The self-immolation of Ven Bowatte Indraratnana Thero raised many questions. Whatever the late Thero’s intentions may have been, it is unlikely that ‘media ethics’ or lack thereof was something that prompted the horrifying act. That, however, is what we are left with.
The action or rather inaction of those who may have been able to prevent the tragedy, especially the journalist who was ‘in the know’ has spurred much debate on what really constitutes ‘responsibility’ for people in the media industry.
At panel discussion on the subject organized by the Sri Lanka Press Institute, a young journalist Tharaka Basnayake, had asked the following question: ‘How does citizen journalism fits into codes of ethics since almost all the mainstream media outlets encourage citizens to capture whatever they desire and with regard to Indrarathana Thero’s self-immolation, most of the ordinary citizens were busy capturing the action with their mobile phones (against their conscience)?’
The question is simple: ‘Is the journalist’s duty to capture spectacle or whatever is newsworthy as per the dictates of professionalism or react humanely to a situation where choice of action/inaction can make a different between life and death?’ Put another way, ‘Can there ever be guidelines to inform a professional when to drop professional garb and when to put on larger humane clothing?’
It is something we can talk about forever.
The Government has found it fit, under these circumstances, to come up with ‘ethical guidelines’ for journalists. The Government has been fittingly lampooned in the press for the presumptuousness of the exercise, given the fact that politicians and state media personal have hardly covered themselves in glory on account of ethical behavior.
The humor, however, should not stop with the Government or the State Media or even journalists in general. ‘Ethics’ is a rare commodity, so rare that rather than rarity resulting in high value it has reverted to the other extreme in valuation: nothing. Ethics is talked about. It is scripted into professional oaths. It is tossed into advertising copy. It is almost as though the word would make palatable any excrement as such is dished out by the corporate world or by professional entities. All it takes is to say, ‘we are ethical’. But are we?
This is the age of the spectacle. This is the era of instant gratification. By omission or commission this world has either embraced or resolved to submit to Mr. Spectacle. All that glitters may not be gold, but glitter fetches a better price than ethics in the market, let us acknowledge. Even crap that is glitter-clothed or worse, glitter-labeled, let us add!
Is he who demands honor, himself honorable? Is she who demands ethical behavior herself ethical in her behavior? Who are the saints here? The truth is that ‘ethics’ cannot be legislated. They cannot be advertised. In short there’s no market for ethics. That’s the brutal fact that is being ignored in the debate.
Today’s market is full of goods and services deliberately marked with planned obsolescence; things are made to break (sooner rather than later) with adequate caveats in the small print regarding warranties to insure the vendor. And what’s good for refrigerators, laptops, mobile phones and iPods is good for the media too. It works. Stories are re-invented. A women jumps into a well with a baby and the media shares the savory details in a way that prompts another depressed individual to execute a copy-cat jump that will continue to keep the media in business. One story is crafted in a way that a follow-up story will result. So what’s new? What’s ‘unethical’ about it? It’s just business as usual in the 21st Century, isn’t it?
The question can be asked, ‘isn’t this how it always was?’ Yes, there were always neethi (laws) and there were always reethi (customs). The difference is that in times gone by, the latter prevailed over the former. The latter drew from an ethical template.
The incident resulted in an interrogation of the media on the subject of ethics, interestingly by those who really don’t have the right to talk about ethics. There cannot be ethics in isolation. There cannot be ethics for some but not for others. But laws, we know, are selective and prejudiced in favor of the powerful, i.e. those who have money or power or both.
Still, that fact alone is not enough to settle for ‘business as usual’. Self-regulation begins with self, it goes without saying. We, the media, as a tribe, are but one part of society and can claim rightful share to its glories and resolve to own up to its shame. We could play safe and say ‘let’s see you go first!’ but that’s cop-out option.
We cannot get anyone to pay for even a tiny advertisement pleading ‘Let’s be ethical’. We can but be ethical, as per our sense of right and wrong, regardless of professional dictates (which too, let us not forget, are for the most part ‘owned’ by corporate prerogatives).
*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at www.malindawords.blogspot.com
“….establishing a complete series of methods which will allow the controlling oligarchy……to get people to really like their servitude. This is the, it appears to me, the ultimate in malevolent revolutions”. –Aldous Huxley (The Ultimate Revolution)
In the course of his current Ugandatour, President Mahinda Rajapaksa was reportedly enchanted by the servile conduct of the Ugandans he came into speak to with. According to the political column of last Sunday’s Rivira, the Lankan President asked his Ugandan counterpart, “When we appear at them (Ugandans) it is clear that they have a very obedient nature. How did you handle to make them so obedient?” President Musevini’s response was that this servility was a relic of the Colonial ethos, when White Masters kept their Black and Brown Subjects in total subjugation.
In a democracy uncritical obedience is a unsafe vice. Despotic rule can’t survive without uncritical obedience. Colonial rulers treated colonised peoples as political infants incapable of handling independence. Tyrants too regard their subjects as eternal political-minors, incapable of dealing with freedom.
Foremost amongst the freedoms considered unsafe by actual and nascent despots is the appropriate to info, the freedom of the individuals to know what is happening in their personal nation. Over the years the Rajapaksas have managed to subdue most of the print media. At present, websites are their major targets. In this month alone, de facto banns were imposed on numerous web sites which includes Gossip Lanka and Lanka Eagle.
