– by Shenali D. Waduge –
They say you cannot fool the people all of the time and the recent announcement by a Minister who thinks he is doing a favor to those he closely associates with is like a blessing in disguise for the real victims of hate speech and the likelihood that it is going to boomerang on the very authors of the proposed hate speech legislation is something they have not yet taken into consideration. Almost 50 years ago the Press Commission Report of 1964 revealed some startling truths on the conduct of the Press and its manipulative activities, which 50 years on remains relevant. Victims of hate speech were and continue to be the Buddhists and there is ample evidence to prove it.
To approach the argument of hate speech we need to re- visit the Report and re-state the golden words contained in para 112, page 56 of the 1964 report of the Commission that was chaired by Justice K D de Silva, Press Commissioner:
”If these English language newspapers were sufficiently patriotic they could have made a very useful contribution to bringing about unity among the various communities after the country achieved its independence. They should have advised the minority groups to adapt themselves to the changing circumstances and exhorted the majority to be generous towards the former. They failed to do that. What they consistently did was to poison the minds of the minority groups and encourage them to fight to retain the unjust privileges they had received during the era of foreign domination. ”
In today’s context is the above statement not relevant to the manner in which the private English language mainstream newspapers function?
Taking into consideration the editorial population: –
- How many of these editorial posts are held by Buddhists?
- How many of these newspapers belong to non-Buddhist ownerships?
- Who are the regular columnists and to what ethnicities and religions do they belong to?
- How many articles are regularly featured that denigrate Buddhists through these private English newspapers or subtly attribute the fault at the doorstep of the Buddhists?
Now the answer to the real victims of hate speech becomes easier to comprehend.
Buddhism Bashing Columnists
The regular columnists appearing in all the private English newspapers are: Anne A ( never misses a chance to engage in Sinhala and Buddhism Bashing), Dharisha B, Dushey R, Harim P, Kishali P, Kumar D, Latheef F, Shanie (Notebook), Tisaranee G, Uvindu K, R Philips, Sonali S, Fredrica J, RM Senanayake, Izeth H etc… these articles are then complimented with another set of regular columnists that include Kumar R, Surendra Ajit, Basil F, Nimalika F, Pakisothy, Jehan P, Dayan J. Their writings do not shower praises about the Sinhalese, the Buddhists or their love for the country.
What they write is not their personal opinion either. By virtue of their profession, the allegiance to forums, organizations and other associations they are tasked to denigrate the Buddhists in a plan to project a “Mahavansa Mentality” so as to take away the nationalistic pride that the Sinhalese Buddhist possess in view of their heritage and Buddhist civilization. Recolonization and subservience appears to be the goal. We now need to call their bluff.
A closer look will also reveal links to foreign funded organizations most of whom back destabilizing of the nation, distorting history by regularly feeding lies which the English readers come to accept, most linked to non-Buddhist organizations that have a clear plan to demonise and denigrate the Sinhala Buddhists, break their will and confine them to a corner even legislatively by slowly planting their people into key Governmental roles secured by virtue of their English education, contacts that promote their position and because they belong to the fashionable circles of Colombo society.
Thus, Sri Lanka has been accustomed to opening the English newspapers to read headlines that almost always carry “fascist Buddhists”, “Buddhist extremists”, “Sinhala supremacists”, “Racist Sinhalese Buddhists” and the list is endless. Some headline names are appalling.
In contrast, how many articles are written that praise the Rajapakse Government or our Buddhist Kings or heroes in our ancient past? The literary achievements of the Sinhalese in the pre – colonial era is hardly covered. And if anyone writes about how nice the roads are in Colombo, or how well the infrastructure is in the North – is that equated to mean that the writers are pro-Rajapakse? Can people not write about the good things the Government does without them being labeled? Do people always have to write like the above columnists painting a sordid picture of a failed state?
What appears to be the difference from then and now is that the “THEN” Buddhism Bashing or slandering slogans were silently accepted by the majority Buddhists without challenge and thus these “hate speeches” had been so commonly used that it did not appear as “hate speech” and it was almost as if every article had to use these terminologies to get published. But, the ballgame has now changed. There is a limit to what the people can tolerate or should tolerate. Now, when the Buddhists are demanding fair play and equal platform with right of replies and equality in newspaper coverage in the private English media – the response is to quickly garner the editors and columnists together and project a picture of victimhood using the statistical reality of the population yet ignoring the statistical reality of how the minorities were using the private English media to totally ridicule the Sinhalese Buddhists and generate contempt for them. This is the issue that needs to be highlighted and addressed.
