Let us first whisper a prayer of thanksgiving that Keith Noyahr, the associate editor of The Nation newspaper, did not suffer the same fate as Richard de Zoysa and many others who are less remembered by a country that is notorious for its short memory. Whoever took Noyahr from outside his house and nearly killed him obviously wanted to deliver a message, loud and clear: don t mess around with our business doing so is at your own peril. The victim will know what kind of information was sought to be elicited from him and that will be a clear pointer to who or what agency was responsible for what happened. But he will also know what the perpetrators of the dastardly attack on a man whose journalism, though incisive, has never been abrasive was told about what will happen to him and his family if he headed the investigation that we have all been assured has now been launched towards its logical conclusion. No wonder then if the victim and his family would want to put the Thursday night/Friday morning nightmare behind them for ever and who can blame them?
The usual noises that accompany high profile atrocities have already been made. Three police teams have been appointed and the president has demanded an immediate report from the IGP. Media rights groups, as is their responsibility, have loudly and unequivocally voiced their protests and pointed fingers at the direction where the suspicion lies. The apologists have also had their say. Yesterday s Daily News duly recorded the Defence Ministry contention that ``the incident has been already exploited ``by anti-Sri Lanka propagandists to attack defence establishments. It was said some media had been quick to speculate on a connection between what happened and the authorities. After all, the victim had been critical of the war and high ranking military officials. Whoever said this (the quote was understandably unattributed) was dead right. No evidence has been found so far to prove such an allegation. The Daily News also had a quote from the police press conference where a senior officer had made the point that ``most do not like to speak to the police and reveal what they know ..Usually they never reveal what they know. But he had assured that investigation will proceed with scientific procedures (like fingerprinting Noyahr s car for tell-tale clues).
It is easy for taxpayer funded agents and agencies of the government to privately and publicly try to discredit NGOs like the Free Media Movement by saying that they are foreign funded and their spokesmen are very well paid. This is true. It is also true that that while some State officials, many of whom are sycophants of political authorities who can dole out patronage and privileges from the public purse may be less remunerated than some NGO activists. But their various perks and privileges cost ordinary people of this country who struggle to make ends meet a very pretty penny. We cannot also forget that the country is fighting a war against a deadly terrorist group and, as we have readily admitted in these columns, that it is not possible for one side to fight according to the Queesberry rules while anything goes as far as the opponents are concerned. Nobody can fight with his hands tied behind his back and propaganda is very much a weapon in the terrorist armoury. There is no media freedom in LTTE held areas and what happens to the Keith Noyahrs in those areas will not be ever known to the country and world at large.
The vast majority of the people of this country want the LTTE to be defeated, sooner the better, and peace re-established. If truth be told, that same majority will wink away any shortcuts those who are charged with that responsibility may be tempted to take. If our home is burgled, how many of us will protest at third degree methods traditionally used by the police being employed against a prime suspect to compel him to come clean? We may not relish humans being tortured, but brush off as ``bad luck if the wrong suspect receives the `treatment . But the majority of us, in our desire to recover what is ours, look the other way when coercive methods that benefit us are used. That sadly is human nature though some humans are better than others. Nevertheless, it is necessary that these matters are always kept alive in the public domain.
It is also good at this time to remember the many journalists who have been bumped off or beaten in the decades of this war that have brutalized this nation. In most instances, the same clucking noises we hear today were made but their killers and assailants were never brought to justice. D. Sivaram or Taraki ran the TamilNet for the LTTE and may have been considered fair game by some. Nobody has been arrested for that killing. The clich may be worn threadbare but it nevertheless remains true that while most terrorists (of the LTTE variety) are Tamils, most Tamils are not terrorists. Also, it is becoming increasingly evident that some Sinhalese are selling themselves to the Tigers. Let us not forget in this context that the majority of the journalist victims of terror and counter terror, have also been Tamils.
We must keep fresh in our minds that ugly incidents of this nature occurred not only during the incumbency of the present administration. Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickramatunga who continues to lambaste this government was roughed up during the CBK tenure with those who fired at his home and used iron rods on his car never brought to justice. Ironically, the prime suspect in this case died as he had lived and the man was no less than a member of the Presidential Security Division! Richard de Zoysa was liquidated during the Premadasa years. The list goes on. As in those cases, the dust will soon settle over this one and there is every danger that the investigation dossier will join the rest of unsolved and forgotten cases. As Noyahr is one of our tribe, we in the media will feel more for him than for others who have suffered the same fate. There are those who fear that the culture of impunity that has been with us in these matters in recent decades has come to stay. We must hope that it will last only as long as the war which will soon end. In the meantime will there be fearless journalists who would still publish and be damned (or be killed) for the greater good of their country?