishers and editors can do only so much. As more Lankans get online and cyber chatter increases, we have to evolve more tolerant and pluralistic ways of engagement.

An example of cyber intolerance and name-calling: one of many...

An example of cyber intolerance and name-calling from December 2014, during the campaign for Sri Lanka’s Presidential Election (when Bollywood’s Salman Khan was brought to Sri Lanka to promote then incumbent Mahinda Rajapalksa’s election campaign)

 

Crowd-sourcing a New Constitution for Sri Lanka: Mind the Gaps!

Cartoon by Gihan de Chickera, Daily Mirror

Cartoon by Gihan de Chickera, Daily Mirror

“Sri Lanka wants to make a new Constitution in a radically different way. It is poised to become the first developing country in the world to ‘crowd-source’ ideas for making the highest law of the land.

“That is all well and good – as long as the due process is followed, and that process has intellectual rigour, transparency and integrity. Therein lies the big challenge.”

So opens my latest op-ed essay, just published by Groundviews.org

Crowd-sourcing a New Constitution for Sri Lanka: Mind the Gaps!

In it, I describe the experience of Iceland which was the world’s first country to ‘crowd-source’ a new Constitution. From 2011 to 2013, the European nation of 330,000 people engaged in an exercise of direct democracy to come up with a modern Constitution to replace the existing one adopted in 1944. That involved many public hearings as well as using social media and other communications platforms to gather public inputs and to ensure public scrutiny.

Facebook was used as part of a public consultation strategy to draft Iceland's new Constitution in 2011-13

Facebook was used as part of a public consultation strategy to draft Iceland’s new Constitution in 2011-13

This is the path that Sri Lanka has now chosen: open and participatory Constitution making. To be sure, tropical Sri Lanka is vastly different. Its population of 21 million is 60 times larger than Iceland’s. But the Arctic nation’s generic lessons are well worth studying – both for inspiration and precaution.

I point out: “In doing so, it is important to ensure that public consultative process is not limited to the web and social media. Instead of dominating, technologies should only enable maximum participation.”

“The bottom-line: gathering public proposals is commendable, but not an end by itself. The government needs to adopt a systematic method to study, categorize and distil the essence of what is suggested. And that must happen across English, Sinhala and Tamil languages.”

Read full essay:

Crowd-sourcing a New Constitution for Sri Lanka: Mind the Gaps!

yourconstitution.lk website calls for public inputs for making Sri Lanka's new Constitution.

yourconstitution.lk website calls for public inputs for making Sri Lanka’s new Constitution.

Sri Lanka Parliamentary Election 2015: How did Social Media make a difference?

A Popular Election Meme created by Hashtag Generation, Sri Lanka

A Popular Election Meme created by Hashtag Generation, Sri Lanka

“Every citizen – including activists and academics — can play a part in shaping the future of our democracy. In this, technology is not the only key driver; what matters even more is the strategic use of our imagination and determination.

“We may not yet have all the detailed answers of our digital future, but one thing is clear. In 2015, we the people of Sri Lanka embarked on a progressive digitalization of our politics and governance.

“It is going to be a bumpy road – be forewarned — but there is no turning back.”

These are the closing paras of a long format essay I have just written on the role of social media in the recently concluded Sri Lanka Parliamentary (General) Election on 17 August 2015.  It has been published by Groundviews.org citizen journalism website.

I Will Vote meme created by Groundviews.org - trilingual version

I Will Vote meme created by Groundviews.org – trilingual version

Shortly after the Presidential Election of 8 January 2015 ended, I called it Sri Lanka’s first cyber election. That was based on my insights from over 20 years of watching and chronicling the gradual spread of information and communications technologies (ICTs) in Sri Lanka and the resulting rise of an information society.

Since then, things have evolved further. In this essay, I look at how the Elections Commission, political parties, election candidates, civil society advocacy groups and individual cyber activists have used various social media tools and platforms in the run-up to, during and immediately after the Parliamentary Election.

Read full text at:

Groundviews.org 3 September 2015: Sri Lanka Parliamentary Election 2015: How did Social Media make a difference

A compact version appeared in Daily Mirror, 3 September 2015: Social Media and LK General Election 2015: Has E-democracy arrived in Sri Lanka?

