The one about newspaper editors [war on journalism]

To comment on news that I was pretty sure broke a month ago (because I totally thought I saw WAN celebrating it on the rooftop of my gym lifestyle club before Christmas… or was that just an [un]fortunately-timed End Of Year Party?): HURRAH!!!

The state of Western Australia is a better place now that Paul Armstrong is no longer at the helm of The West Australian “newspaper”.

But I guess the whole late-scoop thing is fitting to [dis]honour the journalistic “standards” of every sandgroper’s fave fish’n’chip wrapper.

Margaret Simons (have I mentioned my epic blogger-crush on her yet?) mentions the “lack of surprise” and “why-did-Stoksie-wait-a-month” elements of the story in the lead story of today’s Crikey email as well as discussing that old-school ideal of newspaper editors as “the sort of people who kindled fire in the bellies of their staff, and who helped set the agenda of a city or a nation”.

The late Lasantha Wickrematunge of Sri Lanka’s Sunday Leader was in that category.  Paul Armstrong was probably in the “arrogant, inept, biased, douche-bag” category.  But all that is over now.  Thank heavens.

The only disappointing thing about this whole chapter has been ABC News’ failure to properly quote Journalists Union President David Cohen on the only adequate description of the ex-ed: that he was a “F***ing Outrage”.

The one about an assassinated editor from Sri Lanka [war on journalism]

Oh no. Oh no, on no, oh no.

There was an article on New Matilda a little while ago about the forgotten war in Sri Lanka that gets missed by the mainstream media.

And it took a story on boingboing.net for me to find out about the murder of a Sri Lankan journalist last week.

This makes me so sad.

Firstly, gah; I am so embarrassed that I had not subscribed to a Sri Lankan news service, after all my pontificating.  This has now been resolved.

Secondly. Oh my gods.

The murder is the worst of what I wrote about in my banned Quasi editorial about the importance of freedom of the press.

Creepily (sadly, really), Lasantha Wickrematunge (who was a lawyer before he became a journalist and editor at the Sunday Leader) wrote an editorial entitled ‘They Came for Me’, which was published on Sunday after his death.  It seems that he knew he would be killed and I assume he’d written it long before it happened.

In the editorial, he outlines the problems facing journalists and media services in Sri Lanka, emphasises the importance of a free media, and presents warnings about the dangers of staying silent:

No other profession calls on its practitioners to lay down their lives for their art save the armed forces and, in Sri Lanka, journalism. In the course of the past few years, the independent media have increasingly come under attack. Electronic and print-media institutions have been burnt, bombed, sealed and coerced. Countless journalists have been harassed, threatened and killed. It has been my honour to belong to all those categories and now especially the last. …

The free media serve as a mirror in which the public can see itself sans mascara and styling gel. From us you learn the state of your nation, and especially its management by the people you elected to give your children a better future. Sometimes the image you see in that mirror is not a pleasant one. But while you may grumble in the privacy of your armchair, the journalists who hold the mirror up to you do so publicly and at great risk to themselves. That is our calling, and we do not shirk it. …

People often ask me why I take such risks and tell me it is a matter of time before I am bumped off. Of course I know that: it is inevitable. But if we do not speak out now, there will be no one left to speak for those who cannot, whether they be ethnic minorities, the disadvantaged or the persecuted. An example that has inspired me throughout my career in journalism has been that of the German theologian, Martin Niem”ller. In his youth he was an anti-Semite and an admirer of Hitler. As Nazism took hold in Germany, however, he saw Nazism for what it was: it was not just the Jews Hitler sought to extirpate, it was just about anyone with an alternate point of view. Niem”ller spoke out, and for his trouble was incarcerated in the Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps from 1937 to 1945, and very nearly executed. While incarcerated, Niem”ller wrote a poem that, from the first time I read it in my teenage years, stuck hauntingly in my mind:

First they came for the Jews

and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the Communists

and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists

and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for me

and there was no one left to speak out for me.

If people want to know why it’s hard for me to keep my mouth shut some times; why I have issues with accepting authority that shows no good cause for being obeyed; why I question everything and don’t stop hounding until I get a decent answer; and why I don’t care if that gets me in to a bit of trouble — then I would really encourage them to read Wickrematunge’s final editorial.

Update: New Matilda has published another great story on the background to the whole mess.