Silenced Voices, a film about the fate of Sri Lankan journalism, is being screened in New York this week as part of the 2012 Human Rights Watch film festival, bringing attention to a country that is "one of the most perilous countries in the world for journalists,” according to the advocacy group.
The film focuses on Sonali Samarasinghe, her late husband Lasantha Wickrematunge (assassinated in January 2009), and a range of journalists living in exile, while drawing attention to the hostile environment for journalists in Sri Lanka and the historic legacies of LTTE and government efforts to chill dissent.
Asia Society Associate Fellow Vasuki Nesiah, a legal scholar with a focus on public international law, says while the Rajapakse government has been hostile toward media, journalists continue to find ways to report on the country.
"The global media footprint in Sri Lanka is complicated — opening up important and interesting webspaces alongside a television presence that is dominated by multinational media conglomerates and the biases of big media," Nesaih says.
"For Sri Lankan journalists, the national media climate has been squeezed by a range of regulatory instruments, direct censorship, threats, imprisonment and sometimes killings. There are also historic challenges that have resulted from the fact that the Sinhala, Tamil and English media outlets have echoed (and helped entrench) broader social cleavages.
"That said, the global press freedom indices tell a misleading story to the extent that they do not capture the fact that there are a range of insurgent citizen journalist initiatives in all three languages in Sri Lanka — initiatives that have created small, sometimes very local, pockets of electronic and print media spaces that are vibrant, creative and resolutely independent."
The New York premiere of Silenced Voices is tonight, Monday, June 25, at 9:15 p.m. at Film Society of Lincoln Center Walter Reade Theater. It will show again at Tuesday, June 26, at 4:00 pm, and Wednesday, June 27, at 7:00p.m. The screenings will be followed by a Q&A with subject Sonali Samarasinghe. For information on attending click here.