The Rajapaksa worry of a free of charge and critical media is comprehensible. The Siblings have a lot to hide.
Take land grabbing. At present this is a major dilemma confronting not just by the Tamil individuals of the North but also by the Sinhala people of the South. Parallel to the stealth campaign of demographic reengineering in the North, the Rajapaksas are conducting an even more secretive operation of class and partisan-political reengineering in the South. Their ultimate aim is to create a new demographic which will render tough any democratic/electoral resistance to Familial Rule.
In the North, private lands are getting expropriated to create new army camps and military cantonments. For instance, according to Parliamentarian MA Sumanthiran, the regime is utilizing the Land Acquisition Act to expropriate 6,400 acres of land to build a military cantonment in Jaffna: “….the notice says that the claimants are not traceable! The owners of these lands live just outdoors the so known as illegal Higher Safety Zone, in camps maintained by the government itself. They have lived there for over 25 years. And although their title to these lands were checked and cleared by a Committee appointed by the Supreme Court in 2006, they were not permitted to go and resettle on the false assertion that de-mining was not comprehensive. That it is false is demonstrated by the sight of soldiers cultivating these lands….. Now abruptly, the government has shown its true face: these lands will be taken and given to other folks to occupy, who will turn into voters in the North. Equivalent notices have been issued in the Kilinochchi Distrct also. In the Eastern Province, guidelines have gone out to obtain all the land that the military deems needed for its purposes”[i].
These cantonments and military bases are getting superimposed on a Tamil terrain to break the current ethnic contiguity of the North, thereby to render devolution not possible and to maintain Tamils in a continued state of subjection. Its other – and no significantly less important goal – is to make it possible for the Rajapaksas to win elections in the North, with a minimum quantity of violence and malpractices.
Most Sinhalese are indifferent to the situation of land-grabbing due to the fact they see it as a Tamil dilemma. The Rajapaksas would want this ignorance – and the consequent indifference – to last as lengthy as achievable. The plight of Colombo’s poor, who are facing the danger of becoming evicted from their houses en masse, has received some interest but the plight of the Sinhala peasants of Ampara who have been chased away from their classic lands is virtually unknown. In 2011, the Lankan Navy grabbed far more than 1,200 acres of land close to the tourist hot-spot ofPanama consequently thousands of Sinhala villagers of Shasthrawela, Ragamwela, Ulpassawela, Horowkanda and Ella lost their properties and their signifies of livelihood. A comparable fate has befallen the fisher-folk of Kalpitiya.
When the state requires more than private land for development purposes, it is obligated to provide the owners with either compensation or alternate lands. This is how successive governments in Sri Lanka carried out themselves, by and large. The Rajapaksas have developed a different method land grabbing is becoming carried out, added-legally, making use of the military. The situation is hence ‘militarised’ and garbed in the protective-attire of ‘national security’. This way the owners can be threatened at will, the Sinhala-language media silenced and environmental laws and archaeological regulations ignored. For instance, in Ampara, “though sanctions have been imposed by the Forest Department, Archaeological Department, Coast Conservation Department and Central Environmental Authority on carrying out any improvement operate on forestlands, the Sri Lanka Navy claims that such formalities are entirely discarded when the Defence Ministry approves their projects. Speaking on the construction work carried out by the Navy in Panamain the Ampara District, Navy Spokesman Commander Kosala Warnakulasuriya stated that they have not followed any of these procedures nor would they require permission from the mentioned institutions as the building is becoming carried out on Defence Ministry land. ‘This is a Defence Ministry land and there is no necessity to get approval from any department to carry out any of our improvement function,’ claimed Warnakulasuriya[ii].
The Defence Ministry and the military are the law, not just in the Tamil-North, but even in the Sinhala-South. The ultimate objective of these acts of dispossession is to fill the Rajapaksa coffers, buttress the Rajapaksa dynastic project and render hard any powerful national resistance to Rajapaksa rule.
The Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim victims of land-grabbing have a issue and an opponent in common. Therefore coordinating their different acts of resistance into a single struggle tends to make perfect sense. However, rather of this essential and possible national campaign – ideally with the participation of the opposition parties – resistance is fragmented along regional/ ethnic/class lines.
The Siblings do not want the Sinhalese to understand that they are not immune to Rajapaksa-injustice. The Siblings do not want the Sinhalese to realise that the military, far from becoming ‘our boys’, are Rajapaksa tools (just as the Tigers served not the Tamil folks but Vellupillai Pirapaharan). The Siblings do not want their Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim victims to uncover the typical ground and mount a coordinated resistance. The Siblings want to atomise Lankans along ethnic, religious and class lines, to avoid a united opposition to familial rule from coming into getting. The only Sinhala-Tamil-Muslim unity they want to market is a unity in apathy and indifference.
The Rajapaksa project aims at the psychological reengineering of the Lankan people. They want an ignorant nation which equates distinction with danger. They want a men and women more concerned about hemlines or eating habits than land-grabbing or kid abuse. They want a nation seeped in mutual-suspicion and habituated into obedience.
They want a nation which, unconsciously, cooperates in its own subjugation and undoing.
