a penetrative analysis of the media scene in Sri Lanka today
Victor Ivan, Editor of Ravaya exposes how sections of the media
while exposing corruption and abuse in society and calling for
transparency and openness, suppress information of such
malpractices that take place in media organizations. The article
also alludes to corruption in the private sector and in
professional organizations. We reproduce below in public
interest, extracts of the article that refer to the media,
particularly those relating to some activists of the Free Media
Ethical crisis grips media men
Media is one of the principal conduits supplying information to the
people. It is also the main source that exposes misdeeds happening in
the country. All important and powerful persons in the country are
criticised more or less in the media. Media is also the watchdog that
scrutinises the three arms of the government - the Executive, the
Legislature and the Judiciary.
People’s desire for information and the right of information is quite
large. It is the journalists who speak most about the significance of
providing people with true and undistorted information since facts are
Free Media Movement
They are vehemently against both distortion and suppression of
information. They believe that nothing of importance to the public
should be concealed. They oppose legislation such as those pertaining to
state secrets which conceal information.
Journalists enjoy the right to criticise every important person and
expose those that commit offences. They firmly oppose the curtailment of
that right even by an iota.
There is no method that examines journalists who enjoy such wide
power as socio-political watchdogs. Since both print and electronic
media that comprise the platform that distributes information and
exposes offenders are in their hands they (media and media
personalities) have the ability to suppress criticism of media and media
Quite recently UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe made a valuable
criticism about the media ethics practised in Sri Lanka. When a
journalist questioned him he questioned the journalist in response.
Media organis ations considered it a threat to journalists and issued a
statement condemning his conduct.
Though the UNP, on behalf of Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe issued a
statement in response to the statement of the media organisation it was
either not published in the media or was published in a truncated and
distorted form. Though Mr. Wickremesinghe made a public criticism of the
media personalities and organisations based on this incident it was not
adequately subjected to discussion. It is not clear whether there was
actually no discussion or whether the media and media personalities did
not allow such a discussion to take place.
Even in the dispute between Sunanda Deshapriya and the Centre for
Policy Alternatives (CPA) state media published various stories. The CPA
did not divulge what really happened. Neither did Sunanda Deshapriya
make a clear statement on the issue. The CPA spoke in a confused
language without giving any details. Sunanda also replied in a complex
language sans details.
Though it appeared that something had taken place what had actually
taken place was not clear.
Now an explosive situation has arisen within the Free Media Movement
(FMM) and within the five media organisations linked with it. FMM is
said to have appointed an internal investigation committee t o examine
and report on a number of transactions made by it. Meanwhile the Working
Committee of the FMM had met and decided to suspended investigations
conducted by the Committee and decided to convene a General Meeting to
elect new Office Bearers. At that meeting the importance of preventing
information on the dispute being published in the media was discussed.
Opinion was also expressed that media should be prevented from having
access to facts concerning the dispute. Doesn’t it show that journalists
themselves who hold facts sacred want to conceal information from the
public? Doesn’t it show that journalists themselves who oppose
legislation safeguarding state secrets and have secrets to safeguard?
Several persons connected with the FMM requested me individually to
intervene in my capacity as a founder member of the FMM to settle the
dispute hat as arisen. I told every one of them that I could not do so
as I have already resigned from the FMM.I also told them it was not a
good policy to conceal serious offences, if they had taken place within
The majority opinion of those who spoke with me, however, was that
issues that have arisen should be settled internally and in confidence,
without allowing them to appear in the limelight. I concluded that not
only bad journalists but also good journalists do not want their
misconduct or failings to be known to the public and that they are not
ready to apply to themselves the policy they pursue in relation to
offences or failings of everyone else.
Now the storm has blown across the Sri Lankan media and the fantasy
land of the media personnel. For some time there were embers hidden
beneath the ash that could spark off a big fire. The fire sparked albeit
on a small scale from the CPA. Though he fire there has been doused it
has emerged elsewhere. The investigation by t he CPA was against one
person. Thereafter, the FMM as well as the Press Institute have
initiated investigations against several activists of media
I am also a founder member of the FMM. But I had differences of
opinion at the formative stage of the FMM. They were about its
constitution. The constitution was not structured to allow any
professional journalist to become a member. It was structured to allow
only a select few to obtain membership.
I warned that the resulting movement would be not a common
organisation of journalists but a movement of a certain clique or
faction. A policy that would open the door to everyone would pave the
way for an organised group to capture power, they argued. Since I did no
agree with this reasoning I kept away from the organisation for a long
time. When the Chandrika Government unleashed heavy repression on the
media Varuna and Sunanda asked me to rejoin forgetting differences of
opinion in order to face media repression. Hence, I rejoined.
Then it had an agenda of its own. We spent our own money for its
activities. The annual income of the FMM did not exceed even Rs.
10,000.Nor were there paid employees then. Then we also faced death
threats. There were times when we faced bomb attacks and acid attacks.
We faced all those ordeals from our own strength.
We did not have luxurious safe houses to hide. Nor was any mechanism
to pay special allowances to those threatened. We had only one project.
That was the project relating to media freedom. It was a movement that
was propelled by our own strength and labour.
With the passage of time the nature of the movement also changed
gradually. It was transformed from a self-supporting movement to one
that ran on foreign funds. I am not against receiving foreign funds. But
they should be proportionate to our real needs. We should not sell our
right to fix the agenda to donor organisations.
