6 December, 2020

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Rebuilding Sri Lankan Media: A Timely & Imperative Task

By Aingkaran Kugathasan

Aingkaran Kugathasan

Aingkaran Kugathasan

With the latest United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) Resolution on Sri Lanka, which was also co-sponsored by the government, the phrase ‘Transitional Justice’ (TJ) has become meaningless in the local context. The need or importance of a participatory transitional justice process has been discussed in numerous forums at various lengths, levels and amongst different communities. Though certain elements are trying to undermine TJ as western driven influence and thereby alienate it from our context, the majority of Sri Lankans are aware of the need of a process to address the national issue that has been ruining the country since 1950s. It is possible to say that a tiny window of opportunity for reconciliation has now opened and it is up to all to seize and to rectify circumstances before it passes.

The very first step in resolving any problem is recognising that there is one. Uncovering the issues that led to the conflict in the first place and finding ways to deal with the root causes might be the only sustainable path to achieve peace in Sri Lanka. It is foremost that we understand that TJ or any process for that matter is only as viable as the people who are involved in seeing it through. Thus, it is important for the relevant stakeholders to first reach out to the masses that is largely unfamiliar with the rationale and functioning of TJ measures. This includes how they can participate in these processes, the impact that TJ measures might have on the country and their daily lives, etc. to ultimately establish justice and national reconciliation. Although this need was understood only piecemeal efforts were taken to this effect by the State and not necessarily due to limited resources or deficiencies in capacities.

It is undeniable that the government alone cannot accomplish this task and as such the media, being the bridge between the rulers and the ruled has to play a crucial role not just in building an informed society but also in facilitating a critical public engagement process. This is imperative to build a broader understanding of and consensus towards this process by promoting a social self-reflection process on the conditions that led to conflict and the possible adjustments to be made in order to create a more inclusive society, reduce the potential impact of those trying to undermine the process and to generally influence the TJ processes in a positive way. In carrying out these duties, the media has to put social responsibility before their monetary and / or political interest, guided by norms, moral standards and professional ethics. They must maintain the quality and accuracy of reportage, and positively influence behavioural responses to conflict and shepherd in a new era of understanding, harmony, and security in broken communities across the country and to foster tolerance and reconciliation. Although in many transitioning countries the media has been used as an important tool in Sri Lanka unfortunately they have been largely left out of the process.

The question remains, however, whether the media is able of completing this task alone without the support of everyone who is a part of this complex and extremely lengthy process. In a country like Sri Lanka that is deeply divided along political and ethnic lines with a grave legacy of human rights abuses, a system that has been manipulated over and over for decades by various groups, including politicians, radical groups, media institutions, and other elements, the media cannot alone fulfil this important and timely task. It is important to understand that a transition process does not begin with a whole new media system, but rather inherits whatever media institutions existed before and inevitably played a role in everything we have experienced and witnessed. Thus, it is necessary for everyone, particularly the ones that have the power and statutory obligation to get together to assist the media in creating an informed society by providing unbiased information and a public discussion process that helps to build a broader understanding and trust amongst communities.

It is necessary to rebuild the media environment in post-war Sri Lanka like in any other post-war or post-conflict country by developing a systematic approach to establish certain protocols or guidelines that govern journalists and media institutions. At the same time it is equally important to understand the dynamic of the environment in which the media is currently operating. The Sri Lankan media has always been divided and biased on political and ethnic ideologies and catering to these particular interests. In my opinion, even though the media environment in Sri Lanka, on the surface continues to remain the same, it has been undoubtedly influenced by various factors, particularly by the civil war, over the past three decades.

Since the outbreak of war in 1983, the Sri Lanka has been divided over political interests and along linguistic lines. Until the end of war in May 2009, both the successive governments and LTTE had used media for their political propaganda purposes and resorted to silence and supress free flow of information, and both parties had unsurprisingly succeeded unequivocally. Many Sri Lankans hoped that with the end of the brutal war, things would change for the better in Sri Lanka. Yet, unfortunately, things only got worse. Majority of Sri Lankans, mostly the ones in the South overwhelmingly supported the then President for ending the war. The Rajapakses ultimately seized the moment and capitalised on it. They decided to cater to their (radical) Sinhalese base by feeding majoritarian nationalism and mono-culturalism rather than uniting the country.

On one hand, the Rajapakse regime cultivated a culture of intolerance and hatred by patronizing radical and nationalist groups and media outlets inciting racism and extremism. On the other hand, the radical Tamil groups both in Sri Lanka and abroad continue to use the media not only to expose grave human rights violations committed against Tamil but also to sharpen the ethnic divide. Anyone or any media institution that criticises the actions of LTTE or Tamil political leaders is labelled as a traitor or called a not-so-purebred by the Tamil radical groups. Tamil media institutions, just like the Sinhala media institutions, couldn’t afford to take the risk of being labelled considering the consequences. Even though, the media freedom, with the regime change in 2015, has significantly improved, the propaganda war waged by media institutions against different groups (ethnic, racial, religious) hasn’t come to an end. Sadly, addressing this issue is clearly not on the agenda of the current so called national government.

