08 November 2013

Free Media Movement Busted


  • ·         IFJ’s Jacqui Park violated immigration law 19 times
  • ·         Convenor Sunil Jayasekera lies about Jacqui Park
Director Asia-Pacific Region of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Jacqui Park, shortly after being deported from Sri Lanka, has tweeted her sentiments thus: a) ‘Thanks to Aust FM Bishop for raising issue with SL FM.  Thanks to Aust High Comm in SL too for crucial support,’ b) ‘Good to be home. It was wonderful to have so much support from Australian and SL colleagues,’ and c) Just transiting in Singapore and please to be on my way home with Jane. Thanks for the support, especially our brave Sri Lankan friends’.  In one of these she has hash-tagged ‘pressfreedom’. ABC News, Australia, writing thereafter, waxes eloquent about Park being queried over her ‘work’ in Sri Lanka.  We shall get to that later. 

What is the context?  Jacqui Park arrived in Sri Lanka on a tourist visa along with a colleague Jane Worthington, but was not doing any sightseeing. She was attending a workshop titled ‘Freedom of Expression in Post-War Sri Lanka: Challenges and Way Forward’.  It was jointly organized by the IFJ and the Free Media Movement.  She was detained and questioned and found to have violated immigration laws of the country.  A person of her age with all the traveling she has done could not have been ignorant about visa types and which types permit or forbids what.  This was not a one-off misdemeanor.  Park has visited Sri Lanka on 20 occasions, 19 of which were work-related, each time on a tourist visa.  She is therefore a multiple and even compulsive offender.     

Lankaenews claims that the two IFJ workers and the FMM were ‘betrayed’.  No mention of violating immigration law.  AFP claimed that an ‘international media rights activist’ was detained.  The AFP report was heavily editorialized with a lot of claims and little substantiation.

APF is at pains to paint Park as some kind of media activism heroine intent on investigating alleged war crimes.  AFP has quoted FMM Convenor, Sunil Jayasekera: ‘She was meeting with us at a hotel in Colombo while on holiday; she was not engaging in any work as such but was meeting with friends she had made over many years.’

It is strange that the AFP story appeared without any reference to tangible proof that compromised Jayasekera’s ‘holiday’ statement; another website, www.srilankamirror.lk accusing ‘security forces’ (it was immigration authorities) crashing the AFP-IFJ party, carried pictures of the banner announcing the collaborative nature of the exercise.  It is strange that AFP didn’t see reason to ask Jayasekera the obvious question.  When ‘The Nation’ asked Jayasekera, he first said ‘she was not here for the workshop’.  Later, when Colombo Telegraph released the leaked emails, Jayasekra said ‘I don’t want to comment; I’ve said it all to the CID’.

While the IFJ is a trade union collective, Park is but a paid employee. AFP is yet to report on the violation of immigration law by Park and her companion. Lankaenews is a rogue outfit, little better than a gossip column, but Daily Mirror and AFP are not.  Their corrections or refusal to correct will also speak to media ethics or lack thereof.    As for Australia’s ABC News, how it is that their ‘story’ does not mention the fact that Park and Worthington had violated immigration regulations in Sri Lanka and indeed the former had done so on 18 other occasions.  Let’s not talk about the racism of Australia’s current immigration policy regime, but if some alien arrived in Australia 18 times, would ABC find fault with immigration and security authorities querying the individual on what on earth he/she is up to?  If that person had a media ID, would ABC say, ‘Oh ok, we understand, he/she is above board and should not be detained or questioned’? 

Sunil Jayasekera’s statements (to the Daily Mirror and AFP) are interesting.  This is an event co-organized by the IFJ and FMM, with the former probably chipping in with the money.  Jacqui Park’s email correspondence, leaked to and published by www.colombotelegraph.com, clearly indicate that she was not going to the elephant orphanage in Pinnawela or was planning to wallow in herbal baths in Hikkaduwa. 

For the record, Jacqui Park had penned ‘Sightseeing and holidaying’ in the ‘Reasons for visit’ box on her Disembarkation Card which she submitted to immigration authorities in Katunayake.  She could, technically, be ‘holidaying’ at Janaki Hotel although there’s not much to do by way of ‘sightseeing’ on Fife Road, Colombo 5 and got away with it too, except that that’s where an event her employer co-organized was being held.  