Not voting - then you have no right to complain afterwards! Voter message from March 12 Movement for Clean Politicians, Sri Lanka

Not voting – then you have no right to complain afterwards! Voter message from March 12 Movement for Clean Politicians, Sri Lanka

Social Media and LK General Election 2015: Has E-democracy arrived in Sri Lanka?

From Sri Lanka Elections Department Facebook page

From Sri Lanka Elections Department Facebook page

“What role (if any) did social media play in the recently concluded General Election on 17 August 2015?

“Many are asking this question – and coming up with different answers. That is characteristic of the cyber realm: there is no single right answer when it comes to a multi-faceted and fast-evolving phenomenon like social media.

“Shortly after the Presidential Election of 8 January 2015 ended, I called it Sri Lanka’s first cyber election. That was based on my insights from over 20 years of watching and chronicling the gradual spread of information and communications technologies (ICTs) in Sri Lanka and the resulting rise of an information society.

“That was not the first time social media had figured in Lankan election campaigns. The trend started slowly some years ago, with a few tech-aware politicians and advertising agencies using websites, Facebook pages and twitter accounts for political outreach. However, such uses did not reach a ‘critical mass’ in the general and presidential elections held in 2010, or in the provincial and local government elections held thereafter.

“By late 2014, that changed significantly but this time the frontrunners were politically charged and digitally empowered citizens, not politicians or their support teams.”

The above is an extract from an op-ed I have just written and published in Daily Mirror broadsheet national newspaper in Sri Lanka (3 Sep 2015).

Full text is found online here:

Special thanks to Sanjana Hattotuwa and Yudhanjaya Wijeratne from whose analyses I have drawn. The unattributed opinions are all mine.

Infographic by Daily Mirror Sri Lanka

Infographic by Daily Mirror Sri Lanka

සිවුමංසල කොලූගැටයා #230: ජාතික ආරක්ෂාවට යයි කියා රජය පුරවැසියන්ගේ ඔත්තු බැලීම හරිද?

The July 21 Statement on Freedom of Expression and Media Freedom, issued by 10 media associations and advocacy groups in Sri Lanka for the attention of political parties contesting in General Election 2015, included this recommendation:

Privacy and Surveillance: The state should respect and protect the privacy of all citizens. There should be strict limits to the state surveillance of private individuals’ and entities’ telephone conversations and electronic communications. In exceptional situations, such surveillance should only be permitted with judicial oversight and according to a clear set of guidelines.”

In this week’s Ravaya column, (in Sinhala, appearing in issue of 2 August 2015), I have expanded on this by exploring the extent of state electronic surveillance in Sri Lanka.

It is a murky field where evidence is not easily found, and I rely heavily on the published accounts by leading national and international media groups: Freedom on the Net Report on Sri Lanka; Reporter Sans Frontiers (RSF) report on countries under state surveillance: Sri Lanka section; and investigative articles published by Sri Lanka’s Groundviews.org.

I also look at the legal provisions for surveillance and gaps in legal protection for privacy in Sri Lanka. All this points out to an overbearing state that spies on private citizens as and when it pleases, all on the pretext of national security. We need clearer guidelines and judicial oversight to restrain the state from turning into Big Brother.

Are we being watched by our government without our knowledge or consent? Is it legal?

Are we being watched by our government without our knowledge or consent? Is it legal?

භාෂණයේ නිදහස හා මාධ්‍ය නිදහස සඳහා දේශපාලන පක්ෂවලට ප‍්‍රමුඛතා දහයක් ඉදිරිපත් කරන්නට ජූලි 21 වනදා කොළඹදී පැවති මාධ්‍ය සාකච්ඡාවේදී මාධ්‍යවේදීනී සීතා රන්ජනී මෙසේ කීවා.

