Sunday, May 23, 2010

Apologia for the persecution of journalists

By Emil van der Poorten - As if the outpourings of the Dayan Jayatillekas and Malinda Seneviratnes don’t adequately fill the bill for “apologia” for the Rajapaksa regime’s campaign against those critical of it, an English daily with pretensions to objectivity and non partisan journalism cuts loose its Political Correspondent, with two days worth of piffle about the disappearance of Prageeth Eknaligoda wrapped in a tissue of trivia, inclusive of suggestions that Mr. Eknaligoda’s wife and Sunanda Deshapriya (another journalist) are party to some scam of significant proportions.

The exercise appears to be intended to prove that Eknaligoda has not, in fact, been “disappeared” but is hiding somewhere pending his departure to a life of leisure and luxury in some foreign clime where he will be accorded all kinds of perks by virtue of his being a “persecuted journalist from Sri Lanka seeking asylum” in some bastion of Western democracy.

The problem I have with this piece and one I will refer to later in this column is not in the matter of basic content – it is fair comment, I suppose in this country, to suggest that a journalist whose whereabouts have become a matter of public conjecture for several months is in hiding with a view to seeking political asylum in another country. However, when this is spun out and pitched in the manner this particularly laboured narrative is, then it certainly raises suspicions of an attempt to twist reality to project something that the available information does not support.

To begin at the end, let me suggest that the spinner of this tale is either supremely naive about the conditions under which refugees live or is guilty of deliberate prevarication. Western democracies do not provide a bed of roses to new arrivals at the best of times, leave alone to those arriving as refugees — I have worked with refugee and immigrant populations in Canada for a significant length of time and I would suggest that I know a bit more about this kind of stuff than the author of that piece on Eknaligoda who, in a fashion typical of Sri Lankan “experts,” has sought to impose his opinion on a readership that, by and large, doesn’t have a clue about the conditions facing refugees in places with inhospitable populations, inhospitable climates and the potential for providing significant cultural shock, among other challenges.

To suggest that any Sri Lankan journalist could walk into some kind of cossetted existence in a society alien to them and ply their trade no sooner their feet touched the ground is nothing short of unmitigated nonsense.

The author of the anti-Eknaligoda tirade is probably too young to remember the man considered by many to be the greatest political cartoonist produced by Sri Lanka, Aubrey Collette. That worthy was considered on a par with the famed David Low of, if I remember right, The New Statesman of that time. However, subsequent to his migration to Australia, Collette never achieved the eminence he had in Sri Lanka. Prageeth Eknaligoda, by any description, is (was?) no Aubrey Collette.

I would suggest that none of the journalists who have been forced to seek new residences in the English-speaking countries of the Western world, leave alone Continental Europe or the Scandinavian countries, can ever achieve anything close to the degree of acceptance of their professional skills that they had in the land of their birth. I would venture to guess that very few, if any of them even work in the journalistic professions once domiciled in the First World. To suggest otherwise is stretching credibility more than a little bit.

Very importantly, what the writer fails to indicate is that if Prageeth Eknaligoda is such a non-entity why he has devoted two whole pages of a broadsheet to a discussion of his whereabouts.

I do not believe that the value of a person’s life — and that is what we are talking about here – is dependant on his “importance.” The burden of the treatise I refer to seems to suggest otherwise and, given that fact, why does the author bother with this nonentity? The most obvious explanation is that this is an attempt at (yet another) cover-up for someone being “disappeared.”

Perhaps, this whole discussion can be brought to a conclusion by one of the plethora of state security agencies finding this man and prosecuting him for even suggesting that our simon-pure forces of law and order might have something to do with his disappearing from public view for such an inordinately long time.

The author appears to be yet another conspiracy theorist, in this case with regard to people (potentially) seeking the protection of the now-infamous “international community.” He appears to suggest that the Western democracies are waiting with bated breath for the appearance of the Eknaligodas of the Third World so that they may clasp them to their collective bosoms and accuse poor little Sri Lanka of yet another dastardly crime in the area of human rights.

All of this is absolute piffle and the dead giveaway is the author’s description of the Nirvana that awaits runaway Sri Lankan journalists.

Suffice it to say that there is no Nirvana awaiting any escapee from places like Sri Lanka in the Western world. The process of accultaration and adaptation to a new world took a lot of blood, sweat and tears even 40 years ago and is even more stressful and difficult in countries where the influx of “foreigners” is stretching their resources significantly. And I do not know of one single Sri Lankan journalist who has entered any of the so-called ‘émigré havens’ in recent times and secured employment in journalism leave alone become a significant contributor to their new country’s electronic or print media.

That they will find societies where they have the “luxury” of the rule of law prevailing and laws that preclude the worst of racial and other prejudices is, perhaps, a quantum improvement over dear old Sri Lanka, but to suggest that people who’ve plied the wordsmith’s trade in this country could walk into high-paying journalistic niches is nothing but balderdash.

No, it seems that this focusing on some minor journalist’s disappearance has been little but an exercise in exculpating the current regime from what has become the reality for anyone having the temerity to question or criticise its conduct – harassment, threat and the ultimate in penalties.

Another journalist in another English Sunday paper has recently expounded at length on the subject of what faces journalists critical of the current regime. His argument, if nothing else, is novel. It is that journalists in this country who, he freely admits, have been subjected to harassment of many kinds including being assassinated, are not too badly off because none of them, with the exception of Mr. Tissainayagam, have been prosecuted under the (draconian) emergency laws that this government continues to impose on its citizenry!

That this attempt at sophistry is applied to a matter as serious as the right to democratic dissent in a country that claims to be a democracy perhaps defies description. However, I cannot end without, at least, a passing comment:

What this journalist is saying, is that intimidation, mayhem and murder of all kinds is okay as long as those disagreeing with this government are not prosecuted under existing provisions of the law.

In conclusion, suffice it to say, that these two senior journalists have, obviously, unwittingly exposed the awful underbelly of the status quo in a manner that its critics would have found difficult even if they had been prepared to take the attendant risks that doing so would have entailed.

© The Sunday Leader

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