Nationalism has been the main guiding ideology of many of the countries in the world in modern times, and even before, whether we like it or not. If nationalism could be replaced completely by liberalism or socialism, or by a combination of both, the world would be a better place to live. But that is not the reality as at present. Both liberalism and socialism have often capitulated to nationalism, and worst of all to ethno nationalism. This is the case in Sri Lanka and elsewhere. But this is not to give up hopes. Sri Lanka or the world at large still has a chance, if civic nationalism could be strengthened and forged without neglecting ethnic identities and equal rights of ethnic communities.
What I mean by civic nationalism is that kind of nationalism which could unite all or greater majority of the citizens of a polity irrespective of ‘race,’ ethnicity, religion or any other such distinction. Any other such distinction can be language, caste or even gender. For this to happen there should be an enlightened creed or policy, enunciated by a strong multiethnic leadership, a party or a movement.
Ethno nationalism in contrast is that nationalism which divides people on racial, ethnic, religious or language lines and invariably strengthens caste or gender discrimination, depending on the country of concern. Most often ethno-nationalism is the product of primordial instincts and affiliations.
Origins of Distinction
The distinction between civic nationalism and ethno nationalism was first made by Hans Kohn in 1940 when he wrote The Idea of Nationalism. One reason to make that distinction was the experience in Germany under Fascism. Kohn was of Jewish origin who had to flee Germany facing ethno nationalist violence and atrocities. As we all know, the German variety of ethno nationalism led to the Second World War that cost more than 15 million human lives and many other disasters.
The emergence of the two types of nationalism was also observed vaguely by Ernest Renan as far back as 1882 when he wrote Qu’est –ce qu’une Nation? (What is a Nation?). The reason again was the distinction between nationalism in France and Germany.
The French Revolution of 1789 is considered to be the mother of modern nationalism.
I use the adjective ‘modern’ to allow the possibility of the existence of some proto types of nationalism in the pre-modern times in the West or the East. However, the phenomenon that we call modern nationalism could hardly exist in pre-modern conditions. An ideology like modern nationalism was not necessary or possible.
The ideology of modern nationalism is supposed to have a ‘vision.’ That vision is to make the national unit and the political unit congruent. The controversy and the conflict, however, have always been on the definition of the national unit (or the nation) and the political unit. In the case of some countries, the achievement of the congruence appeared smooth and easy, but not in all the cases.
Civic nationalism has proved to be quite useful in achieving the vision of national unity (if not congruence) in many countries that have advanced economically, socially and politically. The natural advantage of being socially homogeneous is obviously rare in countries. Only around a dozen of countries might claim for the qualification today. These include the countries like Finland, Norway, Denmark, two Koreas, perhaps Japan and a few of Arabic or Latin American countries. Yet many of them are internally diverse or becoming increasingly multi-ethnic due to increased migration.
When the French Revolution declared the ‘nation to be the base of political sovereignty,’ the idea was to enunciate civic nationalism. The nation was conceived to be the people of all sorts including various minorities. The base of that kind of nationalism or civic nationalism was considered to be ‘the rights of man and the citizen.’ This is equivalent to the conception of today’s human rights. Whatever the distortions that Franceen countered after the revolution, the origins of civic nationalism could be traced to that revolution. It was the same by and large in Britain where civic nationalism prevailed over ethno nationalism.
In contrast, the origin of ethno nationalism was mainly Germany. The two thinkers who advocated ethno nationalism at the onset of the 19th century were Johann Fichte and Johann Herder. According to them, ‘people are eternally divided into nations.’ The ‘proof of this division is the language.’ The meaning that they gave to nation is equivalent to race or ethnicity. The nation is a collectivity. It is like the body. Nationalism is its sole. ‘A state based on ethnicity is the embodiment of both the body and the sole.’ This may sound rational and logical at first glance, but in practice or in essence it is insane and foolish.
While ethno nationalism is an organic theory, civic nationalism is not. Civic nationalism has only a functional or utility value. One is emotional and the other is rational. While ethno nationalism is exclusive, civic nationalism is not. Civic nationalism is inclusive of diversity, pluralism and democracy. While the contrast between the two types of nationalism is considerable, in social reality they may exist side by side in real world conditions. The issue is what the dominant trait in a particular country or society is and what the guiding principles of nationalism are.
Relevance to Sri Lanka
One may question the relevance of the distinction between civic nationalism and ethno nationalism to Sri Lanka. Another may go even further and reject the relevance of foreign or ‘Western notions’ at all to Sri Lanka. Whatever may be the reservations,Sri Lanka’s present predicament is related to these two notions directly and indirectly.
This does not mean that Sri Lanka acquired these two notions one from France or Britain and the other from Germany.France and Germanyare only two examples where these two notions appeared in distinct forms in the Western hemisphere. That is also not completely correct. While civic nationalism was predominant in France, there is evidence of ethno nationalism appearing intermittently undermining civic nationalism at times. This was the case in Germany as well. Before Hitler came to power, there were attempts at forging nationalism on civic grounds under the Weimar Republic(1918-1933). Social Democracy was the main ideology that facilitated civic nationalism in Germany at that time. NM Perera wrote his doctoral thesis on that republic and even appreciated civic nationalism behind its constitution.
