Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Sri Lankanised

An attack on Sri Lankas largest private media operator has left many raised eyebrows over the freedom of the press in the country. The attack came after sections on the state media heavily criticised the company for apparently biased reporting on the war. The attack, which left millions in damaged equipment, was specifically targeted at crippling the broadcast capability of the stations 3 free to air channels and 4 radio stations. No other part of the property was damaged. In an address to the parliament after the attacks the main opposition party (UNP) head Mr Ranil Wickremesinghe made it clear that the transition from rebel sponsored terrorism to state sponsored terrorism was like taking Sri Lanka from the frying pan into the fire.

The Sri Lankan government in recent times has been lauded for its tough stance on terror and going ahead with tackling separatist groups despite calls from the international community to strike a peace deal with the rebels. The government is riding on a wave of popularity after successive military victories have left the tigers cornered in the jungles of northern Sri Lanka. But what of its promise to create a free and fair democratic state? Unfortunately for the government its long standing policy of preventing any neutral observers into the conflict zone has left a large gap in unbiased reports which has fuelled speculation on whether the Media Centre for National Security, which is the only official source from which the press can get reports, is trustworthy enough. Added to this heavy censorship amongst the local media and allegations of harassment have constantly cropped up. Any dissenting voice is instantly labelled as a traitor and branded anti-patriotic. It was against these same allegations that the private station in Colombo was attacked.

The Rajapakse government is presently struggling to control the economy to fund its massive war chest. It has repeatedly raised taxes on every commodity or service under the sun. This has caused inflation to persistently remain in double digits. The Lankan people feel the burden heavily but they believe that it is a price worth paying to get rid of the tigers. The opposition party recently took a petition to the Supreme Court to have fuel prices reduced on par with the drop in international crude prices. Despite the court ruling to do so the government has refused saying that it has to pay off previous oil bills. This belief that it is above the law of the land leads to question whether Sri Lanka, after years of war scars and a national debt that will take generations to pay off will really be a free and fair democratic state.

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