28 November, 2021


The Microphone Was On

 By Sarath De Alwis

Sarath de Alwis

The one thing … that is truly ugly is the climate of hate and intimidation, created by a noisy few, which makes the decent majority reluctant to air in public their views on anything controversial. … Where all pretend to be thinking alike, it’s likely that no one is thinking at all.” ― Edward Abbey – Essayist, Iconoclast   

When what we think and do, lack integrity there is only one word to describe it. We become frauds. Our acts become fraudulent. 

We make feeble attempts to become comfortable with our deception. Losing the authentic self is the price of pretended integrity and mercenary stardom on the small screen. 

“Wadapitiya” is the title of the popular political talk show aired weekly by ‘Derana’ TV network .  

“Argumentative Amphitheater” would be the near flawless English construction. “Polemical Playpen’ would be a close second.   

Arguably, it is the most widely watched TV talk shop that entices cock-a-hoop politicians of all persuasions. 

Last week the program itself and its multitalented anchor made news.  

Mahindanada Aluthgamage – A senior Minister of the current caretake cabinet appearing on the show, unleashed a fiery condemnation of a specific community that he alleged, carelessly spread the COVID-19  virus in his hill country bailiwick. 

Aluthgamage is a politician. He is not an expert on public health. It is reasonable to presume that his knowledge of the disciplines of immunology or epidemiology could be comfortably accommodated on a pin head. 

This simple truth escaped the attention of the TV anchor – Chatura Alwis. He did not bother to ask the politico why he did not leave that responsibility in the hands of state officials handling public health. 

Despite this slight omission, the TV anchor was the quintessential public policy arbitrator. 

Upholding the highest traditions of Journalism, he interrupted the garrulous politician. 

Is it fair to target a specific community? He asked. The TV anchor’s dispassionate innocence added further fuel to the Minister’s mock indignation.

He accused the ethnoreligious minority of deliberate, willful flouting of emergency health regulations, announced by the government. 

Of twenty positive cases detected, 19 were from that community. Now can we possibly permit such behavior he persisted. 

The TV anchor expressed alarm. Identifying a specific group as responsible for the spread of the infection would be unfair and counterproductive, he warned. 

That warning, however, came after the Minister was given full rein to wax eloquent on his indictment of the hapless community that he targeted. 

With unabashed venom he derided the behavioral norms of the community he was determined to name and shame.   

It was now time for a commercial break. The microphone was still on. The participants after their exhibition bouts quietly relaxed. 

Then came the coup de théâtre that went viral on YouTube instantly. 

The TV anchor told the Minister ‘Mata dan ganak denna oney oya tika kiyanta dunnanta” [ I deserve a reward for letting you release that bit of diatribe] 

Readers will note, I have avoided naming names except that of the Minster. Subsequent to the faux pas he released another statement reiterating the substance of his earlier outburst.

Revisiting the psychosis of the jingoist minister or deciphering the deception of the artful TV anchor is not the purpose of this essay.  It has a more pragmatic purpose. 

Electronic media in Sri Lanka are not subject to any supervision by a regulatory agency. A free debate is good for a democratic society. But presenting personal opinions as facts on the ground needs to be condemned. 

In the lonely drift in lockdown land, I cannot dismiss this incident lightly. The politician with his diatribe fingered one of the foulest of wounds. It cannot be left unattended either. The Russian poet Anna Akhmatova tugs at my weary conscience. “As the future ripens in the past, so the past rots in the future –a terrible festival of dead leaves.”

In lockdown land, the terrible festival of dead leaves allows us no respite.  

A fawning media electronic and print makes politicians callous and unaccountable. 

The TV show is aired by the TV channel that is named after ‘Terra’ – the roman goddess of earth. The cognoscenti of this troubled land know that its brilliant owner creators indeed now parade as they own ‘Terra’ the earth goddess. 

The episode of the Microphone that wasn’t switched off and the subsequent uproar that failed to takeoff has a lesson.  

When an implacable crisis hits a society, the fundamental reality of that society is exposed. The exposure, if you care to look will show the ghastly, gruesome state of nature of that rotten society. 

