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Some tears are less newsworthy

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A note on media representation of conflict in Sr i Lanka …

A note on media representation of conflict in Sr i Lanka
"Some tears are less newsworthy"
- A publication of the National Movement Against Terrorism (NMAT), Sri Lanka.

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  • 1. A note on media representation of conflict in Sri LankaSome tears are less newsworthy
  • 2. A note on media representation of conflict in Sri LankaSome tears are less newsworthyA publication of the National Movement Against Terrorism
  • 3. This and other tears were shed for loved ones slaughtered in cold blood by the LTTE when itscadres pounced on villagers in Gomarankadawala while they were harvesting paddy. This tear,this gaze is no less poignant than any other provoked by the determination to push forwardpolitical agenda using violence. No tears need to be shed this way but in terms of media ethics it isimperative that no tear goes unnoticed, that no tear is conferred with the unhappy tag underprivileged.Pix courtesy Anuruddha Lokuhapuarachchi
  • 4. There is more than one side to a story and this we all know. We also know that journalists arenot endowed with that elusive thing called perfect neutrality. While we hear the dictum facts aresacred, comment free often enough, the need to sell news often pushes the journalist to coatfact with comment or brush it with colour and tone, however slight, and thereby influencing theintended reader to react and absorb in particular ways. The better reporter, however, ispersuaded to obtain not just all the main versions but portray them with appropriate weight.With regard to the conflict in Sri Lanka such reportage has largely been the exception.The National Movement Against Terrorism (NMAT) is by no means neutral in how it views theconflict. We have our views, our understanding and our preferred utopia. We do not demand thateveryone, least of all journalists, subscribe to it. We respect the right to disagree and hold thatwhere there is no democracy, no freedom of speech, no respect for human rights, no right todissent, there can be no peace. If the path to peace is as or more important as is the objective ordestination, we take the position that to the extent that de-escalation of military engagement isimportant, democratization too is a veritable non-negotiable.It is here that there is a fundamental difference between the Government of Sri Lanka and theLiberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). No government is perfect and the Government of SriLanka is certainly not. On the other hand, governments can be democratically thrown out, theycan be criticized, and moreover the aggrieved citizen can take recourse in the judicial system.Even in the imperfection that the citizens of this country inhabit, there is a general perceptionthat governments cannot get away with anything and everything. Not so in the case of the LTTE.Having conferred upon itself the titles liberator and sole-representative of Tamil aspirations,having access to a well stocked armoury and operating in a community that is unarmed andincapacitated in many, many ways, the LTTE can and does operate as a law unto itself. In placeswhere they are in control, the question mark has been erased from all discourse. Dissent is nottolerated. Violation of human rights goes without a word of protest for one word askance is allthat it takes for the ultimate punishment to be meted out.Introduction
  • 5. This, one can argue, is just another opinion and for those who doubt we recommend athorough study of the conflict as well as the LTTE and not a cursory glance at the literature ornews reports or statements issued by the LTTE and its front organizations.We take the position that the situation in Sri Lanka and especially the portrayal of incident andcomment is lacking in honesty of reportage and rigorous cross-checking of claims, not tomention that the stories are often wrapped in emotive material that in the long run serves onlyto obscure the picture.This document, then, has been designed to alert you to some of these issues. As we said at theonset we are not politically neutral but we believe there is good journalism and bad journalismeven in this world where objectivity is a myth or at best something that is sought but neverfound. We believe that a lie has been circulated and circulated often enough to make theuninformed or less-informed reader believe it is true. There is a ground-reality, however, thatdoes not lie. Yes, it is not immediately obvious or amenable to immediate capture, but in theend it endures. Cover up helps purchase time and sometimes time is what is needed to destroycommunities and landscapes.The NMAT appeals for responsible journalism and appeals to the sense of goodness in thejournalist in the name of all those who have for one reason or another lost their voices duringthe long years of this conflict. The NMAT insists that one tear is no less tragic than another,one life no less precious than another, and that where these things are glossed over humanitysuffers many deaths.In this you will find some very recent commentary on the portrayal of the conflict in theinternational media as well as a critique of those who claim to espouse the cause of a freemedia and feign neutrality.We invite you to read all this with suspicion and come to your own conclusions but we arehopeful that in the very least you will resolve to read and voice opinion in a more informed andresponsible manner afterwards.