‘‘පසුගිය වකවානුවේ (2014 අග දක්වා) අප බොහෝ දෙනකුගේ දුරකථන සංවාද හා ගමන් බිමන් සියල්ල සොයා බලන බව අපට තේරුණා. අප දුරකථන මගින් කතා කොට මාධ්‍යවේදී පුහුණු වැඩමුළු සැලසුම් කර අදාල තැනට යන විට කොහෙන්දෝ එකවර මතු වන විරෝධතාවලට අප මුහුණු දුන්නා. අප රැස්වන තැන්, යොදා ගන්නා සම්පත්දායකයන් ආදී හැම තොරතුරක්ම කෙසේ හෝ මේ උදවිය කල් තබා දැන සිටියා. මෙය හැකි වුණේ අප නිරතුරු ආවේක්ෂණයට ලක් වූ නිසායි.’’

මෙය බරපතල තත්ත්වයක්. රාජ්‍ය ආවේක්ෂණ (state surveillance) අත්දැකීම අඩු වැඩි පමණින් ලද තවත් බොහෝ මාධ්‍යවේදීන්, සිවිල් සමාජ ක‍්‍රියාකාරිකයන් හා දේශපාලකයන් මෙරට සිටිනවා. ගෙවී ගිය දශකයේදී මෙරට රජය විසින් පුරවැසියන් ආවේක්ෂණය කිරීම බොහෝ සෙයින් පුළුල් වූ බවට ඉඟි තිබෙනවා.

See: Freedom on the Net: Sri Lanka Report 2014

යුද්ධය පවතින විට ජාතික ආරක්ෂාව සඳහා යම් පුද්ගලයනගේ හා කණ්ඩායම්වල කතාබහ ආවේක්ෂණය කළත් යුද්ධය නිමා වීමෙන් පසුවත් වසර ගණනක් එය දිගටම පවත්වාගෙන යාම කෙසේ සාධාරණීකරණය කළ හැකිද?

එසේම අපරාධකරුවන්, කැරලිකරුවන් හෝ වෙනත් නීති විරෝධී ක‍්‍රියාවල නිරත වූවන්ගේ සැලසුම් කල් තබා අනාවරණය කර ගන්නට යයි කියා කරන ආවේක්ෂණ විපක්ෂ දේශපාලකයන්, සිවිල් සමාජ ක‍්‍රියාකාරිකයන්, මාධ්‍යවේදීන් හා සරසවි ඇදුරන් දක්වා දිගු වූයේ ඇයි? ජාතික ආරක්ෂාව නම් සංකල්පය පවත්නා රජයේ ආරක්ෂාව ලෙසින් පටු ලෙස විග‍්‍රහ කිරීම නිසාද?

Do you know who is watching you?

Do you know who is watching you?

Dialog CEO Hans Wijesuriya: “No surveillance program in Sri Lanka, but telecoms have to comply”’. The Republic Square, 28 September 2013

මහා පරිමාණ ආවේක්ෂණය වෙත ගෙවී ගිය දශක දෙක තුනක් තිස්සේ මෙරට පැවති සියලූ රජයන් යොමු වීම සිවිල් අයිතිවාසිකම් පැත්තෙන් බලන විට මහත් අහිතකර ප‍්‍රවණතාවක්.

මෙය පුරවැසියන් නොදැනුවත්ව, අධිකරණ අධීක්ෂණයකින් තොරව දිගටම සිදුවීමට එරෙහිව ඇති තරම් සමාජ ප‍්‍රතිවිරෝධයක් මතු නොවීමද තැති ගත යුතු මට්ටමේ කාරණයක්. අප මේ තරමට දැන් සමාජයක් ලෙස උදාසීන වී සිටිනවාද?

2014 දෙසැම්බර් 25 වනදා නිව්යෝර්ක් ටයිම්ස් පුවත්පත ශ‍්‍රී ලංකාවේ එවකට උත්සන්න වෙමින් තිබූ ජනාධිපතිවරණ කැම්පේන් ගැන දීර්ඝ ලිපියක් පළ කළා. විවිධ දේශපාලන චරිත සමග සාකච්ඡා කිරීමෙන් පසු ලියැවුණු එහි එක් තැනෙක හිටපු ධීවර අමාත්‍ය (දැන් සෞඛ්‍ය අමාත්‍ය) දොස්තර රාජිත සේනාරත්න උපුටා දක්වමින් කියන්නේ නොවැම්බර් 21 වනදාට පෙර පොදු විපක්ෂ අපේක්ෂකයා ගැන කතාබහ ඉතා රහසිගතව සිදු කරන ලද බවයි.

