Does Free Speech connote to mean that the media can say what they like, against whom they dislike and as often as they like generating an influence over those they capture across their media channels? In Sri Lanka we have a situation where the biased and unbalanced nature of the media has been established by the Press Commission Report of 1964. One of the key charges of that 1964 report was that Sri Lanka’s Press stood accused of being anti-national and was fostering disunity and attempting to divide the nation. Fast forward to 2014 exactly 50 years later, it is time to ask how far the Media has played a role in promoting peace in Sri Lanka? In Sri Lanka it is the Politicians and the Media that is dividing the people.
In 1964 the Press Commission Report accused ‘Ceylon Daily Mirror’, ‘Ceylon Observer’ and ‘Times of Ceylon’ as newspapers largely responsible for spreading the communal propaganda line that ‘minorities in this country were denied their due rights, and that they were treated as second class citizens. These newspapers promoted the view that the position of the minority groups was analogous to that which existed in South Africa Angola and Rhodesia, where the indigenous black Africans were subject to blatant racial discrimination. The Press Commission observes in relation to this media campaign of disinformation that’ there is no English language newspaper published here which points out the falsity of this mischievous propaganda. Added to this, there is a vicious whispering campaign carried on, at a personal level, in England and the USA against the Sinhala people.’ (PRC para 48, page 26). How relevant is this accusation in today’s context?
Even Sir Nicholas Attygalle, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Ceylon giving evidence before the Commission said that he had come across mischievous propaganda against the Sinhalese on his visits to the England and US and believed that the source of this false news was our own leading newspapers. How relevant is this accusation in today’s context wherein all foreign entities are sourcing their denigration back to our own people?
If our own people are trying to bring Sri Lanka down, relaying prejudiced news and creating the prejudice against Sri Lanka by virtue of what they relay and the message they convey it is a shameful act on the newspapers, the Sri Lankan media and all of its paid workers. Are they looking at themselves as ‘aliens’ in a country where they hold citizenship and where their own families and friends live? Do they not realize that creating the atmosphere of conflict has dire repercussions, consequences and domino effects? If they do and yet for remunerations they continue their biased ways how immoral and fair is it on the people who are likely to become victims of conflicts that are being engineered for personal and political gains of the same handful of evil people?
In terms of reporting in a country where over 70% are Sinhalese and majority are Buddhists how disproportionate has been the coverage given?
Can the editors of the English newspapers provide a single editorial that has backed the Buddhist grievances or balanced coverage giving what issues the Buddhists have put forward?
In the current issue arising from Aluthgama is the public not confused because the media has given only a one-sided coverage while taking pains to portray a message that people are not living peacefully.
In reality it is the POLITICIANS and the MEDIA that are dividing the people of Sri Lanka.
The danger of this was evident in the role of the media during the Catholic Action and the attempt by Catholic military officers to overthrow the Sirimavo Bandaranaike Government in 1962. Witnesses giving evidence had alleged that the Times of Ceylon was aware of a coup d’etat in early 1962 citing editorial two months preceding January 27, 1962 provoking hostility against the Government.
Closely linked is Ven. Narada’s warning of Catholic Action in 1957 via a letter to the Prime Minister. This open letter sent to the English newspapers was not published. The 1964 Commission published extracts of this letter : “Vietnam is a country with a predominantly Buddhist ( 90 % ) population. It is now under a Catholic dictatorship. The dictatorship was established through the aid of the World – wide Catholic movement called CATHOLIC ACTION. The movement was initiated by the Pope in 1923. Its purpose is to utilise the services of lay Catholics for increasing the power of the Pope and the Church. The Modus Operandi of this movement is to infiltrate into key positions in the Aimed Services, the Police and the Public Services, and the organs that mould public opinion such as the Radio and the Press. Through the Press and the Radio arid other modes of propaganda, they create confusion, cause tension and bring about a state of social unrest. Thereafter they always wait for the opportune moment to capture power and control the Department. It was through infiltration into commanding positions in the Armed Services, the Police and the Public Services and by obtaining the control of the Press and the Radio and by obtaining foreign aid during a period of unrest that Catholic Action succeeded in obtaining supreme power in Vietnam.”