It is that actuality that surfaced when the TV anchor, the minster and at least one  other participant forgot that the microphone was on permitting the world  to be privy to their professional  perfidy- the profession of politics and the profession of manufacturing  political opinion. . 

The Pandemic crisis will define the times we live in. It will shape the future that awaits us. 

We are now discovering, in real time where power lies, what  people treasure and what people fear. 

Thanks to the pandemic and the lockdown, we know who has less and who has more. More than that, we know who needs far more than what they already have. 

This has happened before. When the black death overwhelmed the humankind, we looked for someone responsible. Unable to fight the invisible virus, humans decided on the next best thing. They shut themselves in closed compounds and hounded out ‘undesirables. 

The senior Minster from the hill country who heads the list in his district was retreating to those dark times in history. He is not only dark in complexion but is also dark in mind. 

In fighting the Pandemic words matter. Social distancing is physical distancing while maintaining deep links to social solidarity. 

The World Health Organization has issued the guidelines to media. Stick to facts. Don’t report or repeat  rumours. Above all do not stigmatizing patients.

Poverty of information spurs negative gossip that helps the pestilence to spread. Timely honest information helps to halt it. 

This pandemic is scary. 

What happened at the ‘Vada Pitiya’  reflects that all pervasive scare of the unknow. 

We are sacred of the unknown. In such irrational fear, we must find someone to blame. It is much more comfortable to replace panic created by an enemy unknown with a villain identified. It is much easier to associate our fears with others. 

It has another danger. When minorities are stigmatized as being the ‘other’ they automatically withdraw into their comfort zones. 

The WHO has summed the process of ‘othering’ the other. “Stigma can undermine social cohesion and prompt possible social isolation of groups, which might contribute to a situation where the virus is more, not less, likely to spread,” 

If people are trying to hide their illness to avoid discrimination, they are less likely to get tested or treated.

We need a consistent, calm levelheaded message. Who will switch on the microphone and give it? 

Microphone was on. The world heard the goddess of Earth – ‘Terra’ singing the hymn of deception. Dharanee is the Sinhala name of earth goddess. Romans regard her as a goddess.    Goddess or Mother she frowns on deception.

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Latest comments

  • 8

    Sarath De Alwis
    The Microphone Was On
    Things are getting really desperate for you and I am sure you have caught Gotha-D 20 which is obvious from your symptoms. You are breathing heavily , heart is beating fast ( from the number of essays) and running a temperature. You have lost your mind and let me analyse the signs.

    1) “The one thing … that is truly ugly is the climate of hate and intimidation, created by a noisy few, which makes the decent majority reluctant to air in public their views on anything controversial. … Where all pretend to be thinking alike, it’s likely that no one is thinking at all.
    *** Hate and intimidation in Sri Lanka has been around since time immemorial. Who are these SILENT MAJORITY please. Were these the ones who voted for Gotha. You yourself were very reluctant to Critisize Gotha in public when he Pardoned the Killer of Mirusuvil 8.
    2) When what we think and do, lack integrity there is only one word to describe it. We become frauds. Our acts become fraudulent.
    *** Yes you and Gotha are Frauds when you lacked integrity to speak out.
    3) We make feeble attempts to become comfortable with our deception. Losing the authentic self is the price of pretended integrity and mercenary stardom on the small screen.
    *** You can now see how Kali can identify pretenders and you fit the description perfectly.
    4) Wadapitiya” is the title of the popular political talk show aired weekly by ‘Derana’ TV network .
    *** I cant speak for Muslims. This is a distraction and who are these INFERIOR PEOPLE to laugh at people who are far Superior in terms of HUMANITY . LANGUAGE & CULTURE. Have you not heard of Thevaram, Thiruvasagam, Thirukural , Sivapuranam and so on.
    You are a well educated man and don’t make a fool of yourself. Rise to the occasion. Gotha cant beg as no one will give him any money. So CBK is doing the bidding for him

  • 9

    Thank you for speaking out. It is high time the silent majority woke up and took responsibility and not let the handful of