  • 6. PreambleThe title of this booklet, Some tears are lessnewsworthy is of course a bit cynical. It is true,though. It all depends where it happened, when ithappened, how it happened etc. There is nothingto say that all tears should be captured andreported to the world. On the other hand, isnt italso true that certain newsworthy tears often gounnoticed or, even if noticed, unreported? Webelieve this is true of the violent conflict that hasengulfed Sri Lanka for over two decades now.The entire world loves a rebel for there issomething romantic and heroic about someonewho challenges the status quo. The entire worldloves a rebel, but it would not be inappropriate toadd the caveat, as long as that rebel is doing hisrebelling in some other country, in some far awayplace where one will not feel the impact in anyway.A note on media representation of conflict in Sri LankaSome tears are less newsworthyVelupillai Prabhakaran is a rebel. He fights for acause or at least claims to. He speaks of historicalinjustices suffered by Tamil people and argues thatthe only way to correct these wrongs is to carve outa separate state from the island of Sri Lanka. We donot dispute his right to read history in any way hewants. Prabhakaran can perceive injustice anddream up the utopia of his choice, we do not denyhim that. Whether he can substantiate his claimsand whether his utopia is tenable is another matter.But all this is secondary. What is important is thathe calls himself a rebel and is portrayed as one forthe most part.When does a rebel cease tobe a rebel?Do rebels remain rebels all their lives? Does not thesubstantive practices adopt by a self-proclaimedrebel sometimes bring that label into question?Under what circumstances does a rebel cease to bea rebel? And should that happen is it not the05 - Some tears are less newsworthy
  • 7. responsibility of the media to notice thetransformation and report it? Time passes, thingschange. If Prabhakaran could legitimately wear thebadge called rebel then, does he still deserve it?Where a man who claims to be fighting for theTamil people himself brutally kills Tamils who donot see eye-to-eye with him, where he refuses to letthe people decide for themselves what they wantand what they do not want, where The Causedemands that villagers are hacked to death, that thelives of innocent civilians be claimed in bombexplosions, that certain areas should be ethnicallycleansed of other communities, where children arerecruited for combat purposes, thereby pulling therug under the feet of the future of the community,can one really argue, Rebel then, rebel now!?These are questions which require sober reflection.We have concluded that the term Tamil aspirationshas been hijacked by Prabhakaran. It has become aneasy alibi for actions that do not sit well with thehigh ideals associated with the term rebel. Thereasons for conflict may or may not have changed,but when the self-proclaimed freedom fighterhimself, by thought, word and action, does thingsthat clearly imposes limits on freedom not tomention perpetrate horrendous crimes againsthumanity, he concedes whatever moral high groundhe may have enjoyed at the outset. This does notmean of course that the reasons for the conflict nolonger exist, they very well may. However it meansthat such issues demand a different forum ofengagement, a different form of dialogue andprobably different players as well.You may believe that Prabhakaran is still a rebel.You have every right to think so. We are onlyinviting you to a sober consideration of the facts.Dont believe us. Take a look around the territoriesof hurt, the landscapes of war and ask yourself,Can all this be blamed on the Government or theSinhala people? Does not he who would fight at thedrop of a hat bring upon these places the inevitablehorrors of war, death, destruction, dismembermentand dislocation? Does he not know that themoment he provokes war, he invites the decimationof the people whose interests he claims torepresent, especially when the “enemy” is describedas an inhuman chauvinist? Child soldiers: war is their designated futureSome tears are less newsworthy - 06
  • 8. Let the stories tell the story“More than 65,000 people on both sides have beenkilled since the Tamil Tigers began fighting in 1983to create a separate state for Sri Lankas 3.2million Tamils, alleging discrimination by thecountrys 14 million Sinhalese.”This is the current end note of almost all newsstories on the conflict posted on CNN, BBC,Reuters, AP, AFP etc. A few years ago Tamils wasfollowed by the majority of whom are Hindus and“Sinhalese with the majority of whom areBuddhists.The above end note is not incorrect except thatnot all Tamils actually live in the areas marked forthe separate state longed for by the LTTE. It isnevertheless incomplete. For example, thefollowing is edited out, so to speak, of the caption:Most Sinhalese and significant sections of theTamils allege that the LTTE is a terroristorganization which has by its actions lost alllegitimacy to represent anyone. The assumptionthat is expressed in the above caption is that theLTTE is seen as a legitimate entity by Tamils whowithout exception subscribe to its agenda. Readthis again and again, day after day, for many years,and what do you get? We leave the conclusion toyou.Fear stalks Tamil port of peaceThis is the title of a story filed by one Soutik Biswasof BBC, reporting on incidents that took place inTrincomalee. Consider the choice of words. TwoOne day an elderly