Ranil questions Defence Ministry power to cancel Transparency Intl. media workshop

Thursday, 19 June 2014 00:43 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The cancellation of training programs organised by Transparency International on investigative journalism for journalists working for Tamil publications in Sri Lanka, forcing them to discontinue the programs, shook the House yesterday when Leader of the Opposition Ranil Wickremesinghe questioned the Government’s “authority over legitimate public events and forceful cancellations”. Highlighting the “phony media freedom prevailing in the country” and the asking for reasons to “deprive the Tamil journalists from receiving training on investigative journalism,” Wickremesinghe charged: “This gives a clear picture on the so-called peace, reconciliation, rule of law, democracy and freedom of expression in this country. I wish to receive a statement from Prime Minister on the series of incidents related at a time when the Government is even under international charges on violation of human rights.” Wickremesinghe demanded that the Prime Minister explain the power the Ministry of Defence has to order to cancel a workshop legitimately conducted in a public hotel, the measures to be taken against the officers who so acted, the actions to be taken against the Superintendent of Police, Negombo, who refused to provide security to a lawfully-conducted workshop and applied undue influences to stop it, and, instead of taking preventing measures, condoned unlawful assemblage of people, legal or constitutional provisions for depriving the journalists working in the Tamil language of the right to receive the vocational training enjoyed by journalists working in the Sinhala language, the legal steps taken so far on these incidents and their progress, and the assurance the Government provides on the freedom the journalists are entitled to for improvement of their professional status at their will without any hindrance, in his statement made under Section 23 (2) of the Standing Orders. In response the Prime Minister, who denied any involvement of authorities and receiving complaints from the organisers or the journalists, said: “None of the Police stations in the Polonnaruwa Division received a complaint of such an incident, so the Government is unable to reply. The Superintendent of Police – Negombo has not violated any laws or influenced to stop a lawfully-conducted workshop, which is not an unlawful assembly of people. Furthermore, the Tamil journalists were not deprived from receiving vocational training at Goldie Sands, Negombo. We are unable to take any action against the protestors who objected to the training held at Goldie Sands, Negombo in the absence of a complaint. The Police Department supports journalists with their professional work and will continue to do so.” Giving the back ground to the incident, Wickremesinghe said: “Transparency International Sri Lanka conducted a series of programs for training journalists in this country on exploratory journalism and the training, to begin with, had been provided for the journalists working in the Sinhala language. Then a training session for journalists working in the Tamil language, after being selected by publicly inviting applications from Northern and Eastern Provinces, was held in Giritale Hotel, Polonnaruwa on 22 May. In the course of this session, Transparency International had been informed, through the hotel administration, that the said workshop would have to be cancelled on the orders of the Ministry of Defence. “Further, the senior journalists who conducted that session had been threatened through identified telephone numbers. Then again, organised groups had arrived with Police security at the workshop held for the journalists working in the Tamil language in Goldie Sands Hotel, Negombo on 7 June and had campaigned threatening to stop the workshop. The Superintendent of Police, Negombo had also arrived at that instance and had notified to stop the workshop and leave the place. He had also informed that security could be provided for their lives only if they walked out, also warning that Police security would be removed if the workshop was to be continued. Accordingly, the Tamil journalists who arrived from the Northern and Eastern Provinces had terminated the workshop and had stayed the night in Galadari Hotel, Colombo after coming there for safety of life, at which time the management of the hotel had informed the journalists to leave the hotel because a team of people was about to raid the hotel,” added Wickremesinghe.