With Viber's help, opposition politicians dodged Rajapaksa regime's surveillance in late 2014

With Viber’s help, opposition politicians dodged Rajapaksa regime’s surveillance in late 2014

හොරෙන් අසා සිටීමට ලක් නොවන ආකාරයේ (චන්ද්‍රිකා?) දුරකථන භාවිත කරමින්, සංකේත බසින් තමා ඇතුළු පිරිසක් මෛත‍්‍රීපාල සිරිසේන පොදු අපේක්ෂකයා කිරීම සැලසුම් කළ බව ඔහු කියනවා. ඉන්ටනෙට් හරහා කටහඬ හා ලිඛිත පණිවුඩ හුවමාරු කර ගත හැකි වයිබර් (Viber) නම් මෘදුකාංගයද මේ පිරිස යොදාගෙන තිබෙනවා.

මෙතරම් ප‍්‍රවේශම්කාරී වීමට හේතුව බොහෝ විපක්ෂ දේශපාලකයන් මෙන්ම ඇතැම් (එවකට) ආණ්ඩු පක්ෂයේ දේශපාලකයන්ද ගිය රජය විසින් දැඩි ලෙස ආවේක්ෂණයට ලක් කර තිබූ නිසායි. මේ බව හිටපු ජනාධිපතිනි චන්ද්‍රිකා කුමාරතුංග ද වරක් ප‍්‍රසිද්ධියේ ප‍්‍රකාශ කළා.

රජයන් විසින් සිවිල් ජනයා ආවේක්ෂණය මුල් යුගයේ කරනු ලැබුවේ දුරකථන සංවාදවලට දුරකථන හුවමාරු (phone exchange) හරහා රහසිගතව සවන් දීමෙන්. එහෙත් පරිගණක හා සන්නිවේදන තාක්ෂණයේ දියුණුවත් සමග වඩාත් සූක්ෂමව, පුළුල්ව හා ස්වයංක‍්‍රීය ලෙසින් දුරකථන සංවාද පමණක් නොව ඊමේල්, ස්කයිප් කතාබහ හා ඉන්ටර්නෙට් හරහා කරන බොහෝ හුවමාරු කිසිවකුට නොදැනී ආවේක්ෂණය කළ හැකිව තිබෙනවා.

Internet surveillance: not just in China...

Internet surveillance: not just in China…

ඉන්ටර්නෙට් ජාලයට සම්බන්ධිත පරිගණකයක් හෝ ජංගම දුරකථනයක් තුළට හොර රහසේ පිවිසී එහි දත්ත හා පණිවුඩ හීන්සීරුවේ පිටස්තර පාර්ශ්වයකට ලබා දීමේ ඔත්තු බලන ක‍්‍රම දියුණු කොට තිබෙනවා.

පරිගණක හෝ ජංගම දුරකථන භාවිත කරන බොහෝ දෙනකුට මේ ගැන වැටහීමක් නැහැ. රජයට පමණක් නොව ටෙලිකොම් සමාගම්වලටද මේ හැකියාව තිබෙනවා.

ආවේක්ෂණ තාක්ෂණයන් හා සේවාවන් අධික මිලකට අලෙවි කරන තාක්ෂණ සමාගම් ලෝකයේ තිබෙනවා. බොහෝ විට ඔවුන්ගේ ගැනුම්කරුවන් වන්නේ රාජ්‍ය බුද්ධි අංශ හා අපරාධ පරීක්ෂණ පොලිසි ආදියයි.