The emergence of nationalism is related to modern socio-economic changes. In the process of modernization and nation building or one may say in the course of capitalist development, many countries both in the West and the East have zigzagged between civic nationalism and ethno nationalism.Sri Lanka is no exception. But the question is for how long Sri Lanka could afford to go along in this tortuous path with instability and uncertainty. In the case of Sri Lanka, it is not just a question of instability or uncertainty. Ethno nationalism on both sides has led to nearly 25 years of internal war with at least over 100,000 direct deaths, not to speak much of the other disasters like displacement and human misery.
In the development of national feelings or nationalism, it is somewhat natural for different communities in a multi-ethnic society to first focus on one’s own community in religious, ethnic or language grounds. Therefore, the appearance of religious revivalist movements amongst the Buddhists, the Hindus or the Muslims towards the beginning of the 20th century was quite natural, inevitable or even healthy. This was more so given the colonial circumstances.
One of the main vehicles of nationalism is the media – the print media in the context of the past. One predicament of the print media, however, is the language barrier. According to Benedict Anderson, ‘nation is an imagined community.’ This does not mean that nation is a fiction. But ‘nation’ is formed in a process of imagination or conceptualization. The print media plays a decisive role in this process and most often promotes ethno nationalism instead of civic nationalism. This may be understandable at the beginning. There was nothing particularly wrong in the publication of Sinhala Jathiya on the one side of the fence, and Hindu Organ on the other side of the same, at the beginning of the nationalist movement in the country.
Likewise, the formation of the Tamil Maha Sabhas or the Sinhala Maha Sabhas was understandable in the interim. But the failure of the Ceylon National Congress to be an overarching national organization could not be easily forgiven. At the beginning of the nationalist movement in Sri Lanka, then called Ceylon, there were a plethora of organizations based not only on ethnicity and religion but also on caste and region. All must have been inevitable given the context. But the failure was to forge a national organization similar to the Indian National Congress (INC) which could unite people and direct the country for independence. Even in India there were failings on the part of the INC.
There is nothing wrong in ordinary people having ethnic feelings in a multi-cultural society. But at least the leaders should be able to transcend them. Otherwise they are not proper leaders. The building of civic nationalism does not mean the eradication or suppression of all ethnic or religious affiliation or feelings. It means the transcending parochial or narrow ethnic or religious feelings for the greater good of all communities. Civic nationalism does recognize the importance of ethnic identity of the majority or the minorities, but on an equal basis. But there is no possibility of recognizing one or one against the other.
Sri Lanka has been lucky to achieve independence in one piece in 1948. This also shows the existence of some form of civic nationalism towards independence. The failure of the country, however, was its inability to continue and strengthen this path and the blame should go to the main two political parties, the SLFP and the UNP. Hans Kohn has opted to give an explanation on why ethno nationalism predominates over civic nationalism, if it does. His explanation is on class or economic lines linking the strength of civic nationalism to the existence of a strong bourgeoisie or a business class, and in contrast ethno nationalism to a weak bourgeoisie. This may have some relevance even in the case of Sri Lanka.
But in Sri Lanka one may find many other additional reasons such as the pre-modern social influences, distortions in the democratic system or the ‘dark side of it,’ or divide and rule policy of colonialism, to mention only a few. There is no question that the country also faced a vortex of problems at independence, some deriving from the colonial heritage. The issues of citizenship, official language, further decolonization and the need of an endogenous constitution were some of them. In addition was the question of how to divide the ‘small cake’ that we inherited.
While all these could have been resolved on civic nationalist lines strengthening unity, mutual understanding, equity and fair play, the leaders unfortunately opted to utilize ethno nationalism and its partial criteria to device public policy in post-independence Sri Lanka.
The blame should go not only to the parties of the majority community but also to the parties of the minority communities. There was considerable reluctance on the part of the Tamil leaders to cooperate on national policy and take mutual responsibility on national issues. Rights were claimed but there was no proper readiness to take responsibility. This was the predicament of ethno nationalism.
There is no meaning of arguing who started ethno nationalism first or who should be blamed most. There is no possibility to say one type of ethno nationalism is better than the other. All types of ethno nationalism are detrimental to national or human progress. The only exception can be the fact that numerically minority communities do have disadvantages than a majority community in general because of the numbers and political power. This has to be recognized.
The question, however, is how to forge civic nationalism in the future while recognizing ethnic identities and their separate interests which are not detrimental to national unity. There is no possibility of de-ethnicising people whether they belong to the majority community or minority communities. There is no need for that either.
Civic nationalism is the overarching glue for national unity of any country. Civic nationalism is compatible with internationalism or other civic nationalisms. Civic nationalism cannot be forged instantly, but some of the main elements are already in existence in our society. Many of them are available in (1) all four religious teachings (2) principles of liberalism and socialism and (3) discourse of human rights and responsibilities.
This may appear civic nationalism to be eclectic, but the issue is to select the necessary principles from a host of practically available sources. The most important might be to forge possible unity, solidarity and cooperation among the leaders of all communities to stand above ethno nationalism and to seek solutions on the lines and in strengthening civic nationalism. This is equally important to our discussions on restructuring of the state or constitution on the lines of devolution or federalism.
In the event of the government facilitating UN Secretary General’s Panel to visit Sri Lanka, the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) will hear such representations on the basis of its Warrant and the usual procedures followed for such hearings, the LLRC said in a statement.
