05 October 2011

The FMM: thick with thieves

FMM: nice logo, nice name but substance? Oh dear!
The Free Media Movement (FMM) mandates itself, among other things, to stand up for the rights of media personnel.  This is good.  Recently, the FMM took issue with sections of the state media for what it claims was a distortion of what had transpired in Geneva where former FMM Convener, Sunanda Deshapriya was alleged to have been put in his place by the President of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed. Deshapriya claimed that nothing of the sort had happened. 
The FMM, in a statement released by its present Convener, Sunil Jayasekara, has condemned what it terms are ‘false allegations against press freedom and human rights activists’, citing the above issue, and states that it awaits a response from the Government of the Maldives. 
In general, if there is some vilification or character assassination of a journalist via the publication of falsehood, it is certainly incumbent on organization espousing media freedom and decency to step up and object.  Indeed, even if the aggrieved party has no connection with the media or human rights, misrepresentation is not something that should be condoned.  In this sense, I salute the FMM for taking this stand, provided of course that Deshapriya’s version is accurate. 

I have some problems with the statement, though.  First and foremost, Sunanda Deshapriya is not really a journalist.  He is, all things considered, nothing more than a propagandist.  That’s legitimate of course, even though I for one would hesitate before agreeing to be mouthpiece for terrorists or those who vilify the country of my birth without any or very little substantiation of  allegation, especially if it can hurt my fellow citizens who paid for my education and many other conveniences.    He is not a ‘human rights activist’ as claimed, but a disingenuous prankster masquerading as one.  If the FMM wanted to be taken seriously, they would have hesitated in dishing out unwarranted character certificates to this shady individual. 

Now if Bada Mahinda, Kudu Noor or someone other underworld character’s human rights were violated, one would expect an organization that takes such issues seriously to call foul.  One would also expect that organization to quality their intervention by referring to their criminal records, just because the world is not black and white and because blank cheques can be abused. 
Sunanda Deshapriya is not your mafia king or minion of course, although he has in a white-collared way aided and abetted many crimes against humanity.  What is most strange about the FMM statement is the strange reluctance to qualify support for the man, considering that he is a known racketeer and has a proven track record of stealing money.  Paikiasothy Saravanamauttu, himself a navel-gazer when it comes to questions about financial ‘mismanagement’, has in his (Saravanamuttu’s) cute way hoofed out Deshapriya from the Centre for Policy Alternatives (for showing ‘lack of clarity’ in reporting on funds utilized).  Sunil Jayasekara can’t be ignorant about all this since the FMM was working very closely with the CPA at the time.
Most unpardonable, however, is the FMM’s absolute silence on the fact that Sunanda Deshapriya has point-black refused to cooperate with an investigation into alleged financial mismanagement (read ‘pilfering’) while he was that organization’s Convener.  The FMM has cited (and this is pathetic) lack of funds to carry out a proper investigation in Deshapriya’s misdoings.  I have offered to find the Rs. 1 million that the FMM has said would be required for such an exercise.  They’ve chosen the time-honoured method of sweeping under the carpet, the very crime they often accuse state agencies of indulging in. 
The way they’ve framed their objections in this statement shows that they have no quarrel with Deshapriya.  It raises the legitimate question that perhaps the current leadership of the FMM, Jayasekara and Udaya Kalupathirana (Ex-Co member of the FMM supposed to have been present in Geneval with Deshapriya) included, needs to sit on moves to investigate Deshapriya because they too have skeletons in their respective cupboards.
Jayasekara states: ‘[b]oth Mr. Deshapriya and Mr. Kalupathirana have conveyed to the FMM that they are in possession of a complete recording on audio-tape of the side-event which proves that these stories are false’.  While the meticulous precautions taken are certainly laudable, it is indeed strange that Jayasekara didn’t think fit to ask Deshapriya to furnish (along with these tapes) all records of all projects he was involved in or handled while he was in the FMM, especially those relevant to the management of funds, receipt books included. 
The FMM is giving Sunanda Deshapriya a break.  Is this because the current leadership of the FMM and its immediate predecessors need a break themselves with respect to who did what with the millions that came into the organization’s bank accounts? 
Jayasekara says, somberly, ‘The importance of this incident is that GOSL has dragged a head of a neighboring country into attacking press freedom activists. In FMM’s opinion this is a matter that requires serious consideration.’  The FMM has not really cared about this country and neither has Deshapriya.  This sudden concern for country-image, as implied in the above statement, is surprising, therefore, but nevertheless noteworthy.  But why bother about inter-galactic issues when there’s a lot of muck in the backrooms of this world, in this sense the FMM’s account sheets?
Jayasekara and this Kalupathirana are no babes in the woods, pampered with soothers stuck in their mouths.  They are adults and one presumes, know the basics when it comes to what’s decent and what’s not.  They know the difference between small change and the kinds of ‘change’ that’s allegedly been pilfered by Deshapriya.  They know that Deshapriya’s continued reluctance to furnish financial records indicates guilt.  And yet, they have studiously kept mum on all this.  They agitate for the Right to Information, but are keeping their books closed.  Why? 
It is good to defend the freedom of expression.  It is good to call for the truth. It is good to condemn misrepresentation, even though in this case the ‘victim’ is, as Saddam Hussein might say the ‘Mother of all Misrepresentation’.  Or ‘mother something else,’ did I hear someone quip?  It is not ‘all good’ when you go out and stand with a known thief and one who stands accused and is in all likelihood guilty of robbing one’s own organization.  It is not about standing for the principle of ‘truth’ when one deliberately leaves out the thieving and lying part of the story. 
Sunil Jayasekara, Kalupathirana and all the ladies and gentlemen of the FMM have indicted themselves.  They have no one else to blame but themselves for the sorry state that the FMM finds itself in today.  It is never too late in the day to come right.  The rank refusal to do so indicates happy complicity in the transgressions of a swindler.  I don’t know if they were ‘thick-as-thieves’ with Sunanda Deshapriya but this statement coupled with Kalupathirana baby-sitting Deshapriya in Geneva and thereafter demonstrates that the more appropriate descriptive is ‘thick-with-thieves’. 
The FMM could have turned over a new leaf, but it looks like it’s stuck in the old leaves (of a book that Deshapriya will not make public).  Sad. 



G. de Silva said...

I would dearly love to see full financial disclosures from all those beautiful lofty organisations which have the word 'FREE' some where in their names so that we, mere mortals, know that they do not have any 'strings attached'. The day they actually do this will mark the dawn of freedom for everyone. Unfortunately, I still believe in the old saying 'there is nothing called a free lunch'.