ඉතාලියේ මිලාන් නුවර පිහිටි මෙබඳු එක් සමාගමක් ‘හැකිං ටීම්’ (Hacking Team) නම් වනවා. 2013දී දේශසීමා විරහිත වාර්තාකරුවෝ (RSF) නම් ජාත්‍යන්තර මාධ්‍ය නිදහස් ක‍්‍රියාකාරී සංවිධානය ප‍්‍රසිද්ධ චෝදනාවක් කළා. එනම් හැකිං ටීම් මගින් සපයන ආවේක්ෂණ පහසුකම් යොදා ගනිමින් මර්දනකාරී ආණ්ඩු භාෂණ නිදහස හා මාධ්‍ය නිදහසට තර්ජනය වන ලෙස මාධ්‍යවේදීන්, විකල්ප මතධාරීන් හා වෙබ් ක‍්‍රියාකාරිකයන්ට එරෙහිව ක‍්‍රියා කරන බවයි.

RSF report on countries under state surveillance: Sri Lanka

2015 ජූලි මස මුලදී හැකිං ටීම් සමාගමේ පරිගණකවලට ද යම් කිසිවකු අනවසරයෙන් පිවිසී (හැක් කොට) ඔවුන්ගේ දත්ත අතිවිශාල සමුදායක් (400GB) ඕනෑම කෙනකුට බලා ගත හැකි වන්නට ඉන්ටර්නෙට් ජාලයට මුදා හරිනු ලැබුවා. මේ සමාගම ලෝකයේ කිනම් රජයන්ට කුමන ආවේක්ෂණ උපකරණ හා සේවා සපයා ඇත්ද යන්න ගැන මෙතෙක් රහසිගතව තිබූ තොරතුරු රැසක් මේ හරහා අනාවරණය වුණා.

මේ අනුව ලොව පුරා විසිර සිටින පොලිසි, මිලිටරි, මධ්‍යම රජයන් හා පළාත් රජයන් 70කට වැඩි ගණනකට ඔවුන් අවේක්ෂණ තාක්ෂණයන් ලබා දී යූරෝ මිලියන් 40කට වඩා උපයා ගෙන තිබෙනවා.

Hacking Team Emails Expose Proposed Death Squad Deal, Secret U.K. Sales Push and Much More

Groundviews: Going beyond mainstream media in the public interest

Groundviews: Going beyond mainstream media in the public interest

මේ ඔස්සේ ගවේෂණය කළ මෙරට පුරවැසි මාධ්‍ය වෙබ් අඩවියක් වන ග‍්‍රවුන්ඞ්වීව්ස් (Groundviews.org), මෙම ඉතාලි සමාගම 2013-14 කාලයේ ශ‍්‍රී ලංකාවේ බුද්ධි සේවාවලට ද සිය සේවා අලෙවි කිරීමට ඊමේල් ගණනාවක් හුවමාරු කරගෙන ඇති බව සොයා ගත්තා.

විශේෂයෙන් ඕනෑම ආරක්ෂිත පරිගණකයකට හොරෙන් පිවිසී ඔත්තු බැලිය හැකි Remote Control System (RCS) නම් තාක්ෂණය ගැන මෙරට සිට ඔවුන්ගෙන් විමසා තිබුණා. 2014 මාර්තුවේ ඔවුන්ට මෙරටින් යවන ලද එක් ඊමේල් පණිවුඩයක් කීවේ ‘ශ‍්‍රී ලංකාවේ ආරක්ෂක අමාත්‍යංශය, සරසවියක් ද සමග එක්ව විද්‍යුත් ආවේක්ෂණ හා සෙවීමේ ක‍්‍රමයක් පිහිටුවීමට සැලසුම් කරන’ බවයි.

මේ සරසවිය කුමක්ද යයි පැහැදිලි නැහැ (කොළඹ හෝ මොරටුව විය යුතුයි). එසේම ගිය රජය විසින් මෙම තාක්ෂණය මිලට ගත්තා ද යන්න ඊමේල් හුවමාරුවෙන් හරිහැටි කිව නොහැකියි. එහෙත් කිසිදා නොතිබූ තරම් දැවැන්ත ආවේක්ෂණ ප‍්‍රයත්නයක් සඳහා සැලසුම් කළ බව නම් පෙනෙනවා.

