Wednesday, March 24, 2010


A Sri Lankan Tamil has been named foreign journalist of the year at the British Press Awards in London.

JS Tissainayagam was arrested in 2008 and sentenced to 20 years in jail for inciting religious disharmony in his magazine. He was bailed in January.

US President Barack Obama mentioned Mr Tissainagayam last year as an example of reporters jailed for their work.

Mr Tissainayagam denies supporting violence. International human rights groups had campaigned for his release.

Last September, Mr Tissainayagam was given an award for courageous and ethical journalism by the Paris-based group Reporters Without Borders.

On Tuesday, Reporters Without Borders appealed to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa to publicise the results of investigations into the disappearance of another journalist who vanished two months ago.

It notes that senior officials are still implying that Prageeth Eknaligoda staged his own disappearance and alleges that the police have shown "no interest" in finding him alive.

"We urge the president to provide credible information about what happened to him," Reporters Without Borders said.

Media rights groups say Sri Lanka is one of the most dangerous places for journalists to work.

They accuse the authorities of intimidating and harassing journalists critical of the government's policies.

Official figures show that nine journalists have been killed and more than 25 assaulted in the past four years in Sri Lanka.

The government says it has nothing to do with either the killings or the attacks on journalists.

© BBC News

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

RSF : Cartoonist kidnapped two months ago still missing


Reporters Without Borders appeals to President Mahinda Rajapaksa to order the release of the results of the police investigation into leading cartoonist and political reporter Prageeth Eknaligoda’s disappearance two months ago. The police have shown no interest in finding this opposition journalist alive, while government ministers have made contradictory statements that have spread confusion about the circumstances of his disappearance.

“With some senior officials such as defence minister Gotabhaya Rajpaksa still suggesting that Eknaligoda staged his own disappearance, we urge the president to provide credible information about happened to him,” Reporters Without Borders said.

Eknaligoda’s wife and two children have had no news of him since 24 January, when he was abducted as he left the office of the Lanka-e-News website, his place of work. The police have provided no convincing information about the case.

In an interview for the Colombo-based Daily Mirror at the end of February, defence minister Rajpaksa (who is the president’s brother) said: “Eknaligoda had himself disappeared (...) We don’t even know who this Eknaligoda is, what had he done? Anyone can claim that he is missing.”

A few days after Eknaligoda’s abduction, his wife was assured by a presidential adviser that he would “resurface.” But two months have since gone by and Eknaligoda, a diabetic since the age of 15, is still missing.

Reporters Without Borders also urges President Rajapaksa to guarantee the safety of journalists during the campaign for the legislative elections scheduled for 8 April.

The latest act of violence against the news media occurred yesterday when supporters of a government official, some of them armed, attacked the headquarters of privately-owned television station MTV/MBC on Colombo’s Braybrooke Place, throwing stones and trying to ransack it. The station was previously attacked by gunmen in January 2009.

An MTV representative said: “The motive is not immediately clear to us, but we think this attack was political, above all because of next month’s parliamentary elections.” It may also have been linked to R&B singer Akon’s forthcoming visit to Colombo, which MTV is sponsoring, as local Buddhist groups took offence at an Akon video that showed skimpily dressed women dancing with a Buddha statue in the background. The police arrested 16 people during the attack but all were released on bail today.

The most recent arrest of an opposition journalist was that of Ruwan Weerakoon in Colombo on 15 March, a few days after he was hospitalised as a result of heart attack ( “I under arrest in hospital,” he managed to say in SMS message.

Dozens of state media employees have meanwhile been fired, suspended or threatened for protesting against the government’s control of coverage during the campaign for last January’s presidential election. Monitoring by Reporters Without Borders established that 96.7 per cent of the news programme air-time on the two main state TV stations favoured the president

© Reporters sans frontières

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

MTV Attack: Police ordered to present report

The Colombo Fort Magistrate today ordered the Slave Island police to conduct investigations into the attack on the MBC/MTV head office at Braybrooke place and present a report on the probe to the Court.

The Magistrate also instructed the police to present to Court the police bail bonds obtained from the 16 suspects who were earlier arrested over the mob attack on the media institution and later released. The President has also ordered a probe.

© Daily Mirror

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Jailed Tissa named for British award

A Sri Lankan journalist serving a twenty year prison sentence is nominated for an international award.

JS Tissainayagam, who is currently on bail, is among 16 international journalists nominated by British Press Awards under International Journalist of the Year.

Journalists from Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Eritrea, Azerbaijan and Burma are among the other nominees.

"Winning a British Press Award is justly seen as the crowning achievement of any journalist's career - and just being shortlisted is to be set among the elite of the profession," a statement issued by the organisers said.

'No life'

The award ceremony is due to held in London on Tuesday.

Tissaianyagam was charged under terrorist laws, of causing disharmony among ethnic communities, and of raising money to fund 'terrorist' activities.

He was given the longest ever jail sentence on a journalist by courts in Sri Lanka who found him guilty.

"Although released on bail, Tissa remains afraid for his life and lives in isolation from his family and friends because of this fear," says one of his colleagues.