Following is the statement:
UN SG’s Panel
There have been some inquiries from the national media regarding a visit to Sri Lanka by the UN Secretary General’s Panel. Any decision to facilitate the UN SG’s Panel to visit Sri Lanka lies entirely with the Government of Sri Lanka. If a decision is made to permit such a visit the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) will hear such representations on the basis of its Warrant and the usual procedures followed for such hearings >> Full Story
An excellent piece in the New York Times today talks about ‘Monks Gone Bad’, describing a corrupt and violent Sangha that uses hate speech and abuse against minorities and is helmed by leaders who resemble fatuous politicians and not the ‘birds of the wing’ that the Buddha wanted his mendicant followers to be. I am not here to point out the contradictions between Buddhism as taught and Buddhism as practiced, the ingloriousness of Buddhist praxis nowadays is evident for all to see. I just wanted to point out that at every instance in that article where I saw Myanmar, I could have easily inserted Sri Lanka. For every instance where I read about 969 in the news, I can insert ‘Bodu Bala Sena’. About the only words that do not require replacing are ‘anti-Muslim’, ‘minority’ and ‘hate’.
As we all know, the police, together with the Bodu Bala Sena soon disbursed the vigil, arresting some, manhandling others, and collecting the names and pictures of most of the attendees.
The Bodu Bala Sena and its kindred run amok in Sri Lanka, like bullies in a school playground, and with not much more in the way of finesse. They hurl offensive invective towards religious minorities, and their words have resulted in quite a few violent incidents against Muslims ,and at least one against Christians, re-opening wounds in the country that are still struggling to heal after the 30 year war. They seem to operate in a space where Sri Lanka has not just lost so many lives, its economic development, and so much of its natural beauty to a long, long war. In order, perhaps, to call their attention to this, a peaceful vigil was held outside the headquarters of the Bodu Bala Sena. As we all know, the police, together with the Bodu Bala Sena soon disbursed the vigil, arresting some, manhandling others, and collecting the names and pictures of most of the attendees. Not only this, the Facebook page of the Bodu Bala Sena decided to ‘name and shame’ these attendees, causing their supporters to enact the most disgraceful bout of name-calling, verbal harassment and racist trolling that I have ever seen on social media.
One of the ‘points of order’ from the Bodu Bala Sena, its supporters and some of the media who covered the incident, was that the legitimacy of the vigil was in question because the attendees did not represent the Buddhist population, that many Muslims, Christians and Hindus were present. On Facebook, attendees are called out as ‘demalek’ ‘muslimayek’ ‘jathiyak nathe’. Indeed, an attendee tweeted that he overheard someone saying that the vigil was convened due to a ‘conspiracy of Muslims and Catholics’. So much for a critical understanding of religious history- perhaps the speaker would be better served from devoting his time to education rather than racist troublemaking! To each his own, however. It is altogether more worrying thing that this misrepresentation of the attendees was not only picked up by the media, but that it was also the feature of an article by Malinda Seneviratne, writing in the Colombo Telegraph. The good gentleman, from his considerable experience, no doubt, is able to discern a Buddhist from a non-Buddhist, and therefore writes an entirely unnecessary article that serves only to distance himself from standing with those who attended the vigil. In response, Dr Dayan Jayatileka – who is experiencing some changes to his tune- quite rightly pointed out the flaws in Mr Seneviratne’s argument, but did it in a manner that entirely calls attention to his own accomplishments and ‘stake’ in the manner. The riposte from Mr Seneviratne was then, to accuse the good Doctor of ‘throwing his CV’ at him. I ask you, gentlemen, is this really the response to what is happening in Sri Lanka? The actions of the Bodu Bala Sena, and the complicity of the government in them are grotesque enough without the debate being reduced to puerile attacks on each other’s logic.
If you have a voice that can be heard and that has gravitas, and you both have the great privilege of this, why not turn it more fully toward more constructive dialogue? Why not ask that the rights of those who attended the vigil be defended? Countless women- because the body of the woman is so carelessly mangled in these cases- are facing vile, misogynistic abuse via Facebook from the supporters of the Bodu Bala Sena. These men direct all their perverted, violent fantasies at these girls who really do not have much in the way of legal succour. After all, the AG has instructed victims of social media attack to file complaints with the police. Yes, the very same police who put the kybosh in the vigil. Why not direct more energy into rousing the non-English speaking Buddhists to speak out against the Bodu Bala Sena with less articles in places like the Telegraph which are read by the diaspora and the English speakers? Yes, the handicap at the vigil was that there were many who attended who were ‘English speaking’- but that does not make them any less Sri Lankan, any less Buddhist, any less angry, or any less valid in their protesting attacks on minorities. Give out your voice in solidarity with each other, with those who will question the validity of the Bodu Bala Sena, and in solidarity with what must be a better tomorrow.
*Anupama Ranawana is a wishful academic and a practicing activist. She can be reached for comment via Twitter @MsAMR25
In the event of the government facilitating UN Secretary General’s Panel to visit Sri Lanka, the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) will hear such representations on the basis of its Warrant and the usual procedures followed for such hearings, the LLRC said in a statement.