In this context, it is important for journalists and media institutions to understand and recognise their role and responsibility towards the society; to inform the citizenry of what goes on in the government, to report on and promoting discussion of ideas, opinions and truths toward the end of social refinement, and to mirror the society and its people. The Sri Lankan media (journalists, editors and proprietors of media institutions), in the current post-war context, should reflect on very specific issues, including but not limited to, the ways the media can influence national reconciliation, effective ways to inform people about the importance of reconciliation processes, possible pathways to effectively collaborate with relevant institutions, ways to identify and expose interested parties that have been manipulating the political system for personal gain, and the challenges in changing the media culture and how these can be addressed.

There have been discussions at policy-making level on changing the media culture in Sri Lanka. The need of establishing a mechanism to look into the media culture that significantly contributed to the war that was ended in 2009 and the prevailing divisions amongst communities has been realised. Nevertheless, this is a change that can’t be brought by one or two groups in isolation. This is a change that needs to be brought by the society as a whole.

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Latest comments

  • 2
    0

    A well written, thought provoking article on a subject that is relevant at the present time. The issue is that the previous despotic regime politicised almost all Sectors of the society including the Media (e.g. laptop distribution). Their goons and lapdogs pervade all cross sections of society even today and although they were driven out of power in the ‘silent’ revolution, they still wield some power. It is very evident how certain media outlets are still so biased. Rather than practising true journalism, they are propagating their own agendas. It is noteworthy the current Government is not abusing the State media to its advantage (as did the MR regime). Having said that, it is the responsibility of the Government to harness the power of the media to achieve its goals.

    p.s. as long as MR is around, it will be hard to achieve the goals as enumerated in this article. He has become a cancer to our society and is still causing havoc and destruction. What a pathetic ex President!

    • 2
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      See the readers seem not interested in anything related to the topic.
      No matter Hiru or Derana or any other men would have been doing the job for extremists rather than supproting any good moves, they just look at them so indifferent. This is the nature of majority folks in this country. Media mafia has sowed all the germs in the hearts and minds of rural folks no matter the facts lies somewhere else.
      That is the reason even today, a larger fraction of society, go after those men that stand on the way not allowing any good moves to be introduced to this society.
      I heard Rajaakshe has come fforward to ask not to sack those protesting labour forces in Hambantota, but the very same man stayed mum as if he knew nothing at the time, Ghanasara stimulated a cruel act targeting a blood bath of youth as sacrifices in Batticalo last week.

      • 1
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        You may be right.

        People in this country have no common interest to the facts but facts.

        They BEHAVE like animals -not thinking twices. No matter any kind of biased senders do the job for some devious politicians, most among the TV viewers dont take them serious. As if they dont matter to them. This culture has ruined this nation by today.

        I TRULY BELIEVE- MEDIA MEN SHOULD BEAHVE THEIR WORDING SO CAREFULLY AS THE GUNMEN ARE ADVISED TO USE THE BULLETS.
        JUST PLEASING THEIR PARTIES TO ADD FUEL TO THE BURNING ISSUES – THEY CAN ONLY WORSEN THE ISSUES:

    • 2
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      Media MAFIA has been a threat to lanken society by today.

      No matter what harm is being done by the articles, they the journos just add their thoughts as if they have go tfirst hand evidence to prove on what they have been reporting.

      Derana is doing a disastrous work unfortunatley. For them for some servile reasons, they owe to do such services on behalf of Rajaakshes. But enough is enough. People have all rights to get ground realities through MEDIA.
      After entrenchment of a decade, it is no easy even Media to turn to be neutral, if not 100% to someextent, but we must not forget that we are all srilankens. Just only for agends, we must not work.
      Hiru and their reportings are beyond all ethics and morals.

  • 1
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    Great article.

  • 1
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    A most commendable article, although I differ on positions like Rajapaksa cultivating the culture of intolerance.
    His regime was a major contributor to what was an ongoing process.
    We are an intolerant society in many ways.

    More thinkers like the author will make a difference, however small.

  • 0
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    “Don,t worry about money. Just do TJ ” What cool advise this…

    Did the Yahapalana PM ask this dude to write it?,

    Because the young generation of gun journalists in Srilanka now , do not take shit from Politikkas,
    Old or new.

    Or whether they are rich or poor ( Are there poor Pollies there)

    Blokes like the Derana dude and the Hiru bloke who does Mokadaune , are classic examples of this this post Nanthikadal breed.

    They know that they have only one country to protect and prosper and practice their craft.

    The days of Politkkas who bribe, their way with the media to fulfil their hidden agendas are gone.

    Car permits, Special Allowances, Free overseas Junkets and various other Santhosams which have been showered on most of the 225 losers in Kotte would have f$$$$ this country up by now if not for the these Journalists.

  • 1
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    In the recent period every arena is seriously influenced by politics and generally politicians have a general idea average people should do every thing they say blindly and they have super power to keep them under control.