Hacking the hackers: Surveillance in Sri Lanka revealed

Sanjana Hattotuwa

Sanjana Hattotuwa

ඩිජිටල් හා සයිබර් මාධ්‍ය හරහා අප ලෙහෙසියෙන් සන්නිවේදනය කරන අතර පෞද්ගලිකත්වය රැක ගැනීමට වගකීමෙන් හා අරපරීක්ෂාවෙන් ක‍්‍රියාකළ යුතුයි. ඩිජිටල් ක‍්‍රියාකාරී හා ග‍්‍රවුන්ඞ්වීව්ස් කතුවර සංජන හත්තොටුව මෙය යළි යළිත් අවධාරණය කරනවා.

ඉතාලි ආවේක්ෂණ තාක්ෂණය කෙසේ වෙතත්, 2010-12දී චීන ටෙලිකොම් සමාගම්වලට මෙරටට උපකරණ සැපයීමට ඉඩදීම හරහා ආවේක්ෂණ හැකියාව ලැබෙන්නට ඇතැයි සංජන අනුමාන කරනවා. මහජනතාවට තොරතුරු දැනගැනීමේ අයිතිය තවමත් නීතිගතව නැති නිසා විස්තර සොයා යෑම අපහසුයි.

2012 පෙබරවාරි 16 වනදා විග‍්‍රහයක් පළ කරමින් සංජන කීවේ හුවාවෙයි (Huawei) හා ZTE නම් චීන සමාගම් මෙරටට ඩොලර් මිලියන ගණන් වටිනා විදුලි සංදේශ උපකරණ සපයන බවයි. බටහිර රටවලට ඉන් පෙර සපයන ලද උපකරණ හරහා නොදැනීම සයිබර් ඔත්තු බැලීමට චීන රජයට ආධාර කළා යැයි මේ චීන සමාගම් දෙකටම බරපතල චෝදනා එල්ල වී තිබුණා.

විශේෂයෙන්ම ශ‍්‍රී ලංකා ටෙලිකොම් සමාගමේ ADSL ඉන්ටර්නෙට් බෙදාහැරීම් පද්ධතිය Huawei තාක්ෂණය යොදා ගන්නවා. අහිංසක ලෙස පෙනුණත් මේ හරහා හොර රහසේ ග‍්‍රාහකයන්ගේ පෞද්ගලික ඊමේල්, ස්කයිප් හා අනෙක් හුවමාරුවලට ප‍්‍රවේශම්වීමේ හැකියාව මෙරට බුද්ධි අංශවලට දැනටමත් ලැබී ඇත්ද? සංජන හත්තොටුව මේ ගැන වසර කිහිපයක සිට අනතුරු අඟවනවා.

Are Chinese Telecoms acting as the ears for the Sri Lankan government?

තමන්ගේ ඩිජිටල් ආරක්ෂාව මුළුමනින්ම තහවුරු කර ගැනීම අසීරු වුවත් වඩා හොඳින් ශක්තිමත් කර ගැනීමට ගත හැකි සරල පියවර කියා දෙන පෝස්ටර් පෙළක් විකල්ප ප‍්‍රතිපත්ති කේන්ද්‍රය මගින් 2012දී භාෂා තුනෙන්ම නිකුත් කරනු ලැබුවා.

තමන්ගේ ඩිජිටල් ආරක්ෂාව ශක්තිමත් කර ගැනීමට ගත හැකි සරල පියවර...

තමන්ගේ ඩිජිටල් ආරක්ෂාව ශක්තිමත් කර ගැනීමට ගත හැකි සරල පියවර…

1991 අංක 25 දරණ විදුලි සංදේශ පනත (1996දී සංශෝධිත) හා 2007 අංක 24 දරණ පරිගණක අපරාධ පනත යම් පටු පරාසයක් තුළ විද්‍යුත් ආවේක්ෂණය හා අනවසරයෙන් පණිවුඩ/දත්ත ග‍්‍රහණය කිරීම වරදක් යයි පිළි ගන්නවා. එහෙත් නීතිය ක‍්‍රියාත්මක කරන රජයේ ආයතනවලට අවශ්‍ය අවස්ථාවන්හිදී එසේ කිරීමට ඉඩකඩ තිබෙනවා. (ඒ කියන්නේ පාඨක ඔබ හෝ මා එය කළොත් නීති විරෝධියි. එහෙත් රජය කළොත් එසේ නැහැ!).