Yet the FMM became an organisation involved in foreign projects to
such an extent that it found it difficult to extricate itself from their
grip. If you are in dire need of money there is no harm in involving
yourself in one or two projects that would not harm the organisations
self respect. Instead, what happened was that the FMM had become an
organisation enmeshed in so many projects without being able to
implement a single of them correctly so that ultimately it forgot its
I expressed my displeasure and bid good bye to the FMM again. My
criticism was that the FMM had become an organisation that works on
foreign funds according to a foreign agenda instead of one that speaks
and acts on real issues. Some time after leaving FMM I tried to point
out one trend I observed in a printed debate with Uvindu Kurukulasuriya.
There I pointed out that a class of media advocates has sprung up
among the journalists and that they have become persons who decide the
agenda of the journalists and that there is a large disparity between
the incomes of these advocates and that of journalists. The information
concealed regarding the present dispute shows how my prophecy then has
When Keith Noyar was abducted and assaulted inhumanly a journalist
telephoned me and invited me to participate in a protest campaign. I
told him that volunteers like me are not necessary since there is now an
official institution and specially paid officials to act on behalf of
When he questioned further I said that citizens volunteered to
apprehend criminals when there was no Police to enforce law and order
and once the Police are available the responsibility should be
shouldered by the Police and not by the citizens.
According to information I have gathered from here and there are two
officials receiving a monthly salary for the last four years to look
after the safety of journalists.
They are paid by the international organization INSI. One is paid a
monthly salary of 750 Euros. In 2007 the exchange value of One Euro was
Rs. 160. Hence the Rupee value of the monthly pay of one was 120,000.
In addition their expenses for travelling, fuel, purchase of mobile
phone, mobile phone bill, purchase of laptop computer, E-mail are also
paid. Thus the total salary amounts to around Rs. 200,000 per month.
This is not the sole income of these two officials. They have other
sources of income too.
I am not against having two permanent paid officials to look after
the safety of journalists. I am not against a foreign institution paying
them a huge amount for fulfilling a huge task. What I question is the
secrecy surrounding the issue. Even journalists are not aware that there
are two officials to look after their security. Even media organisations
are not privy to it. If journalists are aware they could go to them and
request safety when needed.
Now we not only have paid officials for safety of journalists we also
have a Safety Fund for journalists. This fund is under the trusteeship
of the Press Institute. The extent of the fund is not clear. There is a
subsidiary fund within that fund. It has been placed at the disposal of
the FMM. It amounts to Rs. 8.2 million per year. You could guess the
extent of the total fund from this figure.
Since the use of this subsidiary fund has been a problem the Press
Institute has suspended the use of it and initiated an inquiry.
Unlike earlier, journalists under threat now could get compensation
from this fund. It is said that the Fund pays Rs. 5000 each to five
families of slain journalists. It is good. But the people who are said
to be threatened get more than the slain.
Two houses have been rented for two journalists for their safety. The
rent for one is Rs. 230. 000 while that for the other is Rs. 178,000.In
addition those threatened are paid a monthly allowance of Rs. 10,000 to
travel with safety. There are five persons obtaining this facility.
I have always had a criticism about training workshops for
journalists. Though there are many active programs for this purpose
majority of them are of poor quality. The Press Institute conducts good
training programs for electronic media journalists. Yet their programs
for print media journalists are of poor quality. The two-day workshop
project by the FMM and similar organisations is nothing more than a
Even for short-term training there should be a formal curriculum,
qualified trainers and review procedures.
The five media organizations including the FMM conduct four big
training projects on Public Service Journalism, Human Rights, Fraud and
Corruption and on Security of Journalists. I do not know the total
allocation for these projects. I have heard that the Human Rights
project has a grant of 199,000 Euros from the European Union.
That is more than Rs. 15 million. Strangely it is the same persons
who are employed as trainers in all four projects. It is the same
trainers that act as Regional Coordinators. It is the same people who
organise and judge essay competitions on topics related to these
The payment for a trainer for a two-day workshop varies from Rs.
20,000 to Rs. 38,400. A Regional Coordinator is paid a sum ranging from
Rs. 20,000 to Rs. 30,000. One person is paid a sum between Rs. 15,000
and Rs. 20,000 for judging a contest.
Four journalists were paid Rs. 54,900,Rs. 103,000, Rs. 125,000 and Rs.
109,800 respectively for the month of November 2008 from this training
The first person was a journalist with a salary of Rs. 60,000 per
month. In addition he drew Rs. 25,000 as a Regional Coordinator. Hence,
his total monthly income was Rs. 139,000.
The second person was also a paid journalist with a salary between Rs.
40,000 and s. 50,000. He drew Rs. 20,000 as a Regional Coordinator. His
house rent of Rs. 17,500 is paid from the Security Fund. He also draws
the Safety travel allowance of Rs. 10,000 per month. If his salary is
taken as Rs. 50,000 his monthly income amounts to Rs. 200,500.
The third person is also a journalist drawing a salary between Rs.
40,000-50,000. He has a safe house for which a rent of Rs. 19,000 is
paid to him. His safety travel allowance is Rs. 10,000. If his salary is
taken at Rs. 50,000 his monthly total income amounts to Rs. 204,400.
The fourth person receives an allowance of 750 Euros per month. If
the exchange rate is taken at Rs. 155 for One Euro it amounts to Rs.
116,250. In addition he has drawn Rs. 6,650 for petrol, Rs. 10,900 for
travelling, Rs. 12,930 for telephone facilities from the INSI Fund. Thus
his total monthly income amounts to Rs. 326,530.
Translated from Sinhala