Opinion: Media Responsibility
by Dr. Tilak S. Fernando reporting from Colombo
Bandula Jayasekera's forthright comments expressed in his Daily News feature on 12 July 2006 under the caption, 'Norway blames EU for talks breakdown - How funny, How sad', is praiseworthy, effective and acted as a dynamic thrust over the government's placid response to the prejudiced report by the Head of the SLMM on 4 June 2006 .
Of late, several remarks made by the SLMM have been subjected to severe criticism while their conduct and operation in Sri Lanka becoming particularly questionable causing many an eye brow to raise. By obstinate or slapdash omissions of facts and observations, which is part of their job and why they are here in Sri Lanka to monitor the peace agreement, the Head of the SLMM in his latest report has demonstrated a jaundiced eye towards the LTTE. This, no doubt is seen clearly as exceeding their official mandated boundaries and being biased.
SLMM's latest erroneous official June report submitted by its Head has deliberately omitted the incident at sea on May 11 when a squadron of LTTE speedboats piloted by suicide bombers attacked the Sri Lanka Navy's troop carrier with 700 Forces personnel in civil returning from their vacation; LTTE's latest modes operandi in planting claymore mines and engaging themselves in a killing spree of Sri Lankan Forces personnel; massacring of innocent villagers and families with small children indiscriminately and most notably the abortive suicide assassination endeavour on Sri Lanka's Army Commander Gen. Fonsenka, and tried diplomatic subtleness to point a finger at the Sri Lanka government instead !
The LTTE today is a prominent icon in the world map as a most ruthless terrorist organisation equipped with marine and air power. They have been identified as architects of the making of suicide bomb squads and introducing it to the Al Qaeda. All these factors coupled with genocide, coercion and extortion from the Tamil Diaspora abroad led many countries in the world over to ban it as a callous terrorist group. Finally the European Union confirming and thus imposing a total ban under the international terrorist label drove the final nail on the well organised LTTE network's coffin recently. When there was such a strong world opinion by the rest of the world, particularly by the European Union, Norway became the single country to be angered by such action, making them isolated in the world for the first time, in their appointed function to combat international terrorism.
It is extremely a sad state of affairs in Sri Lanka today that in an 'undeclared war situation' monstrous crimes are committed on a daily basis by the LTTE, hiding behind a meek Peace Agreement signed between the Wickremesinghe regime and the Tigers to the latter's best advantage. However, it is somewhat heartening to see, at long last the Western countries waking up to reality, even that only after having seen one of their peace monitors getting caught in a sea battle with the Navy during an observation exercise when the Sea Tigers launched an enemy attack. Today to some extent LTTE terrorist activities are being exposed and denuded in the eyes of the international community thanks mainly to the untiring and effective hard work by the patriotic Sinhala Diaspora based outside Sri Lanka, a function that should be undertaken by the official media units of the government.
In such a state of affairs how could one explicate the biased role played by Norway who are supposed to be the exorcist chosen to drive the terrorist devil out of the country and beget peace equally to all the citizens in Sri Lanka ?
The present hide and seek game the LTTE has chosen to play, facilitated by Norwegians, can only be compared to the carrot and stick aphorism where the Sri Lanka government is eating the carrot and the Tigers thrashing them with the stick! The government, come what may, appears for some unknown reason, to be contended and knuckle under quite willingly or unwillingly absorbing the pounding with a certain amount of human cost to its Forces personnel on a daily basis.
When such dastardly acts are committed by the LTTE and the so called peace negotiators and peace monitors giving a Nelsonian eye to the atrocities committed by the terrorists and placing the blame on the Government Forces purely to eye wash the international community, for how long and how could the Sri Lanka government keep on 'singing lullabies' instead of countering adverse propaganda by the LTTE's well organised and thoroughly lubricated propaganda machine operated from the masterminded web sites from home and abroad while foreigners who appear to be Sun gods to resolve the dispute of a nation becoming subtly unpromising?
The government media unit(s) on the contrary should move with vigour at lightning speed counteracting any false information and release the facts prior to any bogus propaganda becomes perceived as gospel truth in the minds of independent observers and foreign states. There is no point in reacting once a damaging false news item becomes stale or after doing its rounds and causing the maximum damage it could.
Those responsible in the Sri Lankan government media units have fallen far short of their expectation in effectively combating false propaganda with equal force and magnitude internationally in particular. In such exercises, the LTTE has always had a head start from the very inception of this dispute where the government was at least a decade or fifteen years behind in their race to catch up with the LTTE's effective propaganda machinery. Our overseas Missions have been doing only a lip service in situations of need. In London for example, the patriotic Sinhala expatriates have gone hammer and tongs in organising rallies, writing to the newspapers, submitting petitions to the British Prime Minister, constantly informing the Scotland Yard of LTTE activities, challenged the BBC, appeared on live radio and TV discussions to safeguard the good name of their mother country and to dispel the falsehood ingeniously spread by the Tigers. Naturally, there is no point in locking the doors once the horse has bolted!