False depiction of Buddhists as intolerant
The 1964 Commission report perfectly summed this up: ” With regard to the English reading public, the impression has been created that the communal and religious minorities must get together and oppose the Sinhalese Buddhist majority if they are to get any rights at all. The point of view is put forward that the Sinhalese Buddhist majority is intolerant and is trying to deprive the minorities of their rights. As a matter of fact it is not so.’” (PCR para 46, pages 25 -26)
This is further strengthened by Sir Nicholas Attygalle, the Vice – Chancellor of the University of Ceylon in his evidence who said that he had come across mischievous propaganda against the Sinhalese on his visits to England and USA, and he believed that the source of this false news was our own leading newspapers. (PRC para 49, page 27).
All the columnists mentioned above are regularly quoted internationally – therefore should we be in the least surprised why the world gets a wrong impression of Sri Lanka? Some of them are even invited to international conferences where they “tearfully” bemoan the fate of “journalists” and the lack of “good governance” in Sri Lanka. No one is bold enough to challenge them at the virtuous ways they function!
The challenges therefore are that there are many local journalists who are being funded and sponsored to write against their own country. Most are now located in foreign stations claiming to be “victim”. Some of these are able to quickly pack a suitcase and take a flight, get a scholarship and a job while for us the process of visa application, submission of financial statements and sponsorship letters and interview decides whether we are to be given visa or not. They are paid to use their local knowledge and talent to fabricate lies, create mischief, engage in slander, twist stories and promote disunity amongst communities through well-funded websites and email campaigns. If we say this is “gutter journalism” who can disagree and who will demand freedom of expression for such journalists?
So where in them do we find “ethics”?
Take a segment of any private newspapers – browse through the articles published and count the number of articles that ridicule the Buddhists and blame the Sinhalese for all the troubles in Sri Lanka. When a former Roman Catholic editor who got a Buddhist to write under a Muslim pseudonym to ridicule the Buddhists and this same editor held mandatory Bible classes for Buddhists after office hours what more is there to say about the lack of ethics and the need to have a thorough investigation into the content of the news being published?
The media fraternity that is ever ready to cry foul over freedoms denied may well like to explain why they have selected attacks on what and about whom they write. A good example is how all these years the media kept very silent on Lalith Kotelawala and his corrupt investment activities because they were all part of what was called the “kept press”. How many can afford to silence media from publishing news by virtue of how well they can “look after” the press? Is press freedom and journalism equated to mean that the English press can laugh at a heritage or be paid to write untruths? Is it unfashionable for them to speak about the Sinhala Buddhist kings who kept the civilization of Sri Lanka together and they would prefer to write more about how many times the Queen sneezes or the DNA of Prince William? As against the pro-West news that dominate the English newspapers how many articles are published about Asian heroes, Asian leaders or their high achievements? Does the media ever attempt to promote links between Sri Lanka and Buddhist Asia? Do we want to belong to the Asian continent? Are we to always follow copy cat type of journalism where we do not create our own niche but replicate what is available in Western news? Do we always have to wait for a Westerner to praise Asia to write about something Asian? The editors of English newspapers in Sri Lanka feel satisfied by running a one page poya day supplement to argue that equal status to Buddhism is given in a nation that has over 70% Buddhists but are poorly served with a lack of quality feature articles and news stories concerning Buddhist events and Buddhist personalities. The ‘Buddhist Channel’ based in Kuala Lumpur provides a good role model for choice of content.
The discrimination is very visible. The Hate Speech will certainly provide an opportune platform with which to bring out with examples of how not a single editorial was written when Wahhabi gangs in Bangladesh attacked Buddhist temples and destroyed the artifacts, when even the Thai PM’s visit to Sri Lanka was given step motherly treatment and not a single line was written about the Thai King while she was in Sri Lanka. Juxtapose this was the manner the newspapers were full of articles when the Middle East went on a rampage over a video that the rioters hadn’t even seen!
The situation is really no different in India. The mainstream English media is owned by the Christians and Muslims and when Hindus make their voice the immediate reaction is to claim “hate speech” and this was well articulated by Dr. Subramaniam Swamy as well.
No Government should think it can throw a lavish cocktail and court media personnel and think they can twist their stories to national advantage. Those that are bagged by foreign interests earn far more than what the Government can afford to give. Therefore, the best way to move forward is to properly remedy the problem and that remedy must come in the form of another National Media or Press Commission along the lines of the Justice K D de Silva Press Commission of 1964 where a thorough content analysis can be made of print and electronic media and expose the anti-national, anti-Buddhist, pro-LTTE bias of the media. Hate speech must first target those that created, initiated, and planted the chaos before going after those that react. Those that cause the conflict must be first named and accused.
The Government which has come to power on the exclusive Buddhist vote must not fall into traps laid by those who support the ‘NGO Chinthanaya’ attempting to slyly promote sinister agendas. These legislative proposals must be rejected because the country is now beginning to open their eyes and to understand what is taking place. Certainly hate speech is welcome for it will enable the Buddhists to come out in their numbers and log complaints with the police given that they have been the victims of the witch hunt all these years. It is now time to name and shame. In all matters the playing field must be level – then only there is fair play.