Minister of Justice Wijeyadasa Rajapaksa announced in Parliament on October 21 that an investigation would be conducted on The Morning organization, reminding that media personnel can be sentenced to two years in prison according to the law of parliamentary privileges.
He has also filed a complaint.
There are many alarming points in his statement and complaint with regards to freedom of the press. He has asked in his complaint that a journalist should be summoned to Parliament and ‘punished’.
But what is even more dangerous is that S. M. Marikkar, an MP of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya and a close associate of opposition leader Sajith Premadasa, agreed and added that a firm program for media control should be started immediately.
This is a summary of the statement made by Wijeyadasa Rajapaksa:
‘The Privileges Committee had summoned several journalists, including one who reads the morning papers.
Journalists who read papers for hours focusing on a short statement, created hatred towards the Parliament by calling all 225 MPs thieves and crooks.
10 or 15 Members of Parliament are behaving inappropriately.
The journalists continue to read the newspapers. It was accepted that the actions of journalists were wrong. An honest MP’s child cannot go to school because of these journalists. They get asked if their father is a crook.
It was journalists who ruined the reputations of these MPs. Buy two (liquor) bottles and they’ll publish news when told to do so.
We know how journalists are. We are not branding all journalists as bad.
The Morning is a newspaper that belongs to the same media network. Our country’s journalists bring presidents to power to get their business done. Then they kick them out and bring in someone else.
The Morning newspaper belongs to that group.
Apparently, lawyers from Wijeyadasa Rajapaksa’s chamber are representing Thilini. Therefore, he was asked to resign from his ministerial position or from the case.
I don’t have a chamber. But my junior lawyers work in various courts. There are magistrate judges. There are judges. There are MPs. I argue cases addressing them as ‘my lord’.
They have taken cover. That President’s Counsel Maithree Gunaratne said so in court. When I asked him, he clearly said that he made no such statement.
He is trying to disrupt proceedings carried out as the Chairman of the Privileges Committee.
An offense punishable with imprisonment of two years under the Act. Cannot cooperate with the investigation. I request that at least another member of the Privileges Committee be appointed to investigate this matter, take necessary legal measures, and do justice.
A media group is trying to destroy the freedom of speech given to MPs. The media thinks that the Parliament and the President should appoint whom they want.
We will not allow that.’
Minister of Parliament S. M. Marikkar immediately got up and said:
‘I agree with Wijeyadasa Rajapakse’s opinion. Journalists and media organizations think that the media can rule the country however they want.
You have to grow up at some point, if media organizations think that they have control. I think that Wijeyadasa Rajapaksa’s proposal should be considered, and a firm and strong program should be made. Some will talk.
We are not afraid. I demand that we take a permanent step.
If we want to develop, we urge you to start here without debating.’
The Parliamentary Privileges Act is a dangerous act that journalists of this country fought against, brought to a place where it cannot be implemented, and got amended. Under this Act, it was possible to investigate and punish journalists by MPs themselves under the guise of privileges of members of parliament. It was possible to turn this into a means of suppressing the media.
But given the several amendments made to this Act, the Parliament now has no power to impose serious punishments for breaching its privileges. Now all they can do is to restrict someone’s right to enter the parliament and give strict warnings. Earlier it was possible to impose a prison sentence of not less than two years. But now such a punishment can be given after complaining to the Supreme Court through the Attorney General followed by a court hearing. Accordingly, a two-year prison sentence like the one Wijeyadasa Rajapaksa asks for can only be imposed after going to court.
These laws can especially be used to interrogate and oppress people for publishing critical reports about a member of parliament. This will not harm owners of media companies. Even Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapaksa has asked that the journalist who published the news should be ‘punished’.
This will not affect pro-government journalists. Instead, this is aimed at journalists who sharply criticize politicians and governments.
It is clear that the owner of The Morning ‘Dilith Jayaweera’, the owner of Hiru TV ‘Reno Silva’ or the Rajamahendran family that own Sirasa have used their media organizations for their political needs and are likely to do so in the future. It is also clear that they cannot use television frequencies, which are public property, to run their media organizations any way they want.
But the solution to that is not taking action against journalists for talking about MPs through an organization like the Parliament.
Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakse may have been treated unfairly by ‘The Morning’ newspaper. Something may have been written that seems unfair to his position and profession. But the Minister of Justice has the right to respond, the ability to publicize the behavior of this media organization and criticize that organization, and the ability to go to a place like the newspaper organization and complain. Beyond that, as a legislator, he can pass laws for the rights of journalists so that the media owners cannot do as they please, and the independence of the media community is enforced.
It’s not only journalists that are unclean in a rotten country. The cleaner the country, the cleaner the people will be in any field.
How many lies are being spoken about Wasantha Mudalige or anyone else in Parliament today? How many untruthful stories were told, claiming that peaceful protesters set the country on fire, by the very people who initiated arson on May 9? What about the law of privileges when it comes to these?