The three journalists from the pro-JVP newspaper Lanka who were arrested last week under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) are surely on a bad wicket.
Firstly they had reportedly entered a private property in Deniyaya providing false information about their identity. The police maintain that the place is frequented by President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and claim it has doubts as to whether the journalists were on a mission to assassinate the VIPs!
Secondly they are from a paper that has been carrying a series of articles against parliamentarian Wimal Weerawansa.
Thirdly the journalists are on record as saying that the purpose of the visit was to investigate an alleged misuse of vehicles belonging to the Mega Neguma project of the Ministry of Highways which comes under the President.
Fourthly being the reporters from the unofficial paper of the JVP they do not fall into the glamour category of media which ensures prime slots for their plight in the main stream press and the electronic media.
The latest one hears is that Lanka editor has been grilled by the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) in connection with the three journalists arrested in Deniyaya.
Any investigation on misuse of state property for private work is certainly of national interest. If the journalists managed to get evidence to prove the argument without getting caught and alerted the public through their paper, one may say, that would have served a national purpose.
But not everyone would agree. Entering private property by misleading the owners or the guards is an offence.
The move to enter private property by giving false information once again raises the issue how far a journalist should go to serve the national interest. Surely a journalist is not above country s law and one cannot get away by saying I am a journalist on a mission after flouting country s laws.
On the other hand if entering the property was the only way to get first hand information on what was going on and the journalists were bent on doing their own research rather than levelling wild allegations .well it is a tricky issue. What really has compounded the matter was the place being one visited by the President and the Defence Secretary, or so the Police say. At a time one hears about assassination attempts on the head of state and the defence secretary at regular intervals, it is easy for the police to slap conspiracy charges against the three journalists and maintain that they may have come to assassinate either the President or the Defence Secretary.
While bulk of the media fraternity is prepared to bail out the fellow media persons on the grounds that they have worked in the interest of the country there s nothing one can do to stop the police from viewing them from an enemy perception.
However perhaps the most disconcerting issue of the whole episode is the detention of the three journalists under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act barely a week after journalist J. Tissainayagam was sent to 20 years hard labour under the same piece of legislation.