Irresponsible commentaries compromise journalistic ethics
By Satheesan Kumaaran
Nov 6, 2008
Throughout recorded history, no matter what culture - Roman, Greek, Indian, Persian or Chinese - the majority of commentators stood behind their pay masters for their survival. Despite the presence of diverse innovations in the information and technology field resulting in worldwide media coverage of all sorts of happenings around the world, commentators continue to stand behind the oppressors rather than stand up for the oppressed. Their veneer of impartiality on specific issues comes at the tremendous cost of the security and livelihood of the humanity of the area. Commentators on Sri Lankan politics such as Mr. Jayantha de Silva, Mr. Walter Jayawardhana and Mr. D. B. S. Jeyaraj are classic examples of such beyond-ethics journalism.

Prominent Sinhala commentator, Mr. Jayantha De Silva, is a regular contributor to the Australia-based, English/Sinhala tabloid called, Pahana. He claims to have walked through the streets of Tamil areas in the north and east of Sri Lanka from 1965 to 1975 and again from 1984 to 1986. His writings demonstrate the prevailing negative opinions of the Sinhalese about the Tamil nation. I was extremely disappointed with his columns in the August, September and October 2008 issues, especially the articles entitled, "The final lap", and "The Tamil conscience and lessons from the past". These articles have no truth in them whatsoever.

De Silva tried to portray the Tamils as criminal gangs making a fortune from illegal activities such as drug trafficking. He went on to say that the Sri Lankan army, navy and police were present in Tamil areas to monitor the activities of the criminal gangs and to prevent immigrants reaching the shores of Tamil areas in Sri Lanka especially from southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. His article unquestioningly labels all Tamils are criminals.

He argued that Mr. S. J. V. Chelvanayagam and other Tamil politicians sowed the seeds for federalism on the island with their belief that Chelvanayagam could serve as the premier of Tamil federal state. De Silva further described Tamil politicians as the ones who converted the criminals into quasi-political groups and led them to fight the Sri Lankan state. He defended his argument listing many criminal elements said to have been in Vaddukoddai in the 1970s, when the Vaddukkoddai resolution was adopted by the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) and led by Chelvanayagam. Elections were held based on the resolution that there would be an independent Tamil Eelam, and TULF would fight politically for a sovereign Tamil Eelam.

De Silva further held that the Sinhalese armed forces in Tamil areas were well received by the locals although they were not able to speak Tamil. He wrote that a sizeable population of Sinhalese and Muslim communities were present in Mannar and Jaffna, but that the demographics changed drastically after Tamil militancy developed in the region. Sinhalese and Muslims were left no choice but to evacuate these areas. Perhaps de Silva is not aware that Muslims were not a separate political entity during that time.

Tamil speaking Muslims in the north and the east are largely the descendants of Arab traders marrying Tamil women unlike most of their counterparts in South India whose forefathers were Hindus converted to Islam. Therefore they by and large are of Dravidian extraction. The Tamil-speaking Muslim community has produced some outstanding literary figures in places like Mannar, Jaffna and the eastern province. The people who live in the north and east of Sri Lanka speak Tamil but belong to many religious faiths such as Hinduism, Islam and Christianity. External forces wanting to create a rift between Tamil-speaking peoples presented Muslims and Tamils as two separate national entities. People who speak Tamil are Tamils regardless of religious affiliation.

He further lambasted the global media outlets for giving wide publicity to the LTTE, and asserted that LTTE leader V. Pirapaharan was simply trying to brainwash the world with malicious and false propaganda. He blamed Tamil media outlets in Western and European countries of trying to propagandize for the LTTE, an LTTE that is on the verge of destruction, and that Tamils living in the U.K. and Canada need to come forward to expose the abuses carried out by the LTTE.

Either Mr. de Silva is a victim brainwashing or he is in the pay of the Sri Lankan government. He appears to be living in a mythical world. The LTTE members are busy fighting an enemy on their soil and their cadres have no presence on any foreign soil. However, it is quite understandable that LTTE supporters or sympathizers abroad would do all that is possible for their brethren in Eelam to save them from annihilation by the Sinhala government.

