B. Muralidhar Reddy

COLOMBO: Characterising Jaffna as one of the “most dangerous places on the earth” for journalists, a report of an international fact-finding mission to the town has claimed that in the last one year newspapers in the town have “lost” 90 per cent of their journalist and non-journalistic staff.

The report by the International Press Freedom Mission consisting of representatives of Reporters Without Borders and International Media Support has said since fighting resumed in 2006, the peninsula has become a “nightmare” for journalists, human rights activists and the civilian population.

The report is based on a recent interaction with journalists, military officials, civil society figures and the members of the Human Rights Commission (HRC) plus day-to-day “freedom monitoring” by Reporters Without Borders and other international organisations.

“Murders, kidnappings, threats and censorship have made Jaffna one of the world’s most dangerous places for journalists to work. At least seven media workers, including two journalists, have been killed there since May 2006. One journalist is missing and at least three media outlets have been physically attacked. Dozens of journalists have fled the area or abandoned the profession. None of these incidents has been seriously investigated despite government promises and the existence of suspects,” said the report.

It said since the attack on May 2 last year on the offices of the district’s most popular daily paper, Uthayan, local journalists have been living and working in fear. One paper shut down after its Editor was murdered and only three dailies are now published.

As per its findings newspapers have lost 90 per cent of their staff in the past year, as young journalists and other staff have fled the profession, often under pressure from their families. The paper Valampuri now has only five correspondents in the district, down from 75 in August last year.

“We carry more national and international news than local reports because our staff is afraid. We all know that a life is worth more than a news story,” the Editor of Valampuri has been quoted as saying.

Death threats

It said the staff of Uthayan, with a circulation of over 5,000, is now down to three senior journalists and one young reporter. One of the journalists has not left the office for 13 months for fear of life. National and international media correspondents are steadily leaving the district or the country after receiving death threats. “While the fact-finding mission was in Jaffna, the last full-time foreign media correspondent got a text-message and a call from a sat-phone saying it was his last warning before he was killed. He left Jaffna the next day,” it said.

The mission has urged the Government and President Mahinda Rajapaksa to ensure protection of journalists and guarantee press freedom.

“The Tamil media is the target of one the most enduring and violent wars of the past years. The LTTE is fighting, including with terrorist methods, to force the central government to grant the right to self-determination to the Tamil nation,” said the mission.