elephant heard a strange noiseand he summoned his two sons. "Go look whatson!" he said. The two calves went whence thenoise had come and found two hunters wendingtheir way through. They ran back to their fatherpanting. "Papa," one calf said with the otheragreeing, "forty hunters are coming!" Theelephant family ran for dear life.Now the question: Why did the calf say there wereforty hunters, whereas there were, in fact, onlytwo of them?Well, we dont want to keep you guessing. Theanswer is: The calf was a liar! Then why on earthdid the other one repeat that lie? Well, it was veryweak in arithmetic.Replace the first calf with LTTE propagandists andthe other with the foreign press, and then youhave a better picture of the international mediacoverage of the air strikes on LTTE targets inSampur the other day. The LTTE said 40,000people were fleeing and some of the ColomboCall girls and call boys ofFourth EstateThis is the editorial of The Island of April29, 2006. It is in NMATs opinion asober reflection on the complicity ofcertain sections of the media and mediapersonnel, local and foreign, in theLTTEs propaganda project. It calls toquestion the ethic of impartiality thatjournalists are supposed to be guided byin reportage.07 - Some tears are less newsworthy
  • 9. based foreign journalists swallowed the lie, hookline and sinker. They lost no time indisseminating the Goebbelsian lie across theglobe. What they didnt realise was that Sampurhas only a population of 16,000!Let it be added immediately that our sympathy iswith those civilians who were harmed anddisplaced for no fault of theirs, regardless of theirnumbers. War is hell as we have been sayingrepeatedly in these columns and it must beavoided. Thats why the LTTE, which is all out tothrust war on the state, must be stopped in itstracks.In the aftermath of the tsunami disaster, when theentire world rushed to our help, BBC had theaudacity to interview an LTTE sympathiser whosaid when the killer waves came pummellingeverything on their way, he had first thought theSLAF aircraft were bombing his area. "You knowthey usually bomb churches and schools," he saidto a seemingly dumb interviewer of BBC, whichboasts of Hard Talk. All what a discerning listenergathered was that BBC couldnt find someone, foran interview, who knew waves from bombers.We dont fault BBC as a whole for broadcastingsuch mistruths, half-truths, untruths anddiabolical lies. It is like setting a bus on firebecause of an errant driver who runs over apedestrian. We blame its correspondents andprogramme directors who are behaving in amanner suggestive of hubris and chutzpah andwonder why such irresponsible swashbucklers areallowed to cover matters that are sensitive andhave the potential to set a conflict-torn countrythings are implied. First that Trincomalee is a citythat is exclusively inhabited by Tamils. Not true.The majority are in fact Sinhala people. Secondlythat the Tamils are peaceful and by implication theSinhalese are not.The truth is that LTTE and Tamils are notsynonyms and each community is as peaceful asthe other but like all communities can be provokedto acts of violence and indeed racial violence. Inthis case the LTTE exploded a bomb in theTrincomalee market which is dominated by Sinhalatraders. The Sinhalese reacted. It is alleged that theArmy and Police looked on. If they did, they wereabsolutely wrong and action should be taken. Infact proceedings have been initiated in this regard.There is a difference between situations wherecrime goes punished and situations where criminalactivity is engaged in as right and with impunity.The former is the case of the Government and thelatter that of the LTTE.In any event, can we claim that Biswas wasinnocent, that Biswas was not trying to discolourthe picture in some way? NMAT believes we cannot.Thousands of people have fled their homes innorth-eastern Sri Lanka as the military launchedfresh air strikes on Tamil Tiger targets. About40,000 people were moving north to seek safety inthe jungle, local officials told a BBC correspondent.The said BBC correspondent clearly did notquestion the validity of the statement nor thoughtis important to question the credentials of thesource. The correspondent did not say who thisSome tears are less newsworthy - 08
  • 10. on fire. And those worthies are trying to teachresponsible journalism to their Sri Lankancounterparts. We would rather learn honestyfrom a fraud or chastity from a whore thanjournalism from them.Some of those potentates are actively engaged inpolitics and functioning as propagandists ofsome political leaders in this country. Unless theleaders of their choice come to power, they vilifythe successful others and paint Sri Lanka ravenblack. There are, of course, true professionalsamong themand we raise our editorial hat tothose ladies and gentlemen who have done theirprofession proud!but the sordid operations ofsome among them have tarnished their image aswell. All it takes to spoil a pot of milk is a littlebit of cow dung! (Etymologically speaking, theword dung has a Celtic origin!)Those know-alls in the garb of foreigncorrespondents peddling not-so-hidden agendasare no better than carrion crows trailing hyenasin the bush looking for carcasses and corpses.They are blind to anything positive about thecountry where they work. They have mistakentheir mission here for heightening the conflict bylionising Tigers. BBC once produced adocumentary on Black Tigers and the onlypurpose it served was to project those