A few days ago, we ran an important item on the assassination of Lasantha Wickramatunga, editor of Sri Lanka's Sunday Leader newspaper and a major critic of the government. Like other things Sri Lankan, Lasantha's death may not resonate far beyond the island: to outsiders, this may seem to be a bit verse in yet another epic ethnic conflict. But even if you read nothing else about Sri Lanka, please read the piece below, printed by his paper after his death.
It was, in a sense, Lasantha's final work, an essay he wrote with the understanding that he would be killed for what he did. If, as a journalist, you've fretted about your pay, or job security, or career prospects, read Lasantha's words and remember this: at its finest, its most tenacious, journalism is heroic.
I have read it twice--once at work, and a second time on the subway--and each time, it broke me.
And Then They Came for Me
By Lasantha Wickramatunga
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.
I have been in the business of journalism a good long time. Indeed, 2009 will be The Sunday Leader's 15th year. Many things have changed in Sri Lanka during that time, and it does not need me to tell you that the greater part of that change has been for the worse. We find ourselves in the midst of a civil war ruthlessly prosecuted by protagonists whose bloodlust knows no bounds. Terror, whether perpetrated by terrorists or the state, has become the order of the day. Indeed, murder has become the primary tool whereby the state seeks to control the organs of liberty. Today it is the journalists, tomorrow it will be the judges. For neither group have the risks ever been higher or the stakes lower.
Why then do we do it? I often wonder that. After all, I too am a husband, and the father of three wonderful children. I too have responsibilities and obligations that transcend my profession, be it the law or journalism. Is it worth the risk? Many people tell me it is not. Friends tell me to revert to the bar, and goodness knows it offers a better and safer livelihood. Others, including political leaders on both sides, have at various times sought to induce me to take to politics, going so far as to offer me ministries of my choice. Diplomats, recognising the risk journalists face in Sri Lanka, have offered me safe passage and the right of residence in their countries. Whatever else I may have been stuck for, I have not been stuck for choice.
But there is a calling that is yet above high office, fame, lucre and security. It is the call of conscience.