25 September 2012

Degrees of newsworthiness

Someone who was at the wrong place at the wrong time was assaulted.  Now let’s assume, as has been alleged, that Major Chandana Pradeep was not on duty at that moment.  Let’s assume that he was engaged in some illegal activity.  Let us assume that even though he was an Army Intelligence Officer who could have been carrying out duty-work in off-duty time due to an important development related to the particular brief, he was not doing anything of the sort. 

If all of this or even some of it is true then Major Chandana Pradeep, regardless of his invaluable contribution to the cause of wiping out terrorism, should be charged on account of his transgressions.  Nothing wrong with that.  Discipline in discipline.  Exceptional performance is not akin to a credit balance that allows one to use a debit card for transgression. 

All this is fine. Above board.  Punishable crimes invite inquiry and punishment.  You cross the line and you are stopped.  That’s how it goes in the Army. 

Punishment of transgression, however, is not the preserve of the Army.  It is not only the security forces that have rules and regulations. Every institution has them.  And above all of it is the general law of the country.

The said Army Major was assaulted. That was news.  He said he can’t identify some of his assailants. That too was news and news that invited a lot of commentary. Why did he change his story and who or what was behind the change of position?  Indeed even the Magistrate hearing the case asked this question.  The Magistrate wanted the footage from CCTV cameras to be examined by the Police.  He even instructed the Police to determine whether a charge will be filed against the Major for having lied.  That too was news.

The main two suspects, Malaka Silva and Rehan Wijeratne, were enlarged on bail.  News.  They’re not talked about now.  They’ve gone off the news radar apparently.  That’s ‘news’, i.e. not the fact that they are out of jail but the fact that they’ve gone off the radar.

Whatever the Major was doing or not doing at the JAIC Hilton that night, he was assaulted.  This was not some kind of attempt to execute a ‘citizens’ arrest’ or a Good Samaritan act to stop some heinous crime being committed.  The assailants had no business to throw their weight around in the way they did.  Even if Malaka and Rehan did not throw punches (and they haven’t been cleared of that; the CCTV footage will establish guilt or innocence), they were present and if they didn’t do it, then it was their friends, bodyguards or goons who assaulted the Major.  It is hard to imagine such minions operating on their own initiative.  They can be charged, therefore, at best, on grounds of being accessories after the fact of felony. 

The Major is in the news.  That’s deflection.  That’s sweeping issue under the carpet.  That is wrong.   
If it is not, then the constitution must be amended.  We can have a 19th Amendment to the effect that Ministerial Brats (or ‘Privileged Brats’) have the license to do as they please, including indulge in any act of thuggery.  Something like vehicle permits for MPs.  The Legal Draftsman can put it down in appropriate language, but we can call it the Double-O Amendment or the Tiger Amendment, because just like James Bond, 007, had the license to kill, so did the LTTE.  Neither was constitutional, but it is best to do things ‘within the law’.  Then it can be monitored and/or regulated.  Like alcohol and tobacco.  Like certain drugs such as cannabis in the Netherlands. If such laws existed, then we can't write that someone who was at the wrong place at the wrong time was assaulted.  We could have said 'Someone who was at the right place at the right time was rightfully assaulted and justice has prevailed!'  We can add 'Hurray!'

For now, though, the news is that Malaka and Rehan are not newsworthy.  That says a lot about the media.