6 August, 2020

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The Making Of An Indian Expert

By Malinda Seneviratne

Malinda Seneviratne

‘Indian Expert’ can mean an Indian who is an expert on some subject or someone who is an expert on India.  It is the latter tribe that is relevant to this story.

Earlier this month the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), along with the A J Kidwai Mass Communication Research Centre, Jamila Millia Islamia and the Nelson Mandela Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, organized a conference of senior editors in the South Asian region.  The topic was ‘Violence and Conflict reporting: The media debates its role’.  The inaugural session saw representatives of the respective organizations offering introductory cum welcome comments.  There was also a special presentation by Adam Roberts, South Asia correspondent for The Economist, based in Delhi, where he is said to oversee political and general coverage from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, among other countries.

Roberts’ comments were interesting.  Although based in a country birthed and engulfed in conflict, Roberts picked up examples almost exclusively from Sri Lanka to make some points, pertinent points of course.  He did not elaborate and indeed he could not, since this was not a comprehensive presentation on the subject.  He did not contextualize either, again for the same reasons, one would like to think.  However, if someone were to report on the opening session, what would come out would be cursory and de-contextualized remarks which of course would acquire lives of their own thereafter.  Therein lies the irresponsibility (there were no caveats from Roberts).

Roberts’, correctly, questioned the term ‘post-conflict’, which assumes conflict-end.  For some, the absence of fire-exchange implies conflict-end, for others the clash of arms is but one expression of conflict.  Roberts’ said that someone he had spoken to in the Northern Province had complained about ‘military presence’.  That’s evidence of persisting conflict. Agreed.

What Roberts did not state was the context.  Context includes sabre-rattling by pro-LTTE sections of the Sri Lankan Tamil expatriates, terrorism-glorification from Tamil Nadu, and hero-worshipping of Prabhakaran by TNA politicians.  No Government entrusted with national security in a country that has suffered conflict the way Sri Lanka has can be faulted for erring on the side of caution.  Roberts’ comment was therefore flippant, misleading and irresponsible.

He spoke also of Prabhakaran’s little son, Balachandran, being shot dead.   The circumstances of the ‘how’ are at best contested, but even if the confident finger-pointing that Roberts indulged in drew from uncontestable evidence, ethical comment demands at least mention of context, even in a ‘issue-flagging’ exercise.  There were children that age who were sent to ‘Receiving Centres’ by the LTTE clothed in suicide jackets.  Prabhakaran slaughtered children his son’s age, abducted and forced into fatigues hundreds of others, and thousands of children held hostage by him were rescued by the Army at great cost.  Roberts’ cannot be ignorant of all this.

Several participants, in conversation, spoke about ‘journalists’ they knew from Sri Lanka.  More than one mentioned the ‘only one’ they knew: Sunanda Deshapriya.  Now if that is ‘source’, then it is not surprising that they utter comments that many in Sri Lanka would laugh at.  A journalist from Switzerland mentioned a journalist (sic) called Francis Harrison by way of demonstrating ‘inside knowledge’.  Shamindra Ferdinando of The Island, who was attending the conference had this to say to this journalist:

Francis Harrison, in early 2009, said that the LTTE had a strategy to push back the Army.  Sri Lanka cannot be expected to design policy to prove Francis Harrison right.’

QED.

All this is symptomatic of a deep malaise that compromises journalistic worth.  Roberts is no fly-by-night accidental tourist doing some freelance work as a side business.  He was making some points, tendentious for sure but in the context of flagging issues for discussion eminently permissible.  The issue is that there are many Roberts flying in and out of Sri Lanka or seated in some cubicle elsewhere writing ‘stories’ (!) as though they are experts.  So they sound their friends, many of whom are considered (mis)informants.  No cross-checking, no substantiation solicited or offered, no consideration of source-reliability all add up to irresponsible reporting.

Most people who referred to Sri Lanka are intelligent journalists without political agenda and yet many were regurgitating the ‘truths’ that the likes of Roberts have drawn from dubious sources or else conjured up from cursory observation.  There’s a picture that gets painted and which they’ve glanced at.  And that’s the ‘Sri Lanka’ they believe exists.

