Feature Article

'International media abetted death of journalism in Sri Lanka'

[TamilNet, Monday, 19 January 2009, 03:04 GMT]
Following the latest assassination of prominent editor Lasantha Wickramatunge of The Sunday Leader, four notable journalists, have reportedly fled Sri Lanka last week. "Had the international media, which was refused access to the war front and LTTE held territories, boycotted the government news, from the beginning itself as a measure of asserting media rights, the casualty of journalism in the island could have been avoided. But, the international media, especially the popular news agencies, are part of the game and they pay only lip service at every media casualty in the country," says a journalist formerly based in Colombo and now operating in the West.

The journalist, who wishes to withhold his name, as he often visits Colombo, said that in the current war, the international media forfeited its privileges to Colombo government and was functioning almost like mouthpieces, helping the propaganda war, showing only superficial resentment.

"This has happened, as the major agencies of the international media have become handmaids of Bush's 'War on Terror'. Such an outlook encouraged Colombo government to pounce on whatever little remaining traces of independent journalism in Sri Lanka," he argues.

Sri Lanka ranked 165th out of 173 countries in the Reporters Without Borders 2008 press freedom index. This was the lowest ranking of any 'democratic' country.

The international media reproducing Colombo's version of a story, without critical investigation of the logic and the source, failed to maintain a positive balance of media etiquette, commented the journalist.

Even though the informed readership always manage to filter away the bias in the reporting, the buying agencies in various countries only reproduce the version of the Sri Lankan government, rendered through the news agencies.

Apart from the role of the international media, various media outlets controlled by the government or serving the Sinhala Buddhist nationalist agenda, have portrayed many International NGOs, the peace facilitator Norway, eminent Human Rights defenders and even the visiting former UN Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour as Tiger agents. This kind of biased reporting, which gets blown up in Colombo media, became a tool in the hands of the government and was used to control and define the attitude and agenda of the personalities involved. The international media didn't care to counter this with critical reporting, according to the journalist.

As a result of such tarnishing of image, the Norwegian facilitators were blackmailed against criticising the Sri Lankan government. While having a free ticket to criticise the Tigers, they were reluctant to issue statements that blamed Sri Lanka for rights and ceasefire violations. This has eventually become a major setback to Norway, which was openly acknowledged by the Norwegian peace facilitators to their media.

Despite the fact that the war has been taking place for decades between two regions, the international media failed to establish parallel centres in the island of Sri Lanka. For instance, Jaffna was a pioneering media centre in Asia running its own daily newspapers right from 1840s. But, the international media agencies, for ages, have concentrated only on Colombo and have developed a Colombo-centric media culture for which they have become victims.

TamilNet's own experience is the web-blockade of the Colombo government since June 2007.

The Free Media Movement reported, back in 2007: "The ban on Tamilnet is the first instance of what the FMM believes may soon be a slippery slope of web & Internet censorship in Sri Lanka."

ARTICLE 19, an independent human rights organisation that works around the world to protect and promote the right to freedom of expression, in a press release stated: " “This is a blatant and unjustified attack on freedom of expression. [...] Until now, control measures have largely been directed at local media. Applying these measures to the Internet represents a serious escalation, which threatens to cut off an important source of independent and alternative news. This not only threatens press freedom but also undermines efforts to address the conflict.”

The media watchdog described TamilNet in the following words: "Although some claim it has an LTTE bias, the online paper has, over its ten-year life span, earned a solid reputation for providing alternative news and opinions with a particular focus on the North and East of the country, operating under the banner of 'Reporting to the World on Tamil Affairs'. It is relied upon as a credible news source by journalists, civil society and the diplomatic community, both within Sri Lanka and globally. Over the years, the site has endured various threats and attacks, including the gunning down in April 2005 of editor, Sivaram Dharmaratnam."

However, the international media continue to discredit the Tamil national perspectives of TamilNet, by labelling it as a 'pro-rebel' website, copying Colombo-centric rhetoric and thus weakening alternative perspectives of journalism in the island.

When the late senior editor, Mr. Sivaram (Taraki), a few years before his assassination asked the then Colombo Bureau Chief of Reuters why they needed a special adjective to TamilNet, there was no answer.

None of the countries of the International Community thought that they should condemn when Sivaram was assassinated, which was the second TamilNet casualty after Nimalarajan, and was an irreplaceable loss to Eezham Tamil journalism. Such was the awe and respect for alternative journalism.


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