The leaked emails clearly indicate that it was a work-related event and one in which she looked forward to discussions with IFJ’s members in Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA) and the Federation of Media Employees Trade Unions (FMETU). The FMM is only an affiliate since it is not a trade union.

It is indeed laughable to think that the regional director of the sponsoring outfit would be in Sri Lanka during the event and not be part of the proceedings.  Park has since confessed that she had indeed come for the workshop.  Jayasekera, in his statements to relevant officials had admitted the same.  In other words, he knew when Park was going to be in Sri Lanka and why she was visiting.  He knew it was not a ‘holiday’.  Jacqui knew who paid for her ticket (IFJ) and it is unlikely that Sunil was ignorant about the fact.  The Daily Mirror, AFM and Lankaenews are yet to publish these confessions for reasons best known to them. 

Sunil Jayasekera, like many media activists are on the JFJ’s dole-list; obtaining money for all kinds of reasons.  Park herself has once claimed that funds allocated to obtain ‘safe houses’ have been used by recipients to paint their own houses! 

Sunil Jayasekera, it must be remembered, heads an outfit that has conducted dozens of seminars and workshops on media ethics, good governance, transparency and accountability, training people on how to be better and demand better from the powers that be on the above subjects. 
He is, moreover, Co-Convenor of the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence, which is part of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA).  One of his predecessors, Sunanda Deshapriya was also at one time associated with the CPA. He was forced to leave after it was found he had defrauded that organization.  Interestingly, on that occasion, the monies pilfered had been used to purchase an air ticket for this same Jacqui Park.  The CPA also advocates transparency, accountability and such, far more strongly than the FMM.  Time will tell whether or not the CPA will continue to associate persons who have aided and abetted illegal activity, feigned ignorance thereafter and finally acknowledged deceit and complicity. 

It is also revealed that at least on one occasion, Jacqui Park had accepted a cash payment from the CPA, again after a workshop at the same Janaki Hotel, Colombo, Sunanda Desharpiya handing over US$ 250.   Being a paid employee of the IJF, Park cannot receive ‘payment’ for work she is already paid for.  It is strange that Jayasekera appears to be ignorant of these kinds of transactions or finds it ‘ok’; but Park, then again, ‘is an old friend’, he has acknowledged.   


The emails leaked to Colombo Telegraph clearly indicate that the IFJ, for all its moral posturing, is fraught with intrigue associated with election-rigging (!), misuse of funds, selective partnering which raises questions over integrity of the membership etc.  To call employees of the IFJ and especially ones who have been caught sneaking into the country ‘media freedom activists’ amounts to a championing of the worst kind of chicanery and is an affront to all honest media activists.    
It is not just the FMM that has ‘treated’ Park well.  She has said during questioning that she has been in Sri Lanka before on work commissioned by many multilateral organizations, including the European Commission, UNICEF and UNESCO.  She has once attended a program organized by the Sri Lanka College of Journalists where she spoke on journalistic ethics, no less.  It is incredible that these organizations had thought fit for Park to come on an upon-arrival visa (tourist) and then engage in ‘work’.  Park also claims that she was once invited to grace an awards ceremony organized by the SLWJA, FMM and FMETU.  In light of her recently revealed illegal activity, all these organizations stand squarely indicted, more so because of their long history of shouting slogans and holding placards demanding decency, integrity, transparency, accountability etc.  If someone were to say ‘start with integrity’, they would not have a leg to stand on.

The Free Media Movement has compromised itself many times over by the shady activities of its former Convenor, Sunanda Deshapriya – he is yet to submit project reports requested from him many years ago and is charged with fraud by way of double-billing, among other scandalous self-payments.  His successors seem not to have learned anything from all that. 

A spokesperson for the SLWJA has claimed that reporting the Park-Jayasekera matter has put other journalists at risk.  Nothing puts a journalist at risk than the journalist compromising him/herself.  If the SLWJA and other media collectives want to shy away from truth, it can retire terms like ‘accountability’, ‘transparency’ and ‘integrity’, and just say, ‘we are in this for the bucks that may come our way or which we may be able to skim off’. 

Finally, since we in the age of social media, when Jacqui Park is done tweeting her relief and gratitude, will she talk about her sneaky ways, deceit, fraud and how these sit with her ‘media advocacy’? 

msenevira@gmail.com
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