This writer spent less than four days in Delhi, moving between airport, hotel and conference hall with a couple of hours at a shopping center.  Considering all of the above, if Adam Roberts and others who consider Sunanda Deshapriya a journalist are experts on Sri Lanka, this writer has all the credentials necessary to warrant the tag ‘Indian Expert’.  That should say something.

*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at www.malindawords.blogspot.com

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Latest comments

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    Continuing with a heavy and oppressive presence of the military in order to avoid ‘erring on the side of caution’, just because some chaps overseas keep rattling something! So, theoretically this oppressive situation can continue ad infinitum? What sort of logic is that?

    Does not one examine whether the ground situation warrants it in any way? Looking only for excuses to continue the military oppression? It will definitely boomerang one day, sooner or later! This is no reconciliation!

    Sengodan. M

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      Exactly! Either the rule of law and civil society exists or it does not. It cannot exist in some parts and not in others. This reality was seen recently during the now infamous ‘water protests’ in Rathupaswala. Suddenly it became apparent that the army rules, in south too. The armed forces, in fact, have been ordered by presidential decree, to maintaining law and order in all 22 districts.

      It is time to ask the army to return to barracks and stay there, at least till they have to come out and clean the mess created by some other future government.

  • 0
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    Malinda – you say, “This writer spent less than four days in Delhi, moving between airport, hotel and conference hall with a couple of hours at a shopping center. Considering all of the above, if Adam Roberts and others who consider Sunanda Deshapriya a journalist are experts on Sri Lanka, this writer has all the credentials necessary to warrant the tag ‘Indian Expert’. That should say something”.

    What it DOES say quite clearly is that you are way off the mark! Is this from your “Parallel Universe”, or are you in a cubicle “elsewhere writing stories” ?

    • 0
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      ,Malinda says;
      “This writer[Himself] spent less than four days in Delhi, moving between airport, hotel and conference hall with a couple of hours at a shopping center. Considering all of the above, if Adam Roberts and others who consider Sunanda Deshapriya a journalist are experts on Sri Lanka, this writer has all the credentials necessary to warrant the tag ‘Indian Expert’. That should say something”.

      So You are telling us to believe?.
      THAT;
      YOU are THE ONLY EXPERT in SRILANKAN affairs AND Others who are just came out from the womb to get advises from the so called ONLY SRI LANKA EXPERT In THESE DECADES,
      Who Canot Understand the differences between A combatant [ Forced conscripted or not] and a Prisoner of war,
      named MALINDA SENAEVIRATNE.
      Any way, We all know that, You have to Tow the Line of Rajpassa & clan,
      otherwise you will miss the only chance you have to become governance’s leach.
      well done MALINDA ,THE SRI LANKAN AFFAIRS EXPERT OF THE 20th And
      21st Century.

  • 0
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    On one part we have Indian experts and on the other Sri Lankan experts who both have an agenda to fulfill. The task of the journalist is to tell the story not to change it to suit a political agenda.

    When a government cracks down on dissent and journalism in the name of security, it can only mean that they want to hide the truth. We cannot deny that many journalist have been killed or fled the country. Why?

    When a government is unable to find the killers of journalist and political activist. What can that mean?

    And I believe that good journalism, good television, can make our world a better place.
    Christiane Amanpour

    Because if we the storytellers don’t do this, then the bad people will win.
    Christiane Amanpour

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    Dude, there is no context necessary for the execution of a 12 year old child.

    p.s. isn’t it strange that all those (ok 80% of those) hundreds of thousands of Tamils who were held hostage by the LTTE and “rescued” by the humanitarian operation voted for the TNA which you say is/was the LTTE proxy? Surely people whose children have been “slaughtered”, “abducted and forced into fatigues” and held “hostage” would have longer memories?

    Perhaps you should revisit your narrative – perhaps it wasn’t a humanitarian mission? perhaps the people felt that the LTTE was fighting for the people’s rights? perhaps the Sri Lankan army was indeed bombing indiscriminately and creating a humanitarian catastrophe? perhaps the people are still under the jackboot of the Army? That narrative will only take place in your parallel universe mate.

