The Listening Post

Frederica Jansz: Sri Lanka’s media crackdown

After years of threats, what made one of Sri Lanka’s boldest journalists leave her home country?

For this Listening Post feature, we interview one journalist who has recently fled her country, Sri Lanka. Over the past few years freedom of the press has been under attack by the government there. One newspaper in particular has been in the governmental crosshairs, the Sunday Leader.

When the Sunday Leader’s editor Lasantha Wickramatunga was gunned down in 2009, he saw it coming. We know that because he wrote an editorial on his own death, published posthumously in his paper, in which he blamed his killing on the government of Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka’s president.

In the article, he predicted that no one would ever be charged with the murder. No one was. Wickramatunga’s successor, Frederica Jansz, had her own run-ins with the government, including an extraordinary clash with the president’s brother, Sri Lanka’s defence minister.

Jansz says that the minister threatened her over the phone and said there were a lot of people who wanted to see her killed. She then published a transcript of the call. A few months later the Sunday Leader had brand new owners with close ties to the government and Frederica Jansz says she was fired. She has since fled the country and has made an asylum claim. Jansz says she does not want her location revealed for security reasons. She spoke to the Listening Post’s Meenakshi Ravi.

“It was definitely a slow and steady slide into a stifling reporting that the government does not like. Since the end of the war in May 2009, there has been a very definite slide, a very definite take over, or state control, of all media outlets, and that includes independently, or privately owned media. The Sunday Leader actually is a classic example of what happened.

The level of intimidation, the harassment has continued, they have continued to call journalists traitors. Lawyers appearing for me, and the Sunday Leader, were termed, or called terrorists and traitors.

And you know, in the back drop of all that had happened to me …. I was told, and I actually began to finally believe it, that my life was very seriously under threat. So yes, I made up my mind, I have young children, that my sons need a mum and not a heroine.”

Frederica Jansz