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State broadcasting official publicly issues dire warnings against two journalists

(FMM/IFEX) - The following is a 12 June 2008 joint media release by FMM and four other organisations:

Head of State Media calls for journalist's death

12th June 2008, Colombo, Sri Lanka - Hudson Samarasinghe, recently appointed the chairperson of the state-controlled Sri Lanka Broadcasting Cooperation (SLBC), called for the death of senior journalist Poddala Jayantha. This outrageous incitement to murder and violence by Samarasinghe was made 8 June 2008 during a breakfast radio talk show called "Isira". Jayantha is the general secretary of Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA), which is the largest journalists' organisation in the country.

Attacking an interview given by Jayantha on war reporting to a weekend newspaper, Samarasinghe is on public record as saying: "Poddala Jayantha, what do you know about the media, you rascal? Do not sell the war for a living, you bastard. Will you provide for the children after bombs go off? Remember one thing: The people will do what is necessary. Do not be a traitor."

This venomous blather continued for over 10 minutes. Speaking in the same manner, Samarasinghe also attacked BBC Sinhala services Colombo reporter Elmo Fernando. He said: "I tell the BBC: do not poke your fingers into our affairs. I am telling you decisively; remember, this is the last warning; this is the last time I tell you . . . "

It is sadly evident that Samarasinghe harbours the certifiably deranged belief that he is in a position to issue dire warnings against independent media and openly, with total impunity, call for the murder of journalists.

This language and behaviour of the Rajapakse administration's apparatchiks reminds us of Radio Mille Collines in Rwanda, which laid the groundwork for genocide and large-scale violence. It is incredible how the Rajapakse regime countenances and, indeed, ostensibly safeguards and promotes those who speak and act in such a manner as this. All those who do not participate in the jingoism of the government are now "terrorists" and pariahs, fit to be exterminated. This is fascism, not democracy!

Samarasinghe has for some time now leveled vicious attacks against journalists, civil society leaders and trade unionists. By appointing him to head a state media institution, the Rajapaksa administration demonstrates an utter disregard for media freedom. In attempting to even suggest that Samarasinghe has a right to say what he wants to, the Rajapaksa administration significantly aids the growth of hate speech and is directly culpable in violence directed against journalists.

This is a frightening context for independent journalists and journalism. We call upon all democratic forces to roundly condemn Samarasinghe's loathsome comments and to work to strengthen independent journalism in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA)
Federation of Media Employees Trade Union (FMETU)
Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum (SLMMF)
Sri Lanka Tamil Journalists Alliance (SLTJA)
Free Media Movement (FMM)

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