The way government dealt with the latest news release by the SLMM report, hiding the sins of the terrorists and pointing a finger at the government on a subtle diplomatic manner, is yet another example of the Sri Lanka government being cautious, mild, diplomatic and scratching on the surface of a deep wound rather than reaching deep into the puss of that wound with a view to cleaning the full surface properly and then applying the right medicine to heal it.
When there are such inadequacies in our official government media units, it is encouraging to see at least one journalist, despite being attached to a government-controlled newspaper, attempting to maintain the best ethics of journalism which is: "Facts are sacred and the comment is free."
Bandula Jayasekera in his feature article, Norway blames EU for talks breakdown has been bold and forthright in exposing the facts by dipping his pen in garlic to give the maximum pong and shown his mettle as an objective journalist. In doing so, he has been quite successful in taking Norwegians and Eric Solheim by the proverbial scruff of the neck and finally sent both parties to the graveyard journalistically by turning Solheim's double-deal gun barrel back at him in his so-called peace promotion activities or misfiring.
Some of the points that he very correctly raised in his article were: 'What did Norway say following Lakshman Kadiragarmar's brutal assassination by the LTTE? What did Norway say when the European Union imposed a travel ban on the LTTE members after the assassination of the late Foreign Minister? Did they support it? No! He said quite correctly and emphatically while pointing an accusing finger at Norway and adding further that 'Norway wanted to please the LTTE even after the terrorists who kills Sri Lankan people and their skills'.
Quoting some reports which stated that 'Norwegians have given an ultimatum to the Government and the LTTE', Jayasekera puts the news item in its perspective by saying it is 'a laughing matter to many and it is the innocent people of Sri Lanka who should give an ultimatum to the Norwegians now for their partiality for failing to resolve the issues, for failing to convince the LTTE to stop bloody attacks in Sri Lanka for the continual appeasement of a brutal organisation.'
Denuding their duplicity, Jayasekera has exposed how Norwegians did not want the LTTE be listed by the European Union and how hard they ( Norwegians) fought and campaigned to prevent such a ban coming into force.
Taking bull by the horns, Jayasekera points out how Eric Solheim, the so-called Peace Envoy, could dabble in marked duplicity, which only provided more ammunition to a burning issue. He blatantly expresses the general public opinion by saying: "We never could accept Solheim as a Peace Envoy because he was never fair and always one sided" !
In his final analysis Bandula Jayasekera, exposing Norwegian biased actions and revealing Erick Solheim's one-sided approach as a Peace Envoy, convincingly points out that 'Norwegians have failed because they continue to soothe the Tigers; they started from day one when Ranil Wickremasinghe and Prabhakaran signed the flawed CFA'.
What should Erik Solheim do now? He questions and says 'Solheim should stop appeasing the LTTE', as it is clear now throughout the world that it should not be the way to bring peace to Sri Lanka. Holding Solheim as fully responsible for providing more ammunition than working on peace, Jayasekera brings out to the open the majority opinion of the country that 'Solheim has always been supportive of the Tigers, as such, the people in Sri Lanka could never accept him as a peace envoy because he was never fair in his dealings and or commitments with the Sri Lankan government.
Bandula Jayasekera's timely feature article, which is a rare piece of journalism countering adverse reporting demonstrates how best to tackle any false propaganda with correct timing, backed up by facts with sharp and forceful flow of writing to root out the evil propaganda in order not only to bring results locally and internationally, but to send a loud and clear message to all perpetrators that it is no more an easy task to twist things for their own advantage and to get away with 'murder' both literally and metaphorically.
Daily News on June 11th carries a news item reported from Oslo referring to Foreign Minister Mangala Samarweera's comments during his official visit to Norway to meet his counterpart Jonas Gahr that ' the international community must take a firm stand on calling upon the LTTE to renounce violence and acts of terrorism and return to the negotiating table. The LTTE must be told in no uncertain terms by the international community that violence does not pay and terrorism in all aspects should be condemned unreservedly".
This very fact highlights what has been said earlier about how the government becomes a lame duck when it comes to seize the right opportunity. We all know that the international community has taken a firm stand and as a means of sending their message to the LTTE loud and clear, they have proscribed this terrorist organisation. What more is evident than the EU not only banning the LTTE but also freezing all their funds in the West! Therefore, did we miss the boat again when the Foreign Minister in Norway, face to face with his counter part?
It would have been the golden opportunity to tell him, ' Look here Jonas the rest of the world is with us in our attempt to fight terrorism in our country and your country and your nominated peace envoys have hopelessly failed so far in bringing the Tigers to the negotiating table let alone bring peace to my country which has resulted for the first time Norway becoming isolated from the rest of the world for taking sides with a terrorist organisation by pretending to be peace makers and peace monitors. It is high time that you take the responsibility, come clean, and tell your friends, the LTTE, to stop violence and killing further. We are still ready and willing for peace and 'let's facilitate peace' with all sincerity because in war, whichever side may call itself the victor, there are no winners, but all are losers !
There is one safeguard known generally to the wise, which is an advantage and security to all, but especially to democracies against despots - suspicion.