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Sunday, 10 February 2002  
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Snail mail : Sunday Observer, 35, D.R.Wijewardana Mawatha, Colombo, Sri Lanka.
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Leading the Opposition

Mahinda Rajapakse, lawyer, human rights activist, politician, government minister and proud son of Ruhuna, has become the Leader of the Opposition in the country's national legislature. For this dynamic, industrious politician, this is his highest political post so far, and is in keeping with the tradition of politics in his larger family.

For the country, his belated election to this post means that the confusion within the People's Alliance, the main Opposition party and, more importantly an essential partner with the United National Front Government in the renewed peace effort, is over. The Prime Minister now has his necessary counterpart in the Opposition benches of Parliament.

Mr. Rajapakse's role as Leader of the Opposition means that the People's Alliance will, at last, have proper leadership for its vital Parliamentary function - critical review of the Government at legislative level.

This new cohesion will give strength to the PA in performing its larger national task of supporting the Government's peace effort, a task for which overall leadership is given by President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga.

Some key activities of political reform, such as the setting up of the Constitutional Council and the appointment of the independent administrative commissions, which were in suspense because of the lack of an Opposition Leader to perform the required tasks in this connection, can now go ahead.

These reformist steps as well as the larger peace process thus receives a much-needed boost with the arrival of Mahinda Rajapakse.

The leadership of the PA would do well to exploit Mr. Rajapakse's election in the revitalisation of the Alliance. The Opposition Leader, as the emerging new personality of the PA, would help in consolidating the second rung leadership of the Alliance. Only a stronger, more democratic, PA would be able to give the necessary leadership in Opposition in the difficult days ahead as the nation seeks peace.

Freeing up the mass media

Last week's court ruling which found two Air Force officers guilty of intimidating world famous defence journalist Iqbal Athas is one more step in the slow, but steady, emancipation of social communication structures in this country.

The mass media industry will hail the ruling and conviction as a victory for the media. So too will the citizens of the country, who both consume the media's output and, also, use the mass media as a major medium of expression.

The court ruling will certainly give the mass media enterprises greater confidence in going about their business in providing their audiences with information and entertainment. For too long has the mass media here suffered under the awful constraints of not only mere death threats but also the actual carrying out of such threats.

Journalists have been detained, tortured, killed and also, 'disappeared' in the past two decades during which the country has been wrecked by intense violence, due to political rivalry, social class conflict and ethnic conflict. All three major actors in the violence - the State, the LTTE and the JVP - have been accused of killing and intimidating media people.

More work needs to be done in investigating these crimes of our times and making accountable those responsible if the country is to create an environment that is genuinely conducive for public expressions and a dynamic mass media.

At the same time, the media industry itself has to ensure that the benefits it derives from a greater security are employed not merely for market success, profitability and the pursuance of the interests of media proprietors - both private and State.

The mass media industry, after all, survives and functions because their audiences are their markets. The media must therefore fulfil, to the utmost, its function of enabling all sections of society to give expression to their needs, interests, concerns and hopes. It is only then that the freedom of the media genuinely translates into freedom of expression.

Stone 'N' String

Crescat Development Ltd.

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