Decolonizing Sri Lanka’s Sepoy Press

 seapoy       Shenali D Waduge

With only days apart for the Commonwealth Heads of Government to arrive in Sri Lanka for what is being looked forward to as ‘the’ most prestigious event on Sri Lanka’s calendar; what cannot escape attention is the manner that Sri Lanka’s Press has been functioning. No one argues with the role of media as watchdog but the issue is when the watchdog is acting to project a version seen through only one lens – the Western. To be more specific, when the CHOGM comprises 53 former colonized nations, now supposedly free and ‘sovereign’ why is it that Sri Lanka’s press chooses to voice only the versions and statements coming from ONLY the 3 western nations who are members – UK, Canada and Australia leaving out the voice of the 50 leaders and not dedicating any space for messages being conveyed by them or their take on issues like colonial crimes, colonial depopulation, demographic imbalance through illegal immigrants, transatlantic slave trade, reparations etc?

Commonwealth Member states:

AFRICA (18 countries)

Botswana, Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya,Lesotho,Malawi, Mauritius,Mozambique,Namibia, Nigeria,Rwanda,Seychelles,South Africa,Sierra Leon,Swaziland ,Uganda,United Republic of Tanzania,Zambia, Gambia recently exited

 AMERICAS (13 countries)

Antigua & Barbuda,The Bahamas,Barbados, Belize,Dominica,Grenada,Guyana,Jamaica,St. Lucia,St. Kitts & Nevis,St.Vincent and the Grenadines,Trinidad & Tobago, Canada

ASIA (8 countries)

Bangladesh,Brunei, Darussalam,India, Malaysia,Pakistan,Singapore, Sri Lanka

EUROPE (3 countries) 

United Kingdom,Malta,Cyprus,

PACIFIC (11 countries)

Australia,Fiji,Kiribati, Nauru,New Zealand,Papua New Guinea,Samoa,Solomon Islands,Tonga,Tuvalu,Vanuatu

 What does the term ‘free’ press connote to? Does it mean that the press has to be treated above the law of the land, that the press be allowed to do as they like, go where they like and write as they like claiming that it is their ‘policy’ and ‘mandate’ and every one else has to accept all that they say and write? These questions emerge when the bulk of media is today functioning as businesses and owned by politically motivated or religious entities that use the power of media to reach out deceptively to the audience.

96% of US media is not owned by Americans so the news that Americans are privy to is perhaps reason why Americans themselves are baffled why the world hates them. Americans relying on their channels alone are never given the other side of the story and only those that seek versions outside of which the mainstream news relays to them will have a holistic view of the state of affairs in the US and outside. This was clearly evident in the manner that Americans are clueless about links with Al Qaeda and the US Govt/intelligence, Americans are not aware that US funds terrorists, arms and trains them, US aligns with Wahhabi Saudis to stage rebellions in Middle East nations that Saudi wants to destroy, Americans did not know anything about the thousands of women and children killed in Iraq and other nations that US has been targeting to satisfy the greedy thirst of its corporates and has nothing to do with bringing benefits to ordinary Americans or restoring democracy to the nations they falsely invade. The US mainstream press is guilty of keeping Americans in the dark with selective reporting.

Similarly, India’s media is also not in control of the 80% Hindus – surprisingly enough India’s media is owned by powerful religious entities and thus the Hindus are always made to feel guilty in what has become a nation that no longer has a say for the Hindu version of things and whenever Hindus object, the media is quick to project them as racists, extremists or the usual terminology now floating wholesale amongst the media fraternity. No newspaper or journalist is willing to give the version of the Hindus their due place.

Sri Lanka’s story is no different. When the incursions on Buddhist space has been highlighted instead of reporting with a balanced view the media was quick to continuously project a one-sided version giving no voice to the Buddhist perspective. In a country that has over 70% Buddhists when Buddhists and Buddhism was attacked in Bangladesh, Maldives, Burma and even the holiest place of Buddha Gaya not a single editorial was written and followed up by fellow columnists, not a word was said against the perpetrators other than simply reporting the incident because they had to. Illegal constructions that had no basis for argument was accepted as attacks on ‘mosques’ without highlighting that a takaran shed had no place to be called a mosque and placing in true context that none of the main mosques had been touched to give the slightest credibility to the argument. Not a single journalist mentioned how whole towns had been demographically changed either through conversion or as a result of the older natives having had no choice but to leave their homes because of the pressures brought on by Muslim groups and the manner they were encouraging people to have more children and converting estate Tamils as well as poor Sinhala youth.