mind-erased killing machines as heroes. But it didntshow the faces of even Sinn Fein leaders untilthey mellowed their stance. A CNNcorrespondent once tried to balance a story onchild combatants saying that both the LTTE andthe government recruited child soldiers!official was, whether it was a civil servant or anLTTE representative. It was later revealed that therewere only 16,000 persons living in the said areaand that only 5000 had fled. It was later revealedalso that the LTTE had requested all Tamil peopleto leave their homes and live in and around LTTEcamps.The logic of the air strike is of course open toquestion. That 5000 people were forced out oftheir homes is a tragedy. It is a tragedy that manyare responsible for, not just the Government of SriLanka. The LTTE had killed over 70 members ofthe armed forces in a period of three weeks andhad just attempted to assassinate the ArmyCommander. Even a rank outsider would concludethat the LTTE has to share at least something ofthe blame.On the other hand, this is by no means an exercisein apportioning blame. It is a comment onhorrendous reporting. The correspondent cannottake refuge in deadline excuses. Bad reportingmakes all reports and all reporters suspect. Thereare standard that need to be maintained. And, inthe case of conflict reporting, one incorrect reportcan generate unanticipated tragedies because thehuman being, being a human being, is a creaturewhose reason is often swayed by his or heremotion.Who is an extremist?Many of the aforementioned news services arefond of adjectives. Mahinda Rajapaksa, President ofSri Lanka, was dubbed a hardliner and a hawk09 - Some tears are less newsworthy
  • 11. One may wonder whether the brand of journalismthat some foreign correspondents practise is anextension of the foreign policy of their respectivecountries. For example, the international terrornetwork of the LTTE is coordinated by a Britishcitizen from LondonAnton Balasingham is hisname. The British government does sweet little ornothing about his operations and permits evencelebrations of terrorist events on the British soil,where the outfit is (nominally?) banned. Duringthe tsunami disaster the British Navy took anLTTE leader to one of its warships off the easterncoast! Later the British claimed they didnt knowhe was an LTTE leader. Poor British intelligence!BBC appears to be following the same policytowards the LTTE, which is on a campaign todivide a Commonwealth nation.The World Press Freedom Day is beingcommemorated in Colombo on a grand scale.The press must have unbridled freedom theworld over and no stone should be left unturnedin our efforts to achieve that noble goal. Butfreedom sans responsibility, like power withoutcontrol, means disaster. Hence the need forholding the journalistic call girls (and callboys)irrespective of the colour of their skinat baywithout letting them bring the noble professionof journalism to the same level as the oldestprofession in the world. The sooner it is done,the better it is for the genuine practitioners.With rancour and malice towards none.during the run up to last years presidentialelection. Some went even further, calling him aSinhala Extremist, a chauvinist, and pinning ananti-peace tag to his name. His main ally, thePeoples Liberation Front, better known by itsSinhala acronym, JVP, is consistently described as aSinhala extremist party. So too the lesser ally,Jathika Hela Urumaya (all of whose members inparliament are Buddhist monks).The hard line they have taken has been one oftreating the LTTE and the Tamil people asdistinctly separate entities. They have not said noto negotiations with the LTTE but have taken theposition that terrorism should be called terrorism.They have rejected a federal solution to the conflictand have offered valid reasons for their positionwhich they claim they are prepared to substantiateand defend. In the end theirs is another position,as or more valid than any other. They havearticulated these positions democratically and notat gun point.Now let us suppose that these individuals andparties are actually anti-peace, actually racist,chauvinist etc. By the same token, what are theappropriate adjectives for the LTTE? One mansterrorist, we know, is anothers freedom fighter,but surely a foreign correspondence has enoughintelligence to describe what he or she sees interms that are understood?Some tears are less newsworthy - 10
  • 12. The impartiality of politicalcommentatorsMost news agencies seek to add colour to theirstories by obtaining a comment from an expert orexperts. In the case of Sri Lanka, the most quotedare Jehan Perera (National Peace Council),Pakaiasothy Saravanamuttu (Centre for PolicyAlternatives), Jayadeva Uyangoda (Social ScientistsAssociation) and Kumar Rupesinghe (Foundationfor Co-exsitence). All these individuals roughly fallinto a thin section of the spectrum of politicalviews on the conflict, a section that is more or lesssympathetic to the LTTE to the extent that theygloss over LTTE atrocities and try to confer theLTTE parity of status vis a vis the Government of SriLanka. Interestingly they equate peace to a federalarrangement but very rarely do they utter the termsdemocracy, pluralism or human rights. They arelargely silent on the issue of child soldiers.We doubt whether reporters always obtain the realweight of the views of such people, something thatcan only be assessed subsequent to investigatingtheir stake in the issue. They are invested in therelevant politics in particular