Following is the statement:
UN SG’s Panel
There have been some inquiries from the national media regarding a visit to Sri Lanka by the UN Secretary General’s Panel. Any decision to facilitate the UN SG’s Panel to visit Sri Lanka lies entirely with the Government of Sri Lanka. If a decision is made to permit such a visit the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) will hear such representations on the basis of its Warrant and the usual procedures followed for such hearings
Poddala Jayantha, Secretary of the Sri Lanka Working Journalists’ Association was abducted and assaulted on June 1, 2009. The ‘who’ and the ‘why’ of this attack is yet to be determined and I believe it is of little use to engage in conjecture.
On the other hand, this attack is not the first on a journalist. Over the years many journalists have been abducted, attacked and even killed. Some of these incidents have been investigated to conclusion and some have not.
I am not a member of any media collective. I believe that there are people out there who prefer quiescent journalists to relatively independent ones (‘an independent journalist’ is a non-existent creature) and I know that politicians are pretty sensitive creatures who for the most part don’t have what it takes to stomach criticism. At the same time, we have to keep in mind that journalists are hardly the saints they would like people to believe they are. Journalists are not above the law; they don’t enjoy any special immunity. They have enemies and not all of these enemies are in the Government.
We know that some arrests have been made. We know that Poddala Jayantha was quite an activist, even though one might not agree with the causes he championed or endorsed the policies his fellow-travellers.
Today, there are few, if any, who would stand up and say ‘this was wrong!’ when the news came that Poddala Jayantha had been attacked. Why? First, it was Poddala Jayantha who was attacked. He not only spouted nonsense on occasion regarding the situation in the country, but his organization had intimate dealings with forces that were actively operating to destabilize the country and give leg-room for the Tigers. Under these circumstances and especially after all such efforts have been comprehensively squashed, few would be ready to stand with Jayantha as per the basic civil duty of opposing anything outside the framework of the law. This is after all a period when everyone is a ‘patriot’ and when it is not easy to not be one.
Poddala Jayantha was never a patriot in the sense that he belonged to a motley group of disgruntled Enjoyists (NGO activists) whose livelihoods depended on bad mouthing the Government, the Sinhalese and the Buddhists. The organization he was associated with, the Working Journalists’ Association and its sister organizations in the sphere of agitation are moreover are currently in the dock (along with Jayantha and his pals Sunanda Deshapriya and Balasuriya) for perpetrating fraud. He was certainly a man whose hand can be held even in a moment of tragedy only with trepidation.
Let me repeat, I do not wish to go into the ‘who’ and ‘why’ of this attack. At the same time, one needs to remember that there have been strident ‘expose and kill’ calls regarding journalists and others deemed to have acted against the national interest. Such cries have been raised perhaps by a nationalist urge that has spilled over the boundaries of reason and the need to respect the structures that dispense justice in this country. A moment of euphoria cannot be grudged a nation that has suffered for 30 years under the shadow of terrorism, but that does not justify in any way the call for lynch-mobs.
I should mention also, that not all ‘patriots’ lighting crackers in the print and electronic media were exactly patriotic during those long years when one was called ‘war monger’ or ‘racist’ for saying that the LTTE must and can be defeated militarily. As my friend Shamindra Ferdinando observed in a good-humoured tone laced with a dash of irony, the media war was the private property of ITN and Rupavahini. Until they came into the picture, the media and journalistic fraternity in general was ‘unpatriotic’, they would have us believe.
This mindless ‘call for blood’ may or may not have precipitated this incident. It may be come from elsewhere, but it should alert all of us to the dangerous consequences of irresponsible journalism. On the one hand, a cogent argument can be made for arguments of the Jayantha-asked-for-it kind, even though, strictly speaking Jayantha was not a journalist and not even a working journalist but a person who profited from activism and a man who is under a shadow for defrauding organizations he is associated with. On the other hand, this lets-bypass-the-law attitude is the bread and butter of the worst kind of anarchy possible. We can’t afford it.
A recent post in the Colombo Telegraph by the ‘PM of the TGTE’ expressed solidarity with the Muslim community whilst “extending our fullest support to the Muslim people, we also extend our solidarity to the Muslim community, as a community whose mother tongue is also Tamil, asking them to join the Tamils in their struggle to build a secure future for all in the Tamil state”. The article was written on the back of rising incidents of attack against the Muslim community by extreme Buddhist groups.
I not only found this article laughable but highly delusional in the assumptions that the Muslim community would entertain any notion of an alliance with the TGTE, whose singular premise has been to extend the LTTE mantra and campaign on a separate Tamil state. Making this statement, the TGTE was not necessarily ‘concerned’ about the Muslim community per se, but it was aimed at showing the ‘intolerance’ of Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism. At quite a crucial time for Sri Lanka, during the anniversaries of the Black July pogroms 30 years ago, the article aims to draw parallels with then and now and to show that nothing has changed. Yet interestingly it seems to have taken the TGTE 4 years since the end of the conflict (and the occasions of these incidents) to publicly reach out to the Muslim community
At one level, it is rather presumptuous and hypocritical of the PM of the TGTE to call for solidarity with Muslims and to suggest that there is a secure future for them in a Tamil state. The experience of the Muslims with the Tamils has far from been the case. Without acknowledging let alone at least apologising for what took place in Jaffna and the north in 1990, with the ethnic cleansing of the Muslim community by the LTTE, the TGTE’s sincerity will be questioned and the notion of the safe presence of Muslims in a Tamil state is merely academic.