Incursions are never highlighted and instead what is promoted is the compromise element which equates to no justice against the incursion but officially recognizing the incursion by forcing a compromise. Thus, Buddhists have been falsely accused of being intolerant yet ground realities and not what media or politicians have us believe show a totally different picture with conversions very much happening, proliferation of NEW mosques and churches along main roads very much happening, new prayer centers for Christians and mosques set up virtually on every road and none of these gets reported because palms are oiled to not do so and even leaders maybe living in a cuckoo land thinking they can deal with issues but they would be surprised how far they can do so when their block vote end up converted. These are numbers that any Government cannot afford to ignore if they rely on the majority Buddhists to bring them to power.

Even halal and animal sacrifice has ended up being reported against the merits of the arguments being made and no newspaper will allocate the other version and prefer instead to project the notion of wrong doing only by the Buddhists wherein all others are correct and have done no wrong. Dr. K N Jayatilake, Prof of Philosophy, University of Ceylon in his evidence in 1964 before the Press Commission had said that an impression had been created in the English reading public that the ‘communal and religious minorities must get together and oppose the Sinhalese Buddhist majority if they are to get any rights at all’. When the politically and economically influential people in Sri Lanka read the distorted and slanted versions of the English newspapers ONLY, is it a surprise that the Columbians believe in only a one-sided version of things. Dr. Jayatilake went on to say that foreign news relevant to Buddhists were never given print space again the choice of the non-Buddhist editor though Buddhist editors have always balanced the coverage. (PCR para 159, page 71).

It is not difficult to count how many Buddhist publications are permitted by Editors in the English newspapers in a country where 7 out of 10 are Sinhalese which shows that the calculated move to push the Buddhists into the background has not changed since 1960s. It also explains why editors and newspapers give stepmotherly treatment to Buddhist interests and never debate topics from a Buddhist perspective.

We are well aware that until the Golden Key scandal came to light none of the malpractices in the Kotelawala enterprise ever made it to any papers because the media were handsomely looked after and thus their silence. When the Western world can afford to offer media scholarships, media tours, awards, accolades and what not distributed only amongst the same fraternity of people that tow the line of the Western thought and campaigns on behalf of the West, is it a surprise why the same people walk away with trophies and titles! If we wondered why the Press has not been highlighting the plights of fellow Third World nations and their leaders it is because the local press are stooges of the West helping them carry out their agenda in Sri Lanka.

Press setting up courts

The former motto of – ‘we report, you decide’ has today been turned into the press acting as the prosecutor, juror, judge and executioner and they use their newspapers to run the kangaroo courts with a one-sided version outcome. Thus, how many of Sri Lanka’s media personnel being citizens of Sri Lanka proudly defended the armed forces when the world media and governments humiliated them, accused them of wrong doing and started to build up sensational documentaries that have yet to give a single witness name or credible evidence? How many of Sri Lanka’s media proudly defended the nation and its defeat of terrorism to say that we did the correct thing and that 20million people were now living in peace. This is the same media that hesitated to even call Prabakaran or the LTTE as terrorists. Now with the CHOGM days away they are just counting how they can add fuel to fire to take on the Government alongside the Western press who will be ever ready to bring up topics of the final days of the war, war crimes and the usual list of accusations that have with the passage of 4 years not seen an iota of evidence except PR tamashas and opportunities for former UN heads to turn into authors and sell printed lies.

Press Commission Report (1964) and Need for National Media Commission

 When newspapers begin to fabricate, suppress and distort news and views suited to them they cannot object to being called anti-national.

In 1963, William Gopallawa Governor General appointed the Press Commission report under the recommendation of Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike. Former Supreme Court judge, Justice K D de Silva (father of C R de Silva) was appointed Commissioner.

