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Friday July 30th, 2021
Legal

Sri Lanka newsrooms hit by sexual abuse charges

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Media minister ordered an investigation into sexual harassment of women journalists after they named perpetrators who either remain in top editorial jobs or had moved onto work in diplomatic missions and political parties.

Fuelling a #metoo style campaign, female journalist said she and her colleagues were made uncomfortable by some male colleagues who made lewd comments and gestures and publicly discussed wanting to have sex with them.

“I’ve had a male colleague threaten to rape me once, during a normal conversation we were having,” she said on Twitter after seeing a video of her alleged perpetrator, now a lawyer.

She is not the first to raise the alarm, but her Tweets provoked many others to go public with their experiences which they said had scarred them and caused deep trauma.

Among the perpetrators identified were journalists who held mid-level jobs in newspapers and television newsrooms as well as seniors who had moved onto careers in politics.

Colleagues shared their experiences in a campaign drawing inspiration from the #metoo movement which began in the US in 2017 following sexual abuse allegations against Harvey Weinstein.

Aisha Nazim @aishnazim compiled a listing of the incidents, drawing wide attention.

US journalist Jordana Narin, who had been an intern at state-run Daily News, joined the Twitter discussion naming a senior at the Daily News who had sexually harassed her four years ago. She named him as “H****l”.

Aged 22 at the time, Narin said she initially thought she may not be believed, but the then chief editor, Lalith Allahakkoon took immediate action and forced the perpetrator to resign.

She also published extracts of a journal she had maintained cataloguing the sexual harassment and the trauma she underwent but made it clear that apart from the disgusting behaviour of”H****l”, her stay in Sri Lanka had been “magical.”

Journalist Sahla Ilham said she was sexually abused by her editor who had pressured her family to keep quiet.

“I have been silent for too long, now I have to add what happened to me as well,” Ilham said.

“After I started working at a reputed now defunct newspaper, I was sexually abused by a famous editor in a now defunct newspaper. It was to the point that he was controlling my family to stay quiet.”

Another journalist, Kavindya Thennakoon, described how a senior colleague tried to kiss her against her will and how she was forced to work with him for months.

“Many women have spoken up today about predatory men in media,” Thennakoon said on Twitter. “The day we shot the first episode for this show a man tried to kiss me,” she said posting a clip from her show.

“Solidarity with women journalists for the courage to speak out about what has been happening in #SriLanka newsrooms for too long,” said former chief editor of the Sunday Observer Dharisha Bastians.

She said the allegations were “disturbing, agonising, and all too familiar.”

“Past time for accountability, critical reflection & change to make editorials safer. #MeToo,” she said on Twitter.

The Foreign Correspondents’ Association of Sri Lanka expressed solidarity with the victims.

“We urge media institutions to swiftly investigate these allegations, and take necessary steps to prevent recurrence. As a collective, it is our responsibility to ensure that our work spaces make all our colleagues feel safe and equal,” the FCA said in a statement.

Government spokesman and Minister of Mass Media, Keheliya Rambukwella said he had asked the government information department to investigate and ensure women journalists could work in a safe environment.

“We will take the sternest action possible,” Rambukwella told reporters in Colombo. “We will not hesitate to take appropriate action.”

He said he had already ordered the Director-General of the Information department, Mohan Samaranayake, to launch an investigation into the allegations made on social media.(COLOMBO, June 22, 2021)

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