    S

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      So are you agreeing that the TNA indeed is an LTTE proxy, and that support for them implies support for LTTE terrorists? And we wonder why there’s a “heavy military presence” in the north :D

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        No, all I’m doing is pointing out the internal inconsistency of young Malinda’s positions. he can’t say that the TNA were ltte proxies and then say that the people were rescued from them. If that were the case then it does not explain the popularity of the TNA.

        Just because most of the people in the North and East didn’t feel that the ltte oppressed them, doesn’t mean that they constitute a security threat. The fact that they voted for the TNA which clearly indicated a democratic struggle as their plan, shows that the people are not for violence.

  • 0
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    I agree with all the comments made by Sengodan, Bedrock, Peter, Safa & Sulaiman.

    It looks like Roberts know better than Malinda.

    May be Roberts knows very well what went on in the past and what is going on at the moment in Sri Lanka – in particular in the North and the East of Sri Lanka.

    ”Following the most recent resolution of the UN Human Rights Council the government has sent a delegation to South Africa, which is famous for its Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The March 2013 resolution of the UNHRC calls on Sri Lanka to not only implement the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission but also to go further and appoint an independent body to investigate alleged human rights violations during the war. The unique feather of the South Africa TRC was its provision for legal amnesty, which would be appealing to government leaders who feel they are being hounded by international human rights groups. The problem is the government appears to be going to the second stage without passing the first stage” – http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2013/05/05/the-orphan-within-the-government-system/

    What went on:

    [Edited out]

    Please submit the original web links instead of blog links – CT

  • 0
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    There is clear evidence that Balachandran was killed by the armed forces. There are pictures to show him before and after his death with soldiers. So to say killing of Balachandran is questionable is trying to cover a pumpkin with a plate of rice.

  • 0
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    A couple of points. It is good that Malinda S has attended the confab,with Shamindra F of ‘Island’ fame. It is also good that the organizers, whoever they were, had appeared to have selected two journalists who have a proven capability of representing the Establishment view. Now, by Malinda’s admission, Shamindra F has provided a counter to a journalist from Switzerland participating at the confab,who attributed ‘inside knowledge’ to Francis Harrison. It is not clear, however, he made this counter during the conference or privately. The way both Malinda and Shamindra revel at writing reports may suggest that it may be a counter outside the forum, which noramlly many Sri Lankans do now a days. Further, it is evident that Malinda himself has not unttered anything of value there, since there is no reference to his intervention in this article.
    What one could deduce from all this, unless Malinda clarifies to the contrary, is we normally criticize others in the comfort zone that we are in. Obviously, they should appear to have had a battle within, only to prove to their ‘bosses’ that they have done the job!

  • 0
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    Malinda,

    You might have an axe to grind with Mr. Deshapriya. An analysis of journalistic standards in the sub-continent should reveal that Sri Lanka lags India in all aspects of the profession. And, I am not even going to touch the ethics and principles aspects of the job.

    When did you last see an outlet break a major story, follow it up with indepth reporting and keep on it towards some conclusion?

    Read any news story in the Sri Lankan media and you can poke giant holes in the story, the facts, and of course the language. Most of the stories are coated in innuendo, anonymous vague sources or outright lies. There is rarely proper attribution and it is extremely hard to make head or tail even with the indepth reports.

    I don’t read the Sinhala media so I am not competent to comment on it.

    There are numerous organizations being formed with Journalism as its primary focus but it is always with a political bent of some sort. If Sri Lankan journalists want to be recognized for their news reporting capabilities, they have a tall climb from the depths they have fallen.

  • 0
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    Did you and the other Rajapaksa worshipper Shamindra openly challenge Adam Roberts’s comments at the conference or did you not have the gumption to do so in case you were called upon to explain the atrocities being committed by Rajapaksa in Sri Lanka?

    There is no point writing articles in CT criticising people after the events? You were there and you should have had the guts to say what you have written here. Are you a coward?

    • 0
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      Piranha;

      “There is no point writing articles in CT criticising people after the events? You were there and you should have had the guts to say what you have written here. Are you a coward?”.

      As you know,
      If they have guts and Self respect, they will not sing hosannas with shit eating Pigs.

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