ways for very tangiblereasons. And yet, the NMAT encourages and eveninsists that reporters seek the opinion of the abovementioned people for they do represent a certainclass of perceptions albeit a slim one. However, inthe interest of obtaining a proper perspective onthe range of views, should they not elicit the viewsof others who are equally qualified (by virtue ofboth certification and intimate knowledge of theissues)?We have seen how reporters are quick to grabstatements issued by the LTTE and treat them asthough they are articles of faith. We have noobjection for everyone should have the right toarticulate. The question is, why dont these verysame reporters obtain the view from the other sideas well? Isnt balanced reporting a virtue any more?The tears and anguish of mother who lost their children to forcedconscription probably make a good story. That story has onlybeen scantily sketched so far.11 - Some tears are less newsworthy
  • 13. There is an organization in Sri Lanka called the FreeMedia Movement (FMM). The FMM was launched inthe run up to the 1994 elections, mainly to supportwhat was then viewed as the progressive forces ledby Chandrika Kumaratunga. After the election themembership of the FMM declined to the point thattoday it has only a handful of card carryingmembers if you will. The reason, some havepointed out, is that the FMM has evolved into anoutfit that grossly misrepresents the conflict in theNorth and East, being patently partial towards theLTTE going to the extent of whitewashing its manyand various atrocities.The FMM is quick to denounce any untoward actperpetrated by the Government and to take issuewith any statement that is deemed to be detrimentalto media freedom and communal harmony. Its chiefspokesperson, Sunanda Deshapriya, one can argue,is not a journalist in any sense of the word for he isThe Free Media Movementa propagandist which is not the same thing. This iswhat is evident in the occasional columns he pensfor Sinhala newspapers.The FMM and indeed everyone should denounceany act that steps out of the legal framework. Bythe same token, should not the FMM rise above theconflict and not use double standards? An atrocityis an atrocity whoever perpetrates it. A murder is amurder. Terrorism is terrorism. One human life isand its discontentsDharmaratnam Sivaram and Relangi Selvarajah:one life less worth than the other?Some tears are less newsworthy - 12
  • 14. as precious as any other human life.All this is perhaps best illustrated in the different waysin which the FMM responded to two killings, that ofDharmaratnam Sivaram, the editor of the pro-LTTEwebsite tamilnet.com and widely read politicalcolumnist, and that of Relangi Selvarajah, a freelanceradio and television presenter who has been at timescritical of the LTTE.Sivaram was abducted by unknown gunmen andkilled on April 28, 2005. This is what the FMM hadto say."The Free Media Movement expresses shock andsorrow at the abduction and murder of journalistDharmaratnam Sivaram and views this murder as aviolation of broad democratic rights and of mediafreedom.The FMM expresses appreciation for his role as ajournalist not on the basis of the views that he heldbut on the basis of the dynamism and diversity thathe brought to Sri Lankan media.The despicable manner of his abduction and murderpoint to the fact that his murderers and the politicalenvironment in which they operate are based onanti-democratic principles which allow a struggle tobe carried on, not in the realm of ideas but in therealm of murder and mayhem. The assassination ofnot only media persons but of ordinary civilians whohold opinions that differ from your own has becomea common practice in the Sri Lankan political arenaover the past twenty years and grows like a cancerthat overshadows our present."This statement was issued on April 30, 2005, i.e.one day after Sivarams body was found. DeshapriyaDoubtless the so-called Co-Chairs who were tomeet in Oslo on Friday would have issued theircustomary statement by the time this columnappears.Those acquainted with previous statements by theCo-Chairs and other international groups andorganisations purportedly interested in bringingpeace to Sri Lanka would not be surprised if this“Gang of Four” urged the government and theLTTE to desist from further violence, to showrestraint and return to the negotiating table as thetwo sides promised in February.It would be tragic for the country if it, they wouldsay and it is of course true. One could expect themixture to be as before, unless they have thistime plucked up enough courage in the face ofmindless violence not to fall prey to theSuicide bombings andthe world outsideThis article, which appeared in theSunday Times of April 30, 2006,comments on the issue of media (mis)representation and double-standardswhen reporting on the LTTE and theSecurity Forces of the Government ofSri Lanka. The article follows theaborted attempt to assassinate SriLankas Army Commander, SarathFonseka. NMAT highlights certainsections for the purpose of alerting thereader to salient aspects of the matter.13 - Some tears are less newsworthy