එසේ ආවේක්ෂණය කරන විට කුමන විනයක්, සීමාවක් හෝ ක‍්‍රමවේදයක් රාජ්‍ය ආයතන අනුගමනය කළ යුතුද යන්න නීතිවලින් කියා නැහැ. ජාතික ආරක්ෂාවයටතේ සිත් සේ ක‍්‍රියා කිරීමේ ඉඩ තිබෙනවා වගෙයි.

ඕනෑම කෙනකුට පෞද්ගලිකත්වයක් තිබෙනවා. එයට මානව අයිතියක් ද තිබෙනවා. පොදු අවකාශයේ ඉතා ප‍්‍රකට ජීවිත සතු කලාකරුවන්, ක‍්‍රීඩකයන් හා දේශපාලකයන්ට ද මේ අයිතිය තිබිය යුතුයි. එය ස්ව-කැමැත්තෙන් පසෙක ලීම පුද්ගල අභිමතයක්. එහෙත් එසේ නොකරන තුරු රටේ ආණ්ඩුවට හෝ වෙනත් පිරිසකට (උදා: පැපිරාට්සි ආකාරයේ ඡායාරූප ශිල්පීන්) පෞද්ගලික ජීවිතවල ඔත්තු බැලීම සදාචාර සම්පන්න නැහැ. බොහෝ රටවල මෙය නීති විරෝධියි.

අපේ ආණ්ඩුකරම ව්යවස්ථාවෙන් පිළිගැනෙන හා සහතික කරන මූලික මානව අයිතිවාසිකම් අතර පෞද්ගලිකත්වය (privacy) රැක ගැනීමට ඇති අයිතිය ඇතුළත් නැහැ. එහෙත් සෑම කෙනකුටම එම අයිතිය හිමි බව ශිෂ්ඨ සමාජවල පුළුල්ව පිළි ගැනෙනවා.

නීතියෙන් නොවුවත් සමාජ සම්මතයට අනුව කෙනකුගේ පෞද්ගලික සිතුම් පැතුම්, ලියුම් හා අනෙකුත් සන්නිවේදනයන් පොදු අවකාශයට අයත් නැහැ. එසේම රාජ්‍යයට හෝ රාජ්‍යයේ තාවකාලික භාරකරු ලෙස කටයුතු කරන ආණ්ඩුවකට පුරවැසියන්ගේ පෞද්ගලික සන්නිවේදනවලට පිවිසෙන්නට හා ඒ හරහා තොරතුරු එක් රැස් කරන්නට සදාචාරමය අයිතියක් නැහැ.

මේ සම්මතය බිඳ වැටෙන අවස්ථා ඉඳහිට තිබෙනවා. යුද බිමෙහි ක‍්‍රියාන්විත සේවයේ නිරතව සිටින හමුදා සෙබලූන් හා ඔවුන්ගේ පවුල් අතර සන්නිවේදන හමුදා බලධාරීන්ගේ ආවේක්ෂණයට ලක් විය හැකියි. දැනවුත්ව හෝ නොදැනුවත්ව යුද බිමේ සැබෑ තොරතුරු හෝ හමුදා රහස් හෝ පිටත යාමට ඉඩක් ඇති නිසා. එසේම සමහර රටවල සිරකරුවන් ලබන හා යවන සන්නිවේදන ද විමර්ශනයට ලක් කැරෙනවා.

එහෙත් හමුදා සේවයේ හෝ සිරභාරයේ හෝ නොසිටින සෙසු පුරවැසියන්ට සිය පෞද්ගලිකත්වය රැක ගැනීමට සෑම අයිතියක්ම තිබෙනවා.

Edward Snowden on the right to privacy

Edward Snowden on the right to privacy

‘අපි නීතිගරුක මිනිස්සු. අපට සඟවන්න දෙයක් නැහැ. ආණ්ඩුව අපේ කතාබහ-ලියුම් කියුම් හොරෙන් ඇසුවත් බැලූවත් අපට බිය වන්නට දෙයක් නැහැ’ යයි ඇතැමෙක් කිව හැකියි. මෙය අනුවණකාරී තර්කයක්. හරියට ‘අපට භාෂණ නිදහසක් කුමටද? අපට කියන්නට කිසි දෙයක් නැහැ’ වැනිම පරාජිත ප‍්‍රකාශයක්.

