Journalism

Today is the 8th of January

The 8th of January is a day that is important for a number of journalists in Sri Lanka.

It’s the day that Lasantha Wickremetunga was assassinated on his way to work.

Lasantha was the editor of the Sunday Leader newspaper in Sri Lanka. He gave me my first job in journalism when I was still young and green because he thought I could write well. I wrote a column every week for four years. That column became the way that I got my next journalism gig.

Lasantha was hugely important in making sure he and those at the Sunday Leader kept trying to uncover the truth of what the government was doing, what was happening. He knew he would get assassinated.


Years later, this is important. Between 1990 and 2015, the International Federation of Journalists estimated that at least 2297 journalists had been killed globally. By the early 2000s, we were estimating numbers for Sri Lanka between 20 -30 if not more of journalists killed or dissappeared.

There are a large number of these cases of attacks and assaults on, abductions and assassinations of journalists in Sri Lanka that need to be investigated.

Two odd months ago, there was some hope that they were finally being properly investigated. And then the President dismissed Parliament and appointed a new Prime Minister.

Almost immediately, journalists at the Daily News and the Sunday Observer papers were told to change their stories. And the officer in charge of investigating the cases of violence against journalists was himself arrested.

So today, if you are in Sri Lanka you will see Lasantha in some of the papers. You will see talk of the investigations. There may be rallies, vigils, protests.


DON’T LOOK AWAY. DON’T COMPLAIN.

In the last few years, I have heard a lot of complaining on social media from my so called former classmates and peers.

They complain about being held up for ten minutes in traffic because there is a rally or protest. They wonder why paying their taxes isn’t enough to forgo this inconvenience. They start massive threads online deningrating journalists or whoever may be protesting.


IT IS MASSIVELY IMPORTANT THAT WE CONTINUE TO TALK ABOUT AND PUSH FOR JUSTICE FOR PEOPLE LIKE LASANTHA.

Why? Yes, he is dead. But we still have journalists working in Sri Lanka and across the world.


The moment we stop pushing for justice, for investigations to happen, the moment we forget that someone ordered an assassination of a journalist who was just doing their job, that is the moment in which we send the message that it is ok for people to get away with that.


Sometimes that push means we have to lobby, we have to protest, we have to have vigils, we have to write stories, we have to have rallies that end up casuing traffic jams or run petitions. We have a right to do all those things and sometimes we have to do them because sometimes too many people are trying to step in and prevent the actual due process of investigating and obtaining justice from working the way it should.

Like what happened in October a couple of months ago.

And yes I work freelance in Australia. I don’t have to worry about death threats. But there are other ways you can gag a journalist.

Press freedom is more than a death threat or assassination

Press Freedom isn’t just about ensuring journalists are not killed. It’s also about making sure a federal government doesn’t pass legislation that makes it illegal for a journalist to receive information even if they have never asked for it.

It’s making sure journalists are not barred from attending particular events or following a story overseas when needed. It’s making sure journalists are not prevented from writing about global trade deals or border security issues.

It’s making sure journalists are not spied on or telecommunication companies forced to give up data on their customers.

It’s making sure that journalists in jail in other countries can be swiftly brought back home.

BUT IT IS ALSO MAKING SURE THAT WE TALK ABOUT WHAT IS CURRENTLY HAPPENING.

In Australia, we all wanted to talk about a journalist who walked into an embassy and got dismembered. It makes the Australian public think that this is an outlier case.

It is not.

In Sudan, there have been peaceful protests against the Bashir government. There has been little to no coverage of this by the Australian media because the Australian media rarely talks about any international news unless it is related to the US, UK, Europe or China much to its detriment because it forgets that we have massive diaspora communities that would happily boost its political and business coverage audiences if it did.

In Sudan, there has been government mandated violence against the protestors and against the journalists covering the situation. Plenty of Sudanese journalists have died over the Christmas break.

So when we talk about Lasantha and these cases, we are not just talking about something in the past, we are talking about things that are happening right now.

2,297 journalists in 25 years is no joke or minor inconvenience. Leaving the cases of Sri Lankan journalists uninvestigated is not a joke or minor inconvenience.

What is happening right now in Sudan is not a joke or a minor inconvenience.

So if you are not talking about Sudan right now even if your media isn’t, if you are complaining or bitching about rallies and protests preventing you getting home ten minutes sooner, you are being foolish and short sighted.

Not all journalists will do their job ethically but the vast majority of us do. Our job is to tell you, the public, what is going on, what is actually happening because there is so much information to go through that it becomes hard for the public to sift through it all and figure it out.

But that’s what we do. We do this so that you are informed, so you are not voting for someone who is going to make the majority of the population suffer, so you are not supporting ideology or policy that hurts people, so you can make the right choices for both yourself and others, not just when there is an election, but every damn day in how you move through the world.

So if this has made a difference in the way you think about this issue, if you care, then donate to the IFJ and other organisations, when people like me talk about unions and rallies, support us, join us at the protests as a supporter, call up your political representatives and tell them what you think and how you will vote on this issue and be firm.

Sign the petitions, share the posts online. When you see pieces on this stuff, talk about it, send it to your friends, INFORM them.

So today TALK ABOUT SUDAN.

And if you see the rallies and vigils and papers today about Lasantha etc, DON’T LOOK AWAY. DON’T COMPLAIN. DON’T JOKE ABOUT IT.

Marisa is a globetrotting freelance writer, journalist and editor with cat for hire (her, not the cat). She is usually based in Melbourne but is currently flouncing around in Perth for a week for the Inaugural 2018 KSP - Varuna Foundation Fellowship. She will be at Melbourne's Continuum and online running a Writers' Bloc course in the coming weeks.

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