  • 15. in his columns and comments given to the mediadid not hesitate to point his finger at theGovernment. The FMM organized a demonstrationcondemning the murder. Subsequently when it wasfound out that the murder had been committed bya rival Tamil group, the FMM did not think itnecessary to apologize for its irresponsibleconjectures.Now let us look at how the FMM responded to themurder of Relangi Sivarajah. Relangi was killed onAugust 12, 2005, along with her husband, at theirhome. It took the FMM seven days to issue astatement regarding these murders. It took theFMM almost two weeks to organize ademonstration that spoke of the killings and evenhere the case of Relangi was little more than a footnote in the overall thrust of the event, the allegedassaulting of a Tamil journalist at a political rally.But what did the FMM say?Free Media Movement strongly condemns thekilling of Journalist Relangi Selvarajah and herhusband Selvarajah by unknown gunmen on 12thFriday, August 2005. They were both shot dead atapproximately 1.00pm at Bambalapitiya, Colombo.Journalist Relangi Selvarajah was a full timejournalist at the Sri Lanka BroadcastingCooperation (sic) (SLBC) a few years ago and wasworking as a part time TV presenter at the SriLanka Rupavahini Cooperation (sic) (SLRC) at thetime of her killing. This killing too has thetrademark of the ongoing killing spree of rivalTamil armed groups. FMM condemns this murderon the grounds of right to life and journalistsblandishments and argumentative gobbledegookof Oslo trying desperately to save theirdiplomatic midwifery from ending up as anotherpolitical abortion.Naturally one cannot speak for Mr VelupillaiPrabhakaran though it is not difficult to read hismind on his immediate and long objectives.One would also not be far off the markconcluding that the vast majority of Sri Lankanswant a peaceful solution to this seeminglyintractable problem so that they may live theirlives without fear of being blown up orconstricted by threats of violence.The recentlocal government elections in Sri Lanka saw themore virulently nationalistic political partiessuffering ignominious defeats and the people ofthe South supporting peace negotiations withthe LTTE.The South -- and that includes Sinhala, Tamil,Muslim and other smaller ethnic groups --mandated President Mahinda Rajapaksa tonegotiate a peaceful solution that would meetthe aspirations of the different communitieswithout sacrificing the countrys sovereignty andterritorial integrity.Had the people thought differently they wouldhave clearly backed the JVP and the JHU and anyother chauvinistic party calling for a muchtougher politico-military approach to the LTTE.Yet the international community, if one mightuse that rather loose term, has failed to graspthe significance of this political developmentand has not ascribed to the people in the souththe merit they deserve.Some tears are less newsworthy - 14
  • 16. rights. Although FMM does not point the finger atany group for this killing, it notes that both of themare said to have close connections with anti LTTE(Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) former militantgroup PLOTE. FMM as on previous occasionearnestly requests armed Tamil groups andmovements to engage in peaceful means to sort outtheir differences and not to make journalists atarget of their battles. At the same time FMM urgesthe Government to initiate speedy inquiry into theabove killings.Note that there was no shock and sorrowexpressed here. Here is it about differencesbetween armed Tamil groups and movements. Inthe case of Sivaram, the FMM observes that hismurderers and the political environment in whichthey operate are based on anti-democraticprinciples which allow a struggle to be carried on,not in the realm of ideas but in the realm of murderand mayhem. Do the murderers of Relangi operatein a different political environment? Is the point notworthy of reiteration? Is the life of one personworth more than another? What is the politicspertaining to what one might call relativeimmediacy? A member of the FMM is reported tohave said that no one can tell if Relangis murderwas politically motivated by way of explaining thedelay in issuing a statement. Surely the sameargument could have been applied to Sivaram aswell?Sadly this has been the signature of the Free MediaMovement all along. The name is pregnant with somuch potential, but its practise has been sosuspect that it has served to give a bad name tofree media in the broader sense.At the same time those guilty of orchestratingthe violence we have seen since the election ofMahinda Rajapaksa last November and theserious escalations thereafter have gone largelyunpunished except for the pro-forma verbalcondemnations that emanate from theseworthies now and then.This despite the fact that some of the majorwestern countries that have an interest insteering Sri Lanka towards peace havethemselves been the victims of suicidebombings and other terrorist attacks.So where is the European Union that some sevenmonths ago was threatening the LTTE withsanctions if it did not refrain from violence? Whythis inaction in the face of grave provocationsthat actually is a slap to the collective face of theEU?Besides the US, the victim of the 9/11 attacks,Britain and Spain suffered from terroristbombings in recent years. Other EU nations suchas France and Germany have also beensubjected to various forms of terrorism over theyears.They have acted tough and some are doing soeven now as new anti-terrorism laws come intooperation. Yet they expect others to act withrestraint and absorb the blows of terrorism(even when civilians and non-combatants arekilled or maimed) instead of trying to eliminateor minimise the threat of such terrorism.How many of these voices that call for restraintfrom the Sri Lanka government and the armed15 - Some tears are less newsworthy
