Feature Article

Judicious political pressure saves journalist

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 30 August 2006, 07:42 GMT]
Political pressure from Sri Lanka's main opposition United National Party (UNP), parties allied with Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapakse, including the paramilitary Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) and the timely action by the top leadership of the Asian Broadcasting Coorperation to mobilise political pressure saved the life of Kuruparan Nadarajah, the Tamil news manager of Sooriyan FM, who was being interrogated after being abducted by the Special Counter-terrorism Unit of Sri Lankan military intelligence, sources said.


Mr. Kuruparan was abducted on his way to work Tuesday morning.

The political situation prevailing in Sri Lanka this week, where President Mahinda Rajapaskse has come under increased pressure by the international community to cooperate with the opposition rather than the Sinhala extremist parties, the JVP and the JHU, had created some space for the political influence from the opposition parties, sources said.

Douglas Devananda, the leader of EPDP had also come forward to exert pressure for the release of journalist who was maintaining contacts with all sections of Sri Lanka’s political areas, informed sources said.

Kuruparan’s being employed by an influential private media group helped mobilise pressure, the sources said.

The privately owned ABC group operates five FM radio stations broadcasting in three languages. Hiru and Sha broadcast in Sinhala, Sooriyan broadcasts in Tamil, while Sun and Gold broadcast in English.

In Sri Lanka's polarized media arena, the state-run media is controlled by ruling party and the President while the private media is allegedly influenced by the opposition.

A hundred journalists from print and electronic media demonstrated Tuesday in front of the Fort Railway Station, Colombo, condemning Kuruparan’s abduction.

The Free Media Movement (FMM), Sri Lanka Tamil Media Alliance (SLTMA), Muslim Media Forum and the Sri Lankan branch of the South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA) organised the demonstration.

The ABC group has come under government pressure before.

Former President Chandrika Kumaratunga, in an alleged move to ‘punish’ the ABC for not favouring her alliance during the 2001 elections (and which was won by the opposition UNP), cancelled ABC's TV license soon after she seized key ministries from the UNP government in November 2003.

Mrs. Kumaratunga’s confidant, Mr. Laxshman Kadirgamar, who was sworn in as Minister for Information and Daily Communication, hours before she dissolved the Sri Lankan parliament on 7 February 2004, cancelled the ABC's TV licence issued in 1995.

The international media watchdog, Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontiers-RSF), slammed Mr. Kadirgamar’s action and expressed fear that the decision was a prelude to further measures against the privately-owned media by President Kumaratunga's administration during the parliamentary election campaign in 2004.

A month later, in March 2004, a grenade was lobbed on the house of ABC Managing Director Raynor Silva's residence in Battaramulla, wounding one person. The attack was seen as reinforcing threatening telephone calls warning the station not to accept political advertisements from the opposition UNP.

With regards Kuruparan’s abduction, the top leadership of the ABC network, well aware of the sensitivities of the present political situation, used the opportunity to mobilise political pressure ahead of President Rajapakse’s visit to London, informed sources said.

But there is a price, the sources said: Kuruparan's silence about the events of the past 24 hours.

The abduction came amid a slew of threats against Sri Lankan journalists, including a number of killings.

Five journalists, including a Sinhala political analyst, who had obtained classified information on the extra-judicial killings of five Tamils, have been killed this year.

Most recently, a week ago "Namathu Eelanadu" newspaper manager and social activist, Sinnathamby Sivamaharajah, 68, was assassinated in Jaffna in his residence.

Tamil newspaper distribution in Sri Lanka Army controlled areas of Batticaloa district has been curbed by the paramilitary cadres operated by the military.

RSF, in its 2005 press freedom ranking, marked Sri Lanka as the 115th worst highest ranking out of 167, the worst being North Korea.


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