    Average people mostly have no concern regarding the serous matters related to the country and they are interested about their short term simple benefits.

    I feel first and foremost requirement of our country is attitude change of all which could not be done overnight and shold need great effort and genuine concern.

    What I do not understand is is there a dedicated to group to that since if there have been such group our country would not have fallen in to such pathetic situation.

    • 1
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      It is just what we as general public got to read/see through media is not the reality behind MEDIA combined with devious politicians in this country. We perfectly have the knowledge – no need to have been a graduate in Rocket science, to clearly differenziate it by today.

      The royal era of MAHINDA RAJAKASHE- abused SLTV senders together with few PVT TV channels (HIRU AND DERANA) only for their media propaganda comparably is the case akin to that of Zimbabwian Robert Mugabe style.

      Even today, the mentioend MEDIA Institution have been doing the job in favour of Rajaakshe Kalliya – is public secret right ?
      I happened to read a JATHAKA kath that could fit most the story of former Athigaru – and you may read it below:

      http://www.buddhanet.net/bt1_42.htm

      like the MITTAVINDA of the Jathaka story, Mahinda Rajaakshe will have to face it – if Buddha s teachings are right.
      He is so devious as no other leaders we had in South asia sofar. Very same leader happened to abuse three forces even getting his house hold work done, but today s FAIRY tale to the nation stammers

      that it was a plan to disgrace Navy and that is why current regime at all put NAVY on fire last week.

      Leaving all the differences, as a decent Leader, Rajaapskshe could behave like the WISE and PERFECT MONK of the MITTVINDA CURSE, but he is even by today MILES away from turning his mind.

      Be blessed to this country/nation.

  • 0
    3

    Current Media under Ranil W.. MS & CBK that regime of an authorization rule of democracy has lost basic Freedom of Expression by all sorts of avenues Rights of People thought out an Island.
    In fact Media freedom been supressed by Police and Navy of security forces by high hand power Ranil W…’s rule of law and Power of State.

    The Our Country and nation has been control by outside domination of US and Indian wealth influence of masses Media.

    Masses media, The Parliament inside and outside the voice of People manipulated by TNA and JVP’s leadership of UNP Ranil w.. and MS governances.

    Freedom of voice has lost once and for all.

  • 0
    2

    The media is not a homogenous lot .Some are pro Mahinda others are pro Ranil.The majority of the Sinhala media hell bent on promoting anti government,Pro Gnanassara,Pro Sinhala Ravaya,Pro Hela Urumaya ,Anti federaland anti any kind of a resolution of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka.

    These guys see the TJ process as leverage for an Protracted Eelam strategy.
    Why should we talk of War Crimes when the Sinhala Army won the War? Are you trying to lever a concessions that the Tamils lost as a result of loosing the war?Are you trying to give Tamils power through the back door by getting the pressure from US & UN?

    The basic problem is that the Sinhala Media is totally clueless about the TJ process and are prejudiced about an internationally used TJ process

    Has the US and Russia & China signed the Rome Statutes? The answer is no-Then why are they asking us to sign them?

    Has any american been taken to the ICC? The answer is no.

    Has any one filed action against US for war crimes committed in Afghanistan,Vietnam,Iraq,or any other country?

    Has any one taken legal action against Tony Blair for having violated human rights and caused war crimes according to the Chilcot Report?

    So why is the west not putting emphasis now on a TJ process?

    The answer is simple ,because their main desire was to throw Mahinda out and to install Ranils regime .
    Therefore TJ is now in the back burner.

    To make matters more confusing they (Maithri & Ranil ) say that the OMP and LLRC is equivalent to the TJ process.

    *It happens to be part of it.

    They say a full War Crimes investigation is out of order.They say the persons responsible for majority of war crimes are now dead or in custody(LTTE MEMBERS)

    What Sri Lankans would like to know is were war crimes committed- if so by whom?

    Was genocide committed- if so by whom

    Was crimes against humanity committed-If so by whom.What is to some extent a relief and we can take heart by the fact that in many countries like in Chilly & Argentina for example it took 60 years for a war crimes court to begin investigations So therefore there is still more time…. for the Transitional Justice Process to begin.

  • 0
    0

    “Has any American been taken to the ICC?”
    “Has anyone taken legal action against Tony Blair?”

    These are illogical questions.The victims who advocate war crimes investigations against Srilanka are not worried whether Tony Blair or Putin or Obama are prosecuted.Let the affected parties in those countries take action.Tamils in Srilanka are directly affected by war crimes and genocide perpetrated by the Srilankan armed forces and the government.It is the rights of the victims to seek redress and justice.Let not the super powers including Putin etc. stand in their way.

  • 1
    0

    Aingkaran Kugathasan; you are so Right.

    If you translate your first name into Sinhala ‘Aingkarang’ means ‘put aside’ all the myths and ‘illogical questions’ that are dividing us into Ethnic and Religious Categories, and March forward together as One Nation, before TamilNadu walks in and takes over the Whole Island!

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