There has been no reporting of the 80,000 Tamils killed by Sri Lankan government armed forces since the early 1980s, or about the more than one million Tamils who have fled their homeland and sought refuge in other countries. Where are the accounts of the tens of thousands of people who have been living as refugees within their homeland due to the military operations under the guise that they are fighting to liberate the areas controlled by the LTTE? What happened to the thousands of people who were tortured under the cover of Prevention of Terrorism Law? How about the over 20,000 widows as a result of the air strikes and bombing of northern and eastern Sri Lankan areas? Why not report on the reality that the Sri Lanka government prevents food and medicine from reaching the people living in the north by blocking trunk roads and other transportation routes?

Perhaps Mr. de Silva is not aware of all these things or does not want to know them.

It is very clear that the Sri Lankan government will not provide freedom to the Tamils. The government just gives the International Community the rhetoric they want to hear even though there is no truth in them and they continue in their genocidal war against the Tamils. It is obvious that the government's plan is to cleanse the Tamils from the island through systematic blockages of food and medicine. The government knows that the people would die within weeks if they do not have access to food and medicine.

Mr. Walter Jayawardhana is another writer who is affiliated to the Sri Lankan defense units and a close associate of Mr. Gothabaya Rajapaksa (the brother of Sri Lankan President and Sri Lanka's defence secretary). Jayawardhana and Gothabaya Rajapaksa as American citizens were residents of California for a long time.

Jayawardhana has also promoted the kind of diplomacy undertaken by the Sri Lankan president while hiding the actual happenings against Tamils, covering up the human rights abuses and other injustices engaged in by the Sri Lankan state against the Tamils. He judiciously avoids writing about the killings of Tamils in Sri Lanka. Instead, he cries foul when a bomb is blasted in Colombo. He is indeed the Paul Joseph Goebbels, the German Nazi propaganda chief of the 1930s and 1940s, of Sri Lanka of the 21st century.

Jayawardhana's articles show him to be a fascist, the views expressed vicious and a direct attack on a community of citizens. Instead, he is portrayed and accepted as a true representative of the Sinhala polity's modern anti-Tamil journalism. This is totally unacceptable in journalistic ethics.

Mr. Jayawardhana in his article in a Serendib tabloid published in Australia in September 2008 claimed under the heading, "LTTE's worst human rights abuses exposed in Toronto", that Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper chronicled the efforts of a local Sinhalese organization to exhibit photos, films and written articles to counter the Tamil organizations' efforts to educate the Canadians about the atrocities inflicted upon the Tamils in Eelam. The organization showcased brutal photos of people killed by the Sri Lankan armed forces, but instead were showcased as actions carried out by the LTTE.

Another commentator, Mr. D. B. S. Jeyaraj, a Tamil once showed promise as a journalist, but later began pawning his writing skills to a particular group or political party to make a living writing weekly articles for Sinhalese-owned newspapers and his own news affiliations in his country of adoption, Canada. He once tried to make a living publishing a Tamil weekly tabloid called "Mancharie", but after it was discovered that he was acting in favour of Sri Lankan intelligence units, local Tamils avoided his newspaper and it soon folded. This perhaps frustrated Jeyaraj promoting him to start to contribute anti-Tamil articles to other media outlets.

He remains an anti-Tamil activist and has been welcomed into their fold by the Sinhala polity. He is reportedly one of the frequent visitors to the Sri Lankan High Commissioner's residence in Ottawa. This shows how a Tamil journalist could act against the interests of the oppressed people of his own nationality. His journalistic ethics is questionable and truth gets distorted.

The dreams of such commentators' wishing to cleanse Sri Lanka of the Tamil people but also everywhere in the world are being slowly realised unabated. Writers like de Silva, Jayawardhana and Jeyaraj are good examples of how bad journalistic ethics are when they report stories. But, in reality, their dream about the Tamils being wiped from Sri Lanka, or the LTTE being defeated is a day dream. These commentators' claims are factually erroneous. The general public need to be aware of this when they read such stories and should make well considered decisions whether to accept these commentators or ignore them.

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