Masked protesters and their attempts to intimidate News1st

Masked protesters and their attempts to intimidate News1st

Written by Staff Writer

10 Jan, 2019 | 10:04 pm

COLOMBO (News 1st) – On the 21st of December 2018, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe coined the term “Black Media” to describe the free press of this country. Making a statement in Parliament on the Premier suggested that a debate be held in January 2019 to discuss what he termed as black media.

Days after this statement on the 08th of January 2019, National Organizer of the JVP Bimal Rathnayake said that there is a chain of black media institutions in the country that works onto instil communalism and tribalism. Rathnayake had also said that these so-called media black media institutions are depriving the people of their right to know.

The protest 

Just 20 days following these statements a masked group clad in black arrived at the Head office of the MTV/MBC network this afternoon (January 10). The group arrived at the head office under the pretext of staging a peaceful demonstration.

The banner used by these protestors included the names of the following organizations:-

  • Women of Sri Lanka
  • New Wings
  • Aluth Parapura
  • Voice of the Wind
  • Shining Heart
  • Butterflies for Democracy
  • Professional Web Journalists’ Association
  • Saadhu Janarava
  • Rise Up Sri Lanka
  • Film Directors’ Association
  • Collective of Families of Disappeared Persons
  • Lawyers for Democracy
  • Equal Ground or Sama Bima.

This group attempted to force our employees to accept a letter that they had brought with them. When the employees did not accept the letter they resorted to issuing threats.

The person who levelled the threat has been identified as an individual named Vidarshana Kannangara.

Subsequently, the masked group took their demonstrations to the Head Office of Ceylon Newspapers, the publisher of both the Ceylon Today and the Mawbima newspapers.

The employees of the Ceylon Newspapers greeted the masked group with a counter-demonstration. While the masked group pontificated on media freedom, an individual identified as Manohari Hewawasam attempted to obstruct the duties of a photojournalist.  The masked dispersed from the location amidst the jeers of Ceylon Newspaper’s employees.

During the course of the day, the masked group had also staged purported demonstrations opposite the offices of several other media organizations as well.

A question arises as to where these masked protestors were when large scale scams were taking place throughout the country. Where were they when the bond scam took place, where were they when election after election was continuously postponed. Who are they acting on behalf of? Are these the political lackeys of politicians who cling onto power without any public mandate?

Who are these protestors? 

However, a question lies as to who these protestors really are? A several identified faces among the protestors are:-

  • Vidarshana Kannangara
  • Vimukthi Jayasundara – Film Director
  • Fred Gamage – Former Advisor to the SLBC
  • Lanka Bandaranayake
  • Kasun Pusswella – Author
  • Wimal Ketipearachchi – Former operations director ITN
  • Samanalee Fonseka
  • Britto Fernando
  • Ama Wijeyesekara
  • Chandani Seneviratne
  • Kaushalya Fernando
  • Geethika Dharmasinghe
  • S. Dhanushka – Activist of the JVP youth association

Politicians condemn the protest

IN PARLIAMENT

As this masked group was staging the demonstration, today’s Parliamentary session was underway. The matter was raised by a number of Parliamentarians on both sides of the aisle.

MP Wimal Weerawansa addressing Parliament revealed to the members in the chamber that as they were speaking a masked group was going around media stations including Sirasa TV and in an attempt to exert pressure on the media institutions. He stated that while the current government came to power championing the causes of democracy and media freedom, they had now resorted to labelling the free press as the “black media” adding that their actions have also turned violent.

Minister Ajith P. Perera speaking in Parliament today stated that they will not tolerate any form of violence or intimidation against any media institution. He also called for an immediate investigation into these acts of intimidation.

MP Mahindanda Aluthgamage, while condemning the protest, stated that a group of UNP loyalists who took money through the bond scam are staging protests opposite media institutions. He called on the chairperson in Parliament to take action to put an end to this immediately.

UPFA MP Sirsira Jayakody while echoing the sentiments of the speakers before him stated that JVP activists, as well as members of NGOs with close ties to the UNP, bond scam rogues, “NGO butterflies” and “prostitutes”, were among the protestors. Enraged by this statement, UNP MP Thushara Indunil called on the MP not to insult artists, he noted that what they want is to “civilise the media.”

UNP MP S.M. Marrikar also took the opportunity to categorically condemn the protests that took place today opposite media institutions. MP Udaya Gammanpila then levelled an accusation that the “NGO gangs” who engaged in the protest are being sustained through institutions of the Government. He described these persons as “people who are living off the ill-gotten gains of the bond scam. He noted that since these NGO are closely linked with the Government, they believe that they went to these institutions on the directive of the Government.

Minister Dr Harsha de Silva also joined the chorus of MPs who condemned the protest. He noted that while they do not like some statements made by the media, they should be able to cope with it or not engage in politics.

OUTSIDE PARLIAMENT

Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa speaking to the media condemned this protest as a violation of democracy. He stated that the people of this country could clearly see who is behind such actions. Rajapaksa noted that people should stand up against the suppression of the media. He also noted “When we were in power we stated that Sirasa was the voice of the UNP, now when the UNP is in power they are saying that Sirasa is the voice of the opposition. The people’s right to free speech should be protected.”

Min. Sajith Premadasa, Deputy Leader – UNP while condemning the protest as distasteful and disgusting stated that it is essential that the freedom of the press is protected as it is a crucial part of democracy. He noted that while he condemns the actions of the protestors, it is the duty of the people in power and the people to protect the right to information of the people.

UPFA MP Chandima Weerakkody also commenting on the matter said that Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government which has been trumpeting on good governance, media ethics and media freedom in parliament has now started attacking the media in parliament. He continued to say that when the media had reported certain facts exposing them that they were labelled asblack media.” He noted that this is not the first instance on which Ranil Wickremesinghe’s Government has attempted to intimidate Sirasa.

Former Minister Mervin Silva described the incidents that transpired today as an attack on democracy. While noting that he was directly responsible for similar actions against Sirasa TV in the past, he noted that he regrets his actions and that he had apologised for his actions.

Denial

However, the propaganda secretary of the JVP MP Vijitha Herath speaking to News1st rejected claims that the JVP was involved in the demonstrations held outside media organizations.

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