However it is not just the expulsions from the north that needs to be discussed. There are other elephants in the room that need to be acknowledged between the Tamils and the Muslims. Whilst the end of July was the anniversary of Black July, the beginning of August brought about two poignant yet painful memories for the Muslim community of the 30 year old war which apart from discussions on facebook, didn’t elicit much of a public response.
The horrific shootings at the mosques in Kathankudy, Batticaloa Province, in August 1990 by the LTTE is a painful reminder that the sanctity of religious places of worship is a stain on inter community relations in Sri Lanka and is not something that has been only violated by today’s proponents of Sinhala Buddhist extremism. Visit Kathankudy today and the physical scars of that day are just as visible as the mental scars.
Fast forward to August 2006, and the precursor to the start of hostilities between the government and the LTTE which led to the end of the conflict in 2009, triggering international protests around the world for the way it ended, the killing of civilians and treatment of displaced people. Almost 50,000 mainly Muslims were displaced once again by the LTTE from the village of Mutthur in the Trincomalee district, after leaflets were sent around the town by the LTTE in April of 2006 warning Muslim residents to leave, in a scene almost reminiscent of what happened in Jaffna in 1990. Despite this mass exodus of people from the town and being kept in refugee camps, the international outcry and remembrance will be for the 17 aid workers who were killed in Mutthur during this time. What is also little talked about apart from the actual displacement and the refugee crisis that ensued are the eyewitness accounts that talk about how LTTE cadres intercepted evacuees from Mutthur and separated youth from the group, executing them, with some dying as a result of government shelling.
Without such acknowledgements and recognition of such incidents, the rhetoric of TGTE and many other Tamil representatives (both outside and within Sri Lanka) ring hollow as they opportunistically ‘reach out’.
Of course the opportunistic hypocrisy is not just one sided. There are those in the reconciliation movement who will have to ask themselves some serious questions as they fail to address the trajectory of Sri Lanka currently. 30 years ago when the mobs came hunting for the Tamils, many Muslims were warned that their time would come. It seems recent incidents involving the Muslim community seem to be proving this statement to be true. In the week of the commemoration of the Black July anniversary, there was a lot of naval gazing and hand wringing as people not only openly apologised for the sins of their community but also spoke eloquently about the need for lessons to be learnt.
Yet a few weeks afterwards in the wake of an attack on a mosque in Colombo, seeming to put into action the threats from 30 years ago, it was evident that those laments were nothing more than just rhetoric. The deafening silence of many prominent Sinhalese activists (a large number of them Buddhist), especially those involved in reconciliation work, a large number of them friends (from the UK), has not only been disappointing, but frustrating and disheartening. In the height of the real challenge for reconciliation for the country, it was met with silence and inaction.
Thus in that light, the premise of the article the PM of the TGTE could be interpreted as right: The actions of the minority extreme Sinhala Buddhist elements actually reflect the sentiment of the majority. If that is the case, then there is no hope for any united Sri Lanka where anyone who is non Sinhala Buddhist can hope to live peacefully. One can argue whether that would also exist for non Tamils in the TGTE, but again that is academic.
There are many who argue that had they been able to, they would have spoken out or tried to help during Black July as lessons were learnt The opportunity that they missed then presents itself now. In the absence of any real effort to tackle ethnic and faith problems now, all the rhetoric of reconciliation (by all stakeholders) smells just of opportunistic hypocrisy.
If we truly want reconciliation, then we have to be consistent and at least speak out against any injustice perpetrated in our name.
*Amjad Saleem is the Head of Communications for The Cordoba Foundation, a Muslim-inspired ‘think and do’ tank which provides an alternative communication channel for thought leaders and policy makers on intercultural and religious dialogue, social justice issues and peacebuilding between communities. He is their lead on the Conflicts, Development and Faith Programme and on subjects including South Asia, conflict reconciliation and interfaith dialogue. Prior to this, Amjad was Country Director for British NGO Muslim Aid in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. He has an M.Eng from Imperial College, London, an MBA from U21Global, and is currently pursuing a part-time PhD at Exeter University on faith in post conflict reconciliation. He has lectured part time at the University of East London and Lawrence Tech University in Michigan, and regularly contributes to online journals, websites as well as other media
When you announce that you are going to apply for media accreditation for a routine international political event like the bi-annual Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) you don’t normally expect a rash of death threats – or to find a senior diplomat from the host country threatening on twitter that he will “make sure you don’t get a visa”.
But this year’s CHOGM is no ordinary event. It is being held in Sri Lanka – whose government is accused of some of the worst war crimes of this century. A country marked today by increasing repression of its Tamil minority and a brutal clamp-down on any government critics, particularly among the press and the judiciary.
When David Cameron controversially announced that he would be attending CHOGM despite calls for a boycott, Alistair Burt, the foreign minister with responsibility for Sri Lanka, went on record to say: “We will make it clear to the Sri Lanka Government that we expect them to guarantee full and unrestricted access for international press covering CHOGM”
The omens for that “guarantee” do not look good.