ජූලි 21 ප්‍රකාශයේ ආවේක්ෂණය වැලැක්වීම ගැන නිර්දේශය මෙයයි: “තොරතුරු සමාජයේ ප්‍රගමනය සමග නූතන සන්නිවේදන තාක්ෂණයන් භාවිතය පුළුල් වෙයි. රජය විසින් සියලු පුරවැසියන්ගේ පෞද්ගලිකත්වය ගරු කොට ආරක්ෂා කළ යුතුය. පෞද්ගලික පුරවැසියන්ගේ හා ආයතනවල දුරකථන සංවාද හා විද්‍යුත් සන්නිවේදන ආවේක්ෂණය කිරීම රජය විසින් කිසි විටෙකත් දේශපාලන වාසි පිනිස නොකළ යුතුය. අපරාධ විමර්ශනය වැනි විශේෂිත අවස්ථාවන්හිදී පමණක් එවැනි ආවේක්ෂණය සඳහා අවසර දිය යුත්තේ අධිකරණ අධීක්ෂණය යටතේ හා නිශ්චිත සීමාවලට යටත් වන පරිදිය.”

Posted in Campaigns, Citizen journalism, citizen media, digital media, good governance, Human rights, ICT, Internet, Journalism, Media, Media freedom, Media Reforms, New media, public interest, Ravaya Column, Sri Lanka, Telecommunications. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . 1 Comment »

Interview with Edwin Ariyadasa: Grand Old Man of Lankan Journalism

Edwin Ariyadasa photographed by Nalaka Gunawardene in 1986 during their first interview

Edwin Ariyadasa photographed by Nalaka Gunawardene in 1986 during their first interview

Edwin Ariyadasa, who completed 91 years on 3 December 2013, is one of two grand old men of Lankan journalism still practising their craft (the other being D F Kariyakarawana, also 91).

The veteran journalist has been active in his profession for nearly all of Sri Lanka’s post-independence years. During that time, he has played a variety of complementary roles: feature writer, newspaper editor, columnist, radio and TV host, journalist trainer, author and translator among others. He continues to juggle many of these and has no retirement plans.

In October 2012, I filmed a wide ranging interview with Ariyadasa as he was heading to his 90th birthday. Having grown up reading his output in Lankan newspapers in Sinhala and English, and then having collaborated with him in various public media activities for much of my own media career, I was keen to capture his memories and reflections.

It took me over a year to get the long interview edited into three video segments, and also to have it transcribed, but it’s finally done. Groundviews.org has just published it:

Looking Back at Six Decades of Lankan Journalism: What went wrong?

Nalaka Gunawardene in conversation with Edwin Ariyadasa

As I note in my introduction:

In this interview, the nonagenarian looks back at journalism and broadcasting in Sri Lanka for over half a century. His reminiscences are significant for several reasons. He recalls a time, only a generation ago, when newspapers produced by highly committed editors and journalists commanded readers’ respect as a trusted source of public information and commentary. Having played a central role in pioneering mass media education and television broadcasting in Sri Lanka, he wonders what went wrong along the way to arrive at the banality and superficiality that dominates much of the Lankan media today despite advanced technologies for production and distribution.

In that sense, this is more than mere nostalgia of an individual or the simple bewilderment of an earlier generation. Introspection from a media guru like Ariyadasa can provide the impetus for much-needed reflection for the media industry which often hesitates to turn the spotlight upon itself.

Read full interview: Looking Back at Six Decades of Lankan Journalism: What went wrong?

Interview transcribed by: Keerthika Nadarajah

Video edit by: Amal Samaraweera, TVE Asia Pacific

Photos by: Janaka Sri Jayalath

Edwin Ariyadasa (left) in conversation with Nalaka Gunawardene, Oct 2012

Edwin Ariyadasa (left) in conversation with Nalaka Gunawardene, Oct 2012