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Magnanimous Mahinda and the Foreign Media Mob

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 Some little man in a Colombo cafe started shouting abuse at me the other day. I don’t know him, and I don’t know why. That sort of thing is very rare here, but perhaps I shouldn't be surprised, given the current "you're either with us or against us" climate. The vast majority of the Sri Lankan media outlets are now, voluntarily or not, marching to the beat of the government propaganda machine. Even the once incorrigible Sunday Leader now sports editorials that could almost have been written by the ministry of information and some columnists who write as though they’re applying for a job at the Media Centre for National Security. Any foreign media outlet that dares question the official version of how the war was won is immediately labelled as part of some sinister international conspiracy which, having first, for some reason, supported the LTTE, is now, for some reason, hell bent on sabotaging what is presented as the new united Sri Lanka. 

Perhaps the little angry man I met  in he cafe had just read the newspaper The Island’s feature article “Foreign Correspondent” (worth a read, that one), which ascertains that “The print media are the foot soldiers of the LTTE”, and goes a long way towards explaining how we are ultimately responsible for having prolonged the war so that we could continue to enjoy the comforts of being based in Sri Lanka. The same article appears on the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defence’s website, so I suppose it must all be true. 
MH228810.jpgAlso on the MoD website, and just about everywhere else, is President Mahinda Rajapakse’s instructions to his subjects on how to celebrate the victory over the LTTE without hurting anyone’s feelings. “Magnanimous Mahinda” has a good ring to it, and to be fair, most of the 100,000-plus crowd in Friday’s flag-filled festivities to honour the country’s war heroes behaved far better than the man in the cafe. Not all did, though. After a few hundred metres of the parade had passed came the less-than-magnanimous effigies of dead LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. Closely followed, perhaps by coincidence, by the not entirely media-friendly government minister Mervin Silva
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What effects the victory celebrations and the politics that follow them will have remains to be seen, but some are already becoming clear: in my largely Tamil neighbourhood in Colombo there are not many Sri Lankan flags flying from people’s homes.


Ajith Fernando | May 26, 2009 8:17 AM | Reply

Hi Morten,

May be the fact that you live in a mainly tamil area in Colombo has made your sources rather biased? May be its you who is hearing only one side of the story. When even the sunday leader is saying the same story has it ever been considered whether that story may be the correct one.

Secondly do you think with the possibility of some LTTE hitmen still being around would allow any tamil whatever there inclination is to raise the national flag?

Anonymous | May 26, 2009 10:08 AM | Reply

Hi Ajith,

Thanks for commenting.

I'll assume your first question comes from a lack of understanding of how we work rather than an attempt at shooting the messenger. When covering a conflict one has to start by assuming that everything one hears from the involved parties is propaganda or repetition of propaganda. The only thing we do know about some of the most important aspects of the conflict here in Sri Lanka is that we know very little beyond that the government insists that they have nothing to hide, and then hides it anyway. Read my piece again. I'm not saying the Sunday Leader or anyone else is not correct, but very few people are in a position to prove what the truth is, and so far they're not saying anything. I'm sure you can understand that that would and should make any independent journalist suspicious.

I'm afraid I can't be very polite about your insinuation that my sources are my neighbours, so I won't comment on that beyond reminding you that I've been covering conflicts all over the planet since 1982, without once having had my professional integrity successfully challenged.

I admit I hadn't considered the possibility that the reason the little old lady, Tamil or not, on the balcony across from mine isn't flying a national flag might be fear of LTTE hitmen. But then again, hasn't Sri Lanka, as the first country ever, just eradicated terrorism? Or does Tamil-on-Tamil terror not count? If so, why not?

What do you think?