Politicians remain cynical about killing the messenger
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It was as inevitable as the sun rising from the East; Gotabaya Rajapaksa at his first Press Conference as a Presidential Candidate was asked whether the White Van culture that existed during the past regime would come back if he becomes President.
Gotabaya ignored the question and also did not deny that the abductions of journalists and dissidents had occurred in his time in the dreaded vans.
Instead, he said he “did not start the White Van Culture in Sri Lanka.” He chose to remind reporters of the grim times when he said there were “White Trucks” with people’s bodies being burned on pyres made of tyres.
This was a reference was to the period between 1988 and 1990 when the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna led an insurrection against the government. Notably, the President at the time was the UNP’s Ranasinghe Premadasa, father of Gotabaya’s main opponent in the current contest, Housing Minister Sajith Premadasa.
“Unfortunately many people including journalists have forgotten what happened at that time,” he said
In an intervention at this stage, MP Udaya Gammanpila said that he had asked the government whether during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s second term there had been any White Van abductions and the government had replied in the negative.
In fact, Gammanpila had been provided with the stock Defense Ministry reply to such a query which is total denial as no official will respond that the Ministry had authorized an illegal abduction.
This exchange reveals how cynical our politicians are with the issue of killing the messenger.
Every political party and armed group has been responsible for the killing of journalists and various Media Professionals. They range from a Media Head, veteran Broadcaster and Chairman of the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation Thevis Guruge, allegedly by the JVP, to Correspondent Richard de Zoysa allegedly by Police during the Premadasa administration to Lasantha Wickrematunge allegedly by Military Intelligence during the Mahinda Rajapaksa Presidency. The LTTE too were responsible for killing many media personnel, including a five-member Rupavahini Corporation crew near the Mavaddipuram junction in 1987 in front of horrified bystanders in the bazaar.
The only government since the late 1970s that has not abducted nor murdered media people has been the current one.
After Gotabaya’s reply, the reporter asked, “can you give a guarantee that we can ask you anything that you will not send a White Van?” Gotabaya appeared to find that amusing “ask them (his opponents) to give you a guarantee, and I will give you two,” he said.
For us journos, it looks like little has changed.