I have now directed three films looking at the events of the last few months of the civil war. The first two were commissioned and broadcast by Channel 4, building on the work of Channel 4 News. The latest, effectively the culmination of three years of investigation, is No Fire Zone: the Killing Fields of Sri Lanka, a 93 minute feature documentary, supported by C4, BRITDOC and others. The films have had a huge impact, winning a number of awards, being cited by the UN and even seeing the team nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
In No Fire Zone we use some of the most disturbing video evidence ever recorded, to chronicle how, just four years ago, the Sri Lankan government announced a series of grotesquely misnamed No Fire Zones, encouraged hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians to gather there for safety – and then systematically shelled them, also denying them adequate food and medicines. Perhaps 40,000, perhaps – as one UN report suggested – 70,000 or even more civilians died, most killed by government shelling. The predicament of the civilians was made worse by the Tamil Tigers who also stand accused of committing war crimes and of preventing civilians from escaping the No Fire Zones.
It is fair to say the government of Sri Lanka does not like me – or others who have reported the truth from Sri Lanka, including C4 News foreign correspondent Jonathan Miller or former BBC Sri Lanka correspondent Frances Harrison, author of a book of Tamil survivors stories.
But when I revealed that I intended to apply for accreditation to CHOGM (as I did when it was last held in Australia in 2011), it provoked an astonishing series of attacks. Comments published online included a series of clear death threats. One of the mildest, in response to my remark: “I trust the Sri Lankan Government will welcome me” read: “Absolutely white van is waiting at the airport.” White vans are notoriously used in the abduction of government critics and are seen as a weapon of terror associated with extra-judicial killings and disappearances.
Another comment said I was welcome in Sri Lanka “only to go back in a coffin”. And another said: “Callum Macrae – do not come to Sri Lanka. You will be abducted in a white van, and sent to meet Lasantha Wikremasinghe (sic).” Lasantha Wickrematunge was the editor and founder of the Sunday Leader – a respected newspaper critical of the Rajapaksa regime. He was shot and killed by unknown assassins in January 2009.
Then – a week ago, as I was touring with the film in Australia – Ambassador Bandula Jayasekara, a senior Sri Lankan diplomat in Sydney and former Chief media advisor to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, issued a series of threatening tweets in which he said he would “make sure you don’t get a visa” and accused me of being “hired by (Tiger) terrorists as a full time propagandist for the blood thirsty terror group overseas”.
Indeed, far from condemning the death threats against me, he seems almost to be encouraging the climate of hostility and suspicion which lies behind them. Then last week the Sri Lankan government’s own media minister echoed his words saying: “press freedom… cannot be something that can be framed inside aiding terrorism or being a propagandist for terrorism. So, we will be 100 per cent cautious about who comes to Sri Lanka for CHOGM.”
As I write this the Sri Lankan government has issued a rather more conciliatory statement, suggesting that they will issue visas to those given accreditation by the Commonwealth Secretariat.
We shall see – and the world’s press will now, I hope, be watching very carefully.
*Callum Macrae – Director – No Fire Zone: the Killing Fields of Sri Lanka, www.nofirezone.org Twitter: @nofirezonemovie
The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned about press accreditation procedures for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting that will be held in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in November. At past meetings, the Commonwealth’s Communications and Public Affairs Division has been responsible for issuing permission to journalists to attend the meeting. And, as you know, the visa application process will soon be under way.
But press reports from Colombo have indicated that the Sri Lankan government intends to enforce stringent background checks on any foreign journalists covering the meeting, with the apparent intention of denying them permission to enter the country. A document recently released by the Sri Lankan government said that the authorities reserve the right to “exclude any person … and impose additional conditions of entry to Sri Lanka … regardless of whether or not that person is accredited.”
Journalists will be issued accreditation by a task force, which is a division of the Sri Lankan Ministry of External Affairs. The ministry has stated that credentials may be “withdrawn, suspended, or deactivated for any reason at any time.”
Ceylon Today reported that on Saturday, Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said authorities would be “cautious about who is coming” because some journalists have attempted to tarnish the country’s image under the “pretext of media freedom” and that they were a threat to the “national security of the country” and would be scrutinized before they are issued visas.
You are well aware, of course, of Sri Lanka’s abysmal press freedom record and the high level of impunity for those who attack or kill journalists. Even though the number of deaths under the current government has subsided, many Sri Lankan journalists have told us of continuing intimidation, and many admit to self-censoring their work in order to not fall afoul of the authorities. Others have told us of coming under threat because of their ethnicity.
Secretary-General Sharma, you have resisted calls for the Commonwealth to change the venue of the November meeting. You said in a June 29 letter published in the Sri Lankan Daily Mirror that the question for the international community was whether to criticize the lack of progress in Sri Lanka from afar or to make a practical difference. The paper quoted you as saying that the Commonwealth had opted for the latter option. You said, “We are active in Sri Lanka in advancing Commonwealth values, including human rights, the media, the judiciary and building mutual respect and understanding in communities.”
While we understand the value of engagement, if the Commonwealth cannot assert its own authority in asking for full media access to such an international event, the future for positive engagement looks bleak.
We ask you to ensure that the Sri Lankan government, which is widely known for its aggressive anti-press stance, does not prohibit access to foreign and local journalists who seek to cover the events surrounding the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. Such an effort on your part would go far to show your commitment to advancing Commonwealth values of media freedom.
With best regards,
Commonwealth Director for the Communications and Public Affairs Division Richard Uku
Minister of External Affairs Gamini Lakshman Peiris
Minister of Mass Media and Information Keheliya Rambukwella