Sri Lanka’s Prison Riots: Media Ethics – OpEd


By Shenali Waduge

For a country used to daily bombs, suicide attempts, assassinations and LTTE terror since May 2009 there has been little of such news to launch anti-Sri Lanka slogans. Many of the movements, organizations existing because of terrorist activity has had nothing much to report either so when something like a prison riot comes along its just perfect news and ideal to start the smear campaign that they are funded to do.

Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka

It is even more amusing how pro-LTTE terrorist websites are jumping to condemn the prison riot and quick to insinuate that the army was involved in shooting “innocent” inmates. Please visit the Wanni to see how LTTE treated its prisoners! So even before the situation is even brought under control the internet is full of accusations against the Government, conclusions derived that the killings were in “cold-blood” that they were “massacres” and that “extra-judicial” killing took place and the prime target and single inference was that it is no one the Defense Secretary who must shoulder the blame. This is the objective behind all reports.

It is in this context that we examine the incident that took place on 9 November 2012. Yes, a prison search took place, a fracas did ensue, prisoners did escape, prisoners did get hold of weapons, there were deaths and it took over 12hours to bring the situation under control and there are prisoners at large with arms.

Little coverage was given as to why the jailors/guards would protest to the sudden search, nor is their speculation as to how inmates had in their possession mobile phones, weapons and narcotics inside a maximum security prison? Was this not why the prisons staff objected and could this be why the search was conducted without their knowledge. There is little doubt that none of the mobiles, arms and narcotics found would have been in the possession of these inmates if the prisons had been informed in advance! How many media mentioned that Welikada prison had not been searched in over 10 years? Was Sri Lanka the only country conducting a search operation on a maximum security prison? Let us not forget that these inmates are enjoying three meals a day free of charge thanks to the Sri Lankan tax payer! Let all those painting these inmates as “innocents” realize that they are in prison because of the need to protect society from them!

All the focus instead was concentrated on covering stories of “beatings”, “shooting at point blank range” and various other ill treatments as if those reporting had been watching what took place. Where were the calls that should have demanded that authorities from top to bottom are accountable and every prison official needs to be thoroughly investigated and questioned. In the excitement to pinpoint blame on the Sri Lankan armed forces little clarification is given to the fact that the prisons do not come under the Defense Secretary.

As for those referring to the “innocent” inmates may like to ponder how the situation would have been if the STF had not returned fire and simply watched the inmates fire upon them and escape – we are talking about hardcore criminals who are in prison not without a reason – these are men who have murdered people in cold blood, who are serial rapists of women and children, who carryout contract killings and who are members of the underworld. True they need to be treated as humans but that human treatment has to be a two way thing reciprocated by them which is hardly the case. We would like to see how the very people who paint these inmates lily white how they would react if one of their loved ones had been fired upon by these inmates while passing Welikada prison on 9 November 2012!

The army entered the premises well after 6p.m after the Defense Secretary had been informed and it was only at 2a.m on 10th November that the situation came under control. Given the accusation of extra-judicial killing and intentional massacre why would the STF take so long to bring the situation under control – they could have easily fired at all the inmates killing every one of them and ending the fiasco. That they did not is something that needs to be highlighted and there is very little mention in any of the foreign news that the STF commander himself was shot in the abdomen by inmates firing from atop of the prison roofs and several civilians and media crew had also been injured.

There are several examples of prison riots:

  • 1992, October 2 – Carandiru Penitentiary, Brazil – prisoner revolt resulted in military police of Sao Paulo State storming the prison resulting in 111 dead prisoners.
  • 1971, September 9 – Attica Prison riot, New York – riot based on demands for better living conditions and the death of a black prisoner who had been shot by correction officers on 21 August resulted in 1000 prisoners seizing control of the prison taking 33 staff as hostage. Orders were given to take over the prison. 39 were dead including 10 correctional officers and civilian employees.
  • 2012, February 19 – Apodaca prison, Mexico – conflicting numbers have been reported as to the number of deaths and the number of escapees but the Attorney General has confirmed that 37 prisoners had escaped and more than 70 people had died.
  • 1980, February 3 – New Mexico Penitentiary riot – 33 inmates died, 200 inmates injured but none of the 12 officers taken hostage were killed.
  • 1973, July – Oklahoma State prison riot – Crowded conditions led to the riot that lasted from 28July to 4 August leaving twenty million dollars in damage to twenty-four buildings.

As for how situations are addressed in western nations the following videos will reveal their abysmal records that doesn’t gain much publicity because media is owned by them.

Exactly how free are media to report as they like? There is no country on this planet that has not placed censorships on media primarily citing national security and we cannot grouch for such policies given the current agendas that use media and organizations to destabilize countries.

In the US all mainstream media are subject to censorship submitting for “quote approval” before publishing. In the 1980s, 50 corporations controlled US media, today just 6 monolithic media corporations dominate everything that Americans watch, hear and read. Times Warner owns 20 channels, Walt Disney and Viacom owns 18 each, News Corporation owns 47 channels, CBC Corporation owns 13 channels while NBC Universal owns 20 channels and together they own the television networks, the publishing houses, the movie studios, the newspapers, the radio stations, the music labels and even the video game companies. With Americans glued to these channels one can imagine the level of brainwashing that occurs. All these media outlets have on their director boards those that control world banks, oil and pharmaceutical companies. Therefore, the messages that are being conveyed to the public is what they want conveyed – so much for freedom of speech.

Likewise, all other western nations do gag their media but given the level of maturity amongst them they know to honor the censorship through self-censorship for they uphold the virtue of being a citizen of their nation before their profession. This is something that is most certainly lacking amongst the media fraternity in Sri Lanka and something that they would do well to ponder over. Media is never meant to function to overthrow governments nor are they the spokesman of the Government. There is often hue and cry over media freedom in Sri Lanka yet when there are those that are funded to publicly chastise the Government, who appear regularly on every media platform to carry out their role without fear and they do so consistently we can but wonder why insignificant and unheard of people go missing and possibly question how these disappearances occur and exactly who may be responsible! Though many of the anti-SL sites are banned in Sri Lanka, the damage they do internationally is nothing they can be proud of as Sri Lankans in making their own country an embarrassment in the eyes of the world by the lies they spin in order to satisfy those that fund them.

Now how is all this relevant to Sri Lanka’s prison riots? Well, riots do take place for various reasons and Sri Lanka’s riot is nothing that needs to move earth or moon over. Its well and good to report thinking that divulging every bit of detail would ridicule and embarrass the Government but the larger repercussions is that we end up digging our own graves because fairplay is non-existent today and there is certainly no honorable governance by world bodies and their leaders.

Therefore, whatever profession we may be in as citizens of Sri Lanka it is best that we protect our own nation irrespective of how others may want us to think and act. It is our duty as citizens of Sri Lanka.

The views expressed are the author’s own.

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