Motley group of toxic hacks destroying journalism in Sri Lanka
by Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu
Over the last so many weeks and still continuing, there have been a number of critical reports on the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA)- the election monitoring body of which CPA serves as the Secretariat, the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (MEV), in particular - the National Peace Council (NPC), and Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL). There have also been personal attacks on me. Consequently, I am taking the liberty to clarify and comment on a number of aspects of this reportage and personal attacks.
At the heart of the matter is an investigation, which is reportedly being conducted by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) into the funds received by CPA, the NPC and TISL since the end of the war. That this is underway is confirmed by statements attributed to the Director General of the Media Centre for National Security, and also to remarks attributed to the President with regard to the right of the state to investigate funds received by non-governmental organizations.
In connection with this, the Executive Director of NPC was questioned by the CID. Neither CPA nor, as far as I know, TISL has been formally notified of any such investigation. Both these organizations were the subject of questions raised in respect of their finances by MP Rajiva Wijesinha in Parliament last year. All financial reports requested by the CID at that time were given to them, even though the government was in possession of all the information required on account of the two organizations registered as companies reporting as required to the Registrar of Companies with their audited accounts. In some recent media reports the Sri Lanka Press Institute was also mentioned but its name has been dropped in subsequent reports.
Questions arise as to why such an investigation is being conducted at all, at this time, and by the CID. Are these organizations guilty of a crime or crimes, breaking the law of the land in any way, and what has prompted this investigation into these particular organizations at this time? They do have in common a critique of the regime from the perspective of governance and human rights and at various times, including the present, the heads of these organizations including myself have been accused of being supportive of the LTTE and terrorism.
No hard evidence has been produced to substantiate these allegations. We have been branded as traitors, the public exhorted to spit on us and expose us. We have been detained at the airport, called to the CID, received death threats, and in the case of Mr. Weliamuna, the former head of TISL, there was a grenade attack on his home when he and his family were in residence. No doubt the authorities charged with the present investigation will inform the subjects of it in due course, the grounds for it, and the nature of the investigation.
Questions have been raised yet again about CMEV funding. This has been a constant refrain ever since the Wayamba election in 1999, which CMEV called upon the Election Commissioner to annul in the early afternoon of the polls and before any other organization. Interestingly the government of Sri Lanka and private media houses used to give CMEV free advertising space for its media campaign against election violence, before that infamous assault on the electoral process. CMEV has nevertheless survived to be recognized by the Election Commissioner’s office as one of two national election monitoring organizations – the other being PAFFREL. Both organizations have been authorized to station monitors in polling centres on the day of elections.
CMEV is made up of CPA, the Free Media Movement, and INFORM – Human Rights Documentation Centre, and is activated at the time of elections. It has engaged in public interest litigation to strengthen the electoral process, called for the annulment of elections on the basis of evidence supplied by its monitors in the field, including in the Northern Province when the LTTE engaged in major ballot stuffing. Its methodology has influenced the way in which the Police now treat and report on election related violence and its reports contributed to the adoption of the Seventeenth Amendment, the gutting of which, some of these individuals who question CMEV finances have taken time off to lament.
It deploys monitors in the field in every polling division during the campaign and on polling day at polling centres and in mobile teams. It has a headquarters in Colombo staffed by provincial coordinators, financial and administrative staff. CMEV monitoring also includes a component of international observers to work with national monitors – the full component of international monitors has never been deployed due to the lack of funds.
The methodology of CMEV monitoring and its audited accounts are electronically available on CPA’s as well as CMEV’s websites and the final reports containing this information and reportage of the incidence of election violence are also available as hard copy reports in Sinhala, Tamil and English.
The foreign donors who fund CMEV, PAFFREL and more recently CAFFE are well aware of the methodology of each monitoring organization and of the work of each organization. It has been their practice to ascertain the funding needs of these organizations at meetings at which all three organizations have been present, and all three organizations have jointly reported on their monitoring to funders at meetings convened by funders.
The barrage of attacks by reporters and columnists, and not restricted to any one publishing house or media organ, raises a number of questions.
Are these individuals acting on their own accord and devotion to governance, or are they an integral part of the investigative process that passes for investigation by the state of Sri Lanka today?
Interestingly, although these reports and columns allege lack of transparency and accountability, they contain specific information about who signed agreements with funders and the sums of money received. Did they obtain this information from intrepid and ingenious investigative reporting or from the recipients, the funders or the regime? In a number of these reports, there is a constant reference to government sources saying this or that, begging the question that if it is transparency and accountability that is at issue with organizations accused of supporting terrorism, why is there a reluctance, even reticence, to name the government source?
Is this excluded from the public interest? In one instance one of these individuals did phone me to clarify a typographical error he had encountered in a document. Interesting that he did not seek clarification in respect of the issues he raised in his subsequent articles.
Are these individuals acting alone or are they acting on instruction? Were it to be the former, it appears to be a case of devotees straining to be more Catholic than the Pope, and in the process bringing the Pope and the faith into disrepute!
Given the hate and the harm that is their stock in trade, it would seem that a motley crew of toxic hacks are destroying journalism in this country.