By Mohamed Harees –
During the postwar period in Sri Lanka, the oft quoted ‘mad monk’ phenomenon in general reigned supreme. In June 2014, the words of the hate monk Gnanasara rang deafeningly loud amid the silence of the Fourth Estate, and BBS – the racist anti-Muslim hate group he led, with patron saints in the then Rajapaksa government, embarked on a well-orchestrated orgy of violence against the hapless Muslim community in Aluthgama and its suburbs. The mainstream news media, being under a strict regime of State censorship feared to report these events institutionally, particularly because of the prevailing MoD (Ministry of Defence) pushback. It was eventually left to the social media on the web and alternative media and citizen journalism, as well as updates from professional journalists, to expose the dire situation then explosively building up in the area, leading to a potential pogrom.
The government owned Daily News for example chose to focus on Rajapaksa’s speech at the G77 summit then happening in Bolivia. The Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka’s English newspaper with the largest circulation, focussed on a drugs bust. Thus, in the absence of any mainstream media involvement, the international media relied on information shared on alternative media and all the opinion and analysis of the news also took place on social media and the blogosphere. In this regard, the pivotal role played by Colombo Telegraph (CT) to lend an outlet to voice the plight of a vulnerable community being laid siege by a racist government cannot be forgotten.
This credible alternative media with wide global readership gave much needed invaluable online space to expose the injustices faced by the underdogs particularly the minorities, due to the racist agenda of the postwar governments and its agents. Writers on human rights themes like myself, always found the Colombo Telegraph very accessible and accommodating whenever there was an imperative need to project concerns of the voiceless, in a growing atmosphere of fear and censorship for bold and courageous journalism in Sri Lanka, especially in that context.
Media organisations are generally assumed to play an important role in democracies, but the question of how effective are they in performing a ‘watchdog’ role by providing information, and the degree to which they act as a representative forum for the views of citizens in Sri Lanka, was a controversial one. Most governments hide behind mainstream media through manipulation of truth and public opinion. Besides, in the Sri Lankan ethnically polarised societal context, innumerable studies have proved that there is an ethnic bias in the mainstream media, which continues to perceive ethnicity as immutable and innate, neglecting its responsibility to demystify stereotypes and buttress institutions and practices that can ameliorate ethno-political conflict. Both the ethnic ownership of media institutions and the connections of some rogue media outlets to political masters nullify the work of journalists to examine the realities of other ethnic groups as well as to engage in balanced reporting. Thus, with many media outlets following created narrative, it is the role of alternative media to fill the void it leaves behind.
It is in this context, that an alternative media like Colombo Telegraph, which chose to toe an independent editorial line and boldly challenge the status quo from all side of political divide giving voice even to the hopeless, continues to be both a boon and a blessing. And it is through this that the freedom of expression can be kept alive too. As per a FB post by its dedicated editor, Uvindu Kurukulasuriya, there have been more than 26,000 articles published during this past decade reflecting a wide shades and points of view. In fact, an international media monitoring team which visited Sri Lanka was reportedly informed that Colombo Telegraph was in fact the best online journal on Sri Lankan affairs. It is rightly so and Colombo Telegraph deserves every such accolade. Colombo Telegraph! Kudos for your decade-long mission to serve the cause of the vulnerable, underdogs and the voiceless. Your continued progressive role in shaping positive narratives, promoting an inclusive nation and fighting against human rights abuses, racism, social injustices and bigotry will be sought after by all Sri Lankan both within and beyond.