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FMM, independent media targets of slander campaign, incitement to violence by Defence Ministry

(FMM/IFEX) - The following is an FMM press release:

Sri Lankan Ministry of Defence viciously attacks independent media

5 June 2008, Colombo, Sri Lanka - The Free Media Movement (FMM) is outraged at the recent statement by the Ministry of Defence that incites violence by claiming that the FMM and other independent media support terrorism and the LTTE. Full of half-baked conspiracy theories, hate speech, unsubstantiated allegations and an idiom of terror, the statement is the latest from a government increasingly intolerant of investigative and independent journalism.

The editorial posted on http://www.defense.lk run by the Ministry of Defence ( http://www.defence.lk/new.asp?fname=20080531_04 ) on 31 May 2008 levelled dangerous charges against a number of newspapers, the FMM and its former convenor Sunanda Deshapriya, and "Sunday Times" Associate Editor and noted defence columnist Iqbal Athas. It is a matter of fact that Mr. Athas in particular has borne the brunt of such attacks from the Ministry of Defence in the past.

Some pertinent excerpts from the said editorial are:

"Ironically, but understandably, the FMM even claimed the credit for the 'quick' release of the victim who is said to have returned home with soaring wounds. In our view, no organization other than the FMM has benefited by the incident. Therefore, there lies a reasonable doubt on the real motives of the perpetrators of the alleged attack.

Secondly, we have reasonable concerns over the behaviour of the FMM itself. We have never seen Mr. Sunanda Deshapriya, the convener of the FMM, wailing at Sirasa TV over the media freedom in the LTTE held areas. In our view this type of media organizations are the subtlest form of terror propaganda machines.

Any discerning person who sees Sirasa TV, or reads the "Sunday Leader", the "Morning Leader", "Iru Dina", the "Daily Mirror", and the "Sunday Times", "Lanka Dissent", Lanka E news, etc., can understand the way that the soldiers are being humiliated, scorned and blamed.

War is handled by officers with 35-40 years of service, who have spent most of their lives in the battlefront; we seriously do not believe that people like Mr. Iqbal Athas have any capability to question about military tactics, service promotion schemes or even about military procurement."

The editorial goes on to call on ". . . all members of the armed forces to unite and guard against these treacherous media campaigns against them."

In so far as the allegations levelled against the FMM, it is only a deliberately partial and twisted interpretation of its statements that leads the Ministry of Defence to make the fatuous claim that it is linked to, supportive of or biased towards the LTTE. We have been consistent in our criticism of the LTTE and its deplorable understanding of and approach to media freedom in particular, and the tenets of democratic governance in general. In all our reports to local and international fora we have made it clear that there is no media freedom or human security for independent journalists in LTTE-controlled areas.

What we have sadly yet increasingly noted is that independent media in the South now face the very same challenges and this latest statement from the Ministry of Defence proves it. Much as its tries to distance itself from the statements of the Ministry of Defence, the government is both unwilling and unable to prevent wanton violence against media personnel, evidenced by the shocking number of attacks and murder of journalists in 2008 alone.

We are deeply fearful that these charges are in effect a death warrant to journalists and editors of the media mentioned in the statement. These allegations criminalise independent media and viciously clamp down on their ability and democratic right to question tactics, promotions, procurements and allegations of significant corruption in matters related to defence and governance.

We note in this regard that after the abduction and assault of journalist Keith Noyahr, a number of journalists have been threatened and intimidated in a systematic way. This editorial of http://www.defense.lk is a continuation of this strategy of containment by violence and terror. The FMM urges all democratic forces to be mindful of the rise of fascism in the guise of patriotism and to support freedom of expression and media freedom.

For further information on previous attacks on Athas, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/93298

For further information on the Noyahr case, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/94093

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