Ven. Narada Thera:
“In this Memorandum I wish to point out that a similar process of infiltration has been going on in this country (Ceylon) since independence was granted. The extent of the infiltration shows the danger with which we are faced. As a Bhikkhu I know what would happen to the Sangha if Catholics gain control of the State ”
“ It is well known that Catholic Action controls the English newspapers. The two Managing Directors of the Times Group of newspapers are ardent Catholics. The Editorial Staff of their English newspapers are almost entirely Catholic. You will be most surprised to know the number of Christians and Catholics on the Editorial Staff of the ‘Daily News” and the “Observer”.
“As I mentioned earlier Catholic Action is always bent on creating social unrest and this they do through the newspapers by distorting facts and presenting news in a particular manner. The Catholic Church with Press support has opposed almost every national and progressive movement in this country. They were opposed to Free Education; to the use of Sinhalese as the Official Language; the teaching of Buddhism to Buddhist children in State Schools; and the use of National dress and Prohibition.”
1964 Press Commission Report (some excerpts):
“The Lake House and the Times of Ceylon are chiefly responsible for the prevailing disunity of the various racial and religious groups living in this country. Their English language newspapers are primarily accountable for this. The Editorial staffs of those newspapers readily fall into line with the wishes of the management to fight for the preservation of the undue privileges that a certain class had obtained from foreign rulers These rulers had acted on the obnoxious principle ‘ divide et impera \ They realised the danger to their rule in the event of the various communities acting in unison to obtain the right to rule themselves. As aptly and succinctly put by the Editor of the Dinamina in his editorials of November 13, 1963 and December 10, 1963 the foreign rulers deliberately introduced seeds of dissension by granting undue privileges to the minorities. Any attempt to take away these privileges was resisted with vigour by those who enjoyed them. This resulted in hostility on the part of the minorities against the majority community. It was also a cardinal principle of these foreign rulers to disintegrate the majority into splinter groups. This too was successfully done.” ( PCR para 111, pages 55 -56).
“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.” (PCR para 112, page 56)
“The journalists manning the Sinhala language newspapers knew fully well that this policy was wrong and unpatriotic but they themselves were compelled to follow, though unwittingly, the same policy due to pressure exerted on them by the management” (PCR para 113, page 56)
K.N. Jayatillake, Professor of Philosophy, University of Ceylon :
“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)
On Virakesari : “Virakesari is owned and run by Indian nationals, and as such their purpose is to spread the idea of Indian domination of this country and condition the people”
On Thinakaran and Virakesari : ‘these papers are infecting the Tamil population with communalism, thus disrupting the unity of the Sinhalese and Tamil people. These papers should be properly controlled to enable us to play up national unity.’
Sri Lanka’s post-conflict is unlikely to get anywhere if politicians do not stop using communal politics to advance their personal political careers and political vote base while media decide to act with responsibility and accountability and to journalistic ethics without carrying out an agenda of divisive reporting.
The main English newspapers in Sri Lanka cannot deny their role and editors themselves are guilty of not offering right of replys or even publishing articles that give a balanced stand when their paid journos are inciting hatred and giving distortions of news.
Alternate media, email forums and other means are only available to showcase the fallacies taking place and highlights exactly how far the Sri Lankan media has damaged the post-conflict peace amongst people.
Let us also remind the media that its ‘balanced’ reporting only existed during LTTE reign for none of the newspapers took the position that LTTE were terrorists and attempted to use their medium to highlight the terror and the illegal nexus involved and associated with the LTTE. None of Sri Lanka’s newspapers campaigned to bring down or expose the LTTE except to simply report LTTE terror with the adjective ‘alleged’.
STOP GIVING THE PUBLIC MISERABLE NEWS
Repeated requests have been made by the public that they do not wish to read murders, crimes, rapes etc on the front page or be told of how crimes are committed ruining their entire day. However, the newspapers and electronic media take great pains to use their main pages only to showcase a gruesome picture as being representative of the entire country when it is hardly so. In the West, newspapers are asked to give happy news and to make people’s day happier – we can hardly see that happening from the Sri Lankan media.
It is therefore advised that the authorities at least consider removing the bad news from the main pages and give us happy news, make people’s day brighter, let us read happy things, know about happy events, peaceful initiatives and news that can make us proud of what is happening around the country. Please do not tell us that there is nothing happy happening around us because this is the ultimate aim of people trying to show that Sri Lanka is a failed state. That is far from the truth and people relying on the newspapers of Sri Lanka only as the source representative of Sri Lanka would be foolish to derive at such a conclusion.
http://www.dailynews.lk/?q=features/ decolonizing-sri-lanka-s-sepoy-press (Shenali D Waduge)
– by Shenali D Waduge