"He cannot practice his trade and simply has no life," he added.

© BBC Sinhala

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Bell Pottinger and Sri Lanka: Millions spent for what?

by Groundviews - "Bell Pottinger hired Qorvis Communications as a subcontractor for its work with the government of Sri Lanka, starting December 1, according to a filing with the US Department of Justice. Qorvis is providing media relations and monitoring, crisis communications planning, and stakeholder representation in the US. The budget is approximately $483,000."

Though freely available on the web since January this year, this information to the best of our knowledge has not been prominently featured or robustly questioned in mainstream media to date.

Bell Pottinger is one of the UK’s largest public relations firms, spin doctors par excellence for those who can afford them, including amongst many others, the Government of Iran, members of the government of Saudi Arabia and in the past, General Augusto Pinochet. The British oil company Trafigura was also a key client, yet despite this was named and shamed in the media for uncontrolled dumping of hundreds of tonnes of highly toxic oil waste around Abidjan, the capital of Ivory Coast, in August 2006. Though contested, there are media reports that suggest Bell Pottinger is also involved in lobbying the EU on behalf of the Sri Lankan government, perhaps primarily on the issue of the GSP+ extension.

As the news report above indicates, they do not come cheap. The sum of $483,000 noted in this report is for a sub-contract, and comes to around 55 million rupees today. Details of the original contract awarded by our government to Bell Pottinger remain undisclosed, and involve expenses probably much higher than this figure.

Can Sri Lanka spare this money? How was the process of selecting and awarding the tender to Bell Pottinger arrived at? Who was involved? Given that these are public expenses, have they been tabled in Parliament to date? If not, why not?

This is not the first President or government Bell Pottinger has served. In 2001, the media reported very serious differences of opinion between the late Lakshman Kadirgamar, then serving as Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister, and President Chandrika Kumaratunge over Bell Pottinger’s involvement in planning an official, three day visit to England. As the Sunday Times reports in December 2001, the contract at the time made individuals working at or associated with Bell Pottinger quite rich. The exact sum of money involved is not clear. In November 2001, the Sunday Leader reported that the contract awarded to Bell Pottinger totalled 97 million rupees. A month later, the Sunday Times reported a figure of 290,581.73 Sterling Pounds or Rs. 39,228,533.35 at the time.

Whereas on the books of Bell Pottinger these may be relatively small sums of money, these are huge sums of public finances spent under successive governments, with little or no accountability and transparency. Though individuals, both in Sri Lanka and in England, have clearly benefitted from these outrageous contracts, the country today is subject to a global scrutiny influenced by factors that as Foreign Policy noted recently, cannot be swept under the rug.

As the Sunday Times noted in February 2010 noting that Sri Lanka’s foreign policy was not outsourced to public relations companies,

"The conduct of Sri Lanka’s foreign policy nowadays is more expensive. Not only are the diplomats posted abroad for this purpose having to be paid for. There are other newcomers too. That is in the form of public relations companies.

"One such company, Patton Boggs, made its debut in the United States. Some of its staff not only sat through conferences at the Sri Lanka Embassy in the US, but did most of the public relations, lobbying and legal work. Of course, the company collected a neat packet in dollars.

"There is now an addition in Britain. They have hired Bell Pottinger. It went to work this week marketing President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s address to the nation at Thursday’s Independence Day ceremonies in Kandy. The company will now collect a packet in Pounds Sterling."

The question is, do voters care enough to hold government accountable?

© Groundviews

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Sri Lanka refuses singer Akon visa after protests

By Ranga Sirilal - Sri Lanka said on Tuesday it would deny a visa to the Senegalese-American R&B singer and rapper Akon, whose plan to hold a concert there in April infuriated Buddhists offended by one of his videos.

On Monday, hundreds of people stormed the head offices of the Maharaja Broadcasting and Television (MBC/MTV) Network, the media sponsor of the concert. Four employees were injured and windows and parked cars were smashed.

Akon's video for the song "Sexy Bitch" features scantily clad women dancing in front of a statue of the Buddha. Sri Lanka's ethnic majority Sinhalese are primarily Buddhists.

"Taking into consideration the allegations levelled against the singer Akon, the government has decided not to issue him a visa to conduct the concert in Sri Lanka," said Anusha Palpita, director-general of the government's Information Department.

Palpita said the main allegation against Akon was that he was "defaming Buddhism in his music videos".

Representatives for Akon could not immediately be reached for comment.

Sri Lanka's Buddhist clergy are hugely influential in ordinary life and politics, and in the past hardline Sinhalese nationalists have used violence against those they see as offending Buddhism.

The attack by an estimated 200 people on the pro-opposition network, which runs three television and four radio stations from its headquarters in central Colombo, came as the campaign heats up for parliamentary elections on April 8.

In December 2004, a hand grenade attack at a concert by Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan killed two people and wounded 19. The attack was blamed on Sinhalese nationalists who were angry that the concert was being staged on the first anniversary of the death of a renowned Buddhist monk.

© Reuters

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