The observations of the 1964 Press Commission as a whole was that Sri Lanka’s Press had not conformed to general principles of journalism, that news was slanted, distorted, or fabricated, conducting themselves in a manner hostile to the interests of the country and Buddhism in particular ‘the religion professed by the vast majority of the permanent population’ (page 12 of report)

 The Press Commission Report also highlighted Patriotism in the newspapers

‘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)

On the conduct of the Tamil Press i.e. Virakesari the Press Commission Report quotes V A Kandiah and G Kumaralingam members of the Ceylon Journalists Association saying

‘ It is carrying on a continuous communal propaganda in issue after ‘issue. 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 ‘

Mr. Kumaralingam said that the Thinakaran and Virakesari were

‘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.’ (PRC para 47, page 26)

The Press Commission Report mentions ‘Ceylon Daily Mirror’, ‘Ceylon Observer’ and ‘Times of Ceylon’ being newspapers largely responsible for spreading communal disharmony on the lines that the minorities were being denied due rights and treated as second class citizens bringing non-existent parallels to the racial discrimination suffered by blacks in South Africa.

The subject of mischievous propaganda was highlighted by none other than Sir Nicholas Attygalle, Vice Chancellor of the University of Ceylon who said that the source of false news to England and USA was from Sri Lanka’s own leading newspapers (PRC para 49, page 27). Should we then be surprised when the foreign press is hostile towards Sri Lanka when the meat is being provided by our own press! If the press acting anti-national in the 1960s has the scenario changed in 2013?

Yet inspite of their wrongs the Sri Lankan Press has been consistently engaged in playing the role of victim totally ignoring their own shady dealings. In this context we need to return to 1964 when the Bauddha Jathika Balavega emerged in response to the Catholic Action that almost led to a military coup by Christian military officers. The Press report alleges that the Times of Ceylon was aware of the coup d’etat in the early part of 1962 but they did not have sufficient evidence but the editorial comments during the 2 months preceding January 27, 1962 were purposely calculated to create tension in the minds of the readers against the Government without warning the Government and was instead preparing the people to accept a new Government (PRC para 51, page 27)

Tragically the recommendations of the Press Commission could not be implemented as the Sirima Government was defeated nevertheless the validity of the observations remain very much relevant in 2013 and probably even beyond.

Just as politicians need to have a proper code of ethics underlining their behavior and actions it is important for the press to function under the policies of a National Media Commission. No press can function to their whims and fancies – the press in Sri Lanka were they to work in a foreign press would have to adjust themselves according to the norms of those nations and laws. Simply because they wear a press tag it does not give them a carte blanche to write what they like. Content analysis can reveal the bias and the writers paid to be biased and why they continue to write as they do. If journalists are funded and sponsored to write against their own country from foreign locations ridiculing their own it is nothing but gutter journalism.

How many American journalists can you find who would laugh at being American, ridicule America or its armed forces? Sadly there are many amongst Sri Lanka’s journalist fraternity who are made to think that to belong to the English speaking sepoy press the qualification is to ridicule their country, humiliate the majority, take swipes against the military and promote racial disharmony. Those that write on behalf of the side that is humiliated giving reasons are quickly branded racists or extremists so that readers would desist from reading their versions.

This is the culture that has been created within the Western-backed media world. Returning to the topic of CHOGM when there are 50 Third World countries who are members of the Commonwealth why are none of these countries and what the leaders say ever highlighted. In democratic media coverage should the media not give ‘equal’ publicity? Every comment on the CHOGM has been from the prism of either the British, Canadian or Australian view. None of the English newspapers chose to highlight that 14 Caribbean nations have formed an alliance to prepare and demand compensation for war crimes. None of the local press have wanted to explore or question why the British making accusations against Sri Lanka remains mum on its own crimes running across the globe over hundreds of years in calculated strategies to even depopulate Sri Lanka’s majority. No journalist or English newspaper in Sri Lanka on behalf of Sri Lanka wishes to even make a call for an International Commission of Inquiry into Colonial Crimes. None of the press has chosen to cover some of the British crimes in Sri Lanka some of which are too horrific to mention – how many know that British officials ate breakfast while watching Buddhists being hung or they made a sport of killing elephants even their babies?.

When countries are unfairly pointing fingers, as proud citizens should we not question those pointing fingers for their dark past is nothing that gives them any credibility to behave as angels. Is to claim media freedom to denounce the nation and natives or to give both sides of the version and allow readers to decide for themselves? (Lanka  Web)

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