Live telecasts of Easter attack hearings may stop

Parliament and the Ministry of Defense will revisit the idea of providing live telecasts of the proceedings of the Parliamentary Committee probing the Easter Sunday bombings, multiple sources told RepublicNext today.

Yesterday, on the historic first day of a live telecast of a Parliamentary Select Committee hearing, the broadcast was unexpectedly halted while National Intelligence Chief Sisira Mendis was giving his testimony.

Official sources said that the telecast was stopped on the direct orders of President Maithripala Sirisena.

However, journalists were permitted to stay in the committee room and report for their agencies.

Mendis was providing details of the lackadaisical attitude of security officials who had information about the specific attacks on Easter Sunday but took no action.

More than 250 people, including some 45 foreign nationals, were killed when suicide bombers from the National Thowheed Jamaat, a fundamentalist Islamist cult inspired by Islamic State struck three churches and three five-star hotels that Sunday.

Since then racial tensions have risen and sporadic attacks have been launched against Muslim homes and businesses in several parts of the island.

Other instances of Islamaphobia have been reported from almost all parts of the country.

Media activists have been agitating for access to the working of Parliamentary Committees for a long time.

The current Speaker Karu Jayasuriya is convinced that greater transparency will increase the effectiveness of Parliament and has been a proponent of opening up the Committees to the Media.

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But the choice of opening up the investigation into the Easter Sunday attacks where there was a significant amount of confidential information discussed may not have been a good idea, says Media Consultant M J R David.

“There should have been some proper planning before this broadcast. There should have been a structure to decide what can be aired and what should be kept out of the broadcast,” he told RepublicNext.

David, a former BBC executive, added that “some of the witnesses who work in sensitive areas may be constrained in providing evidence because they are on live television,” he added.

Government MP Dr. Jayampathy Wickremeratne who chaired yesterday’s session told RepublicNext that the witnesses were given the option to ask for in camera testimony if they felt the need.

Multiple sources told RepublicNext that President Sirisena had been upset at the testimony as the sequence of events related in the hearing pointed to his inaction.

A day after the hearing the President tweeted denying that he had been informed about the intelligence warning of the attack.

David said the decision to telecast the hearing live “smacked of someone taking petty political advantage of a very serious situation.”

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