  • 17. On April 23, 2006, around 4.50 pm, LTTE terroristskidnapped and killed six Sinhala farmers. Theattack took place in Kallanpattuwa,Gomarankadawala in the district of Trincomalee.The farmers were working in their paddy fieldswhen they were taken and shot. Four of them arestudents of the Gomarankadawala Maha Vidyalaya,forces that have been the victims of a war ofattrition conducted by those whosimultaneously plead their commitment topeace, were raised in rage and outrage whenwestern nations invaded Iraq? And it was noteven the perpetrator of the 9/11 attacks?Did we hear Norway, the self-proclaimedarchitect of peace, unequivocally condemn theUS and Britain for launching the invasion thathas today turned virtually into a civil war inwhich innocents are being slaughtered daily?Why is Sri Lanka being treated differently whenits people are equally victims of terrorism asthose of western countries? Are Sri Lankan livescheaper or expendable while western lives aresacrosanct and must be safeguarded even if itmeans invading countries that have proved tobe involved in the attacks?Why has the situation facing the electedgovernments of Sri Lanka which is far moredemocratic than some other nations favouredby the west, not been fully appreciated by theoutside world even at a time when terrorism isbeing roundly condemned?The reasons are to be found both within andwithout the country. A systemic failure in ourcommunication policy that blows hot and coldand handled by persons who seem to be moreinterested in designations and the perks ofoffice than bringing coherence andprofessionalism into it.It is also to be found among oft-quoted NGO-wallahs who thrive on monetary handouts fromOf tears,seenand unseen,reported and neglectedSome tears are less newsworthy - 16
  • 18. Eranda Sandaruwan Rupasinghe was 17, LalithKumara Dissanayake 16, Aruna Shantha 19 andAjith Kumara 19. They were all students.Wasantha Kumara (29) was a farmer and ChamindaPrashantha Bandara (27) a Home Guard. Accordingto eye witnesses the attackers were young menwhose ages ranged from 16-18.This attack on civilians was not a one-off affair.The LTTE has launched hundreds of such attacksdonors in Norway, Sweden, Britain, the USA tomention some and sing when the big brothersabroad wave the baton or distribute theirfavourite hymn sheets.Consider this last paragraph from a news reportfrom The Times of London the day following lastweeks suicide bomb attack. “Jehan Perera, thehead of the National Peace Council think-tank,said that both the Tiger attack and thegovernment response were acts of war.”I dont know if and where this Perera chapstudied international law but he finds guilty notonly the aggressor but the state that defends itsinterests, territory, nationals and propertyagainst a perpetrator that still claims to adhereto the ceasefire it signed.If Jehan Pereras comment is the view of thisthink-tank (apparently funded by Norway), thenobviously it needs to start thinking again.The foreign media are not much different when itcomes to distortion and not seeing the largerpicture.Last Wednesday the BBC website carried a storyabout civilians fleeing from air strikes andquoting its Colombo Correspondent DumeethaLutra whose reporting I have had occasion tocomment on before. What is interesting is theremark carried separately from the main storyunder the headline “Have Your Say.”It quotes somebody named Ajantha Rajasinghe ofColombo who says: “No one here believes it is asuicide attack as the headquarters is heavilyConsider this last paragraph from a news reportfrom The Times of London the day following lastweeks suicide bomb attack. “Jehan Perera, thehead of the National Peace Council think-tank,said that both the Tiger attack and thegovernment response were acts of war.”I dont know if and where this Perera chapstudied international law but he finds guilty notonly the aggressor but the state that defends itsinterests, territory, nationals and propertyagainst a perpetrator that still claims to adhereto the ceasefire it signed.If Jehan Pereras comment is the view of thisthink-tank (apparently funded by Norway), thenobviously it needs to start thinking again.Last Wednesday the BBC website carried a storyabout civilians fleeing from air strikes andquoting its Colombo Correspondent DumeethaLutra whose reporting I have had occasion tocomment on before. What is interesting is theremark carried separately from the main storyunder the headline “Have Your Say.”It quotes somebody named Ajantha Rajasinghe ofColombo who says: “No one here believes it is asuicide attack as the headquarters is heavilyNo one should be transformed in to a nondescriptnumber, but certain killings do that to some people.Some murders are privileged, some poverty-stricken.17 - Some tears are less newsworthy
  • 19. on civilian targets and murdered in cold bloodthousands. This is not the place to enumerate.What is important to understand is that this was adeliberate attack on civilians. In this sense it isqualitatively different from an air strike thatfocuses on a military target and in the processkills civilians. On the other hand, neither is lessof a tragedy, especially for the victims and theirloved ones.There have been instances where the Sri Lankanarmed forces have either reacting to an LTTEattack or for some other reason attacked civilians.These attacks are juicily gobbled up by the mediaand splashed around the world. This is goodbecause such exposure is a good deterrent.The question is, how did the world miss themassacre at Gomarankadawala? What happenedto those correspondents, local and foreign, whowere waxing eloquent about the unrest inTrincomalee following the LTTE exploding abomb in the market place? Where did the poetrythey are capable of hide? The massacre atGomarankadawala merited no more than a coupleof lines. The relevant correspondents apparentlydid not interview the survivors or the families ofthe victims. If they did visit the site, few thoughtit necessary to take photographs of tear stainedfaces.A resident from Gomarankadawala could ask, asShylock did in Shakespeares Merchant of Venice,if you prick us, do we not bleed? One could ask,as we do, are some tears less newsworthy thanguarded and all are searched even if they arepregnant.” Does this chap actually exist? How heconcluded that nobody believed in the suicidebomber attack surely beggars belief. If the BBCtook the trouble to highlight such unmitigatednonsense, then obviously it thought that viewwas worth carrying. So why did its ColomboCorrespondent not follow up this obviouslyinteresting angle?It did not as far as I know and so this doubt,once cast, was left hanging dangerously in theair. That is not all. On air Lutra spoke about thebombing and shelling of LTTE bases andimmediately afterwards referred to killing ofsome farmers. She did not mention they wereSinhala farmers killed by the Tigers, thus leavingthe impression that they were victims of militaryshelling.On Wednesday night BBC World television invitedme to its studios at 1.30 or so in the morning. Icould not go due to an injury. The BBC wasinterested in the civilians fleeing their homes.What it did not seem to know, possibly becauseit had never been reported by its correspondentthat for several weeks pro-LTTE organisationshad been urging civilians to seek “protection” inLTTE areas.The LTTE is increasingly exposing Tamil civiliansin the hope that when war comes it could usepossible civilian casualties for its owninternational propaganda. The world seemsunable to see the ploy.guarded and all are searched even if they arepregnant.” Does this chap actually exist? How heconcluded that nobody believed in the suicidebomber attack surely beggars belief. If the BBCtook the trouble to highlight such unmitigatednonsense, then obviously it thought that viewwas worth carrying. So why did its ColomboCorrespondent not follow up this obviouslyinteresting angle?Lutra spoke about thebombing and shelling of LTTE bases andimmediately afterwards referred to killing ofsome farmers. She did not mention they wereSinhala farmers killed by the Tigers, thus leavingthe impression that they were victims of militaryshelling.The BBC wasinterested in the civilians fleeing their homes.What it did not seem to know, possibly becauseit had never been reported by its correspondentthat for several weeks pro-LTTE organisationshad been urging civilians to seek “protection” inLTTE areas.Some tears are less newsworthy - 18
  • 20. others? One could ask, is not the propensity toprivilege some stories, some versions, indicative ofidentifiable political loyalty?What kind of message does the media give suchvictims? We can think of one: you people dontcount. What would the media then say should someof those people decide that to be counted one hasto give back as good as one gets? Any number ofscenarios is possible.There is a disconcerting thought that refuses to befootnoted: where similar incidents are taken tomerit differential coverage, the relevant mediapersonnel are deemed to have been unpardonablylax in professional duty. And, in situations such asthis, such errors do not help, but instead add to theconfusion and willingly or unwillingly have thepotential to provoke unnecessary tragedy.This is the signature photograph of the aftermath of any attack.Some are picked up, some not. This was not19 - Some tears are less newsworthy
  • 21. There is a difference between balance and slant.There is always a privileging that takes place,consciously or unconsciously. This is natural.However there is nothing to say that the media cannotget better, cannot attempt to piece together a fullerpicture of event, explanation and version.There is a point beyond which atrocity cannot beexplained away. There are acts which cannot bedescribed in any other way other than terrorist. Thedevice called colouring, so important to market astory, cannot be differentially applied to similarsituations. It is unethical to introduce the emotive inone instance and insist on the bland in the other whentwo events have the same signature of tragedyinscribed on them.The media has a role to play, an important role in fact.Consequently, any irresponsibility on the part of themedia can translate into an exacerbation of conflict.In an ideal world tears would not ensue from eyes onaccount of the kinds of tragedies the island of SriLanka has known in the recent past. Until such time,let not the tears that are shed be robbed of theirdignity and meaning by a privileging that is so slantedthat it insults the very purpose that the Fourth Estateis supposed to serve.By way of conclusionA man grieves over the loss of a son (above)and so does a mother (below). The former isa Sinhalese the latter a Tamil. Certain thingstranscend identity, but that is somethingthat certain journalists seem to forget.Some tears are less newsworthy - 20
  • 22. National Movement Against Terrorism45/4, Jayasinghe Road, Kirulapone, Colombo 6, Sri LankaTelephone: (94) 011-2813026Email: nmat@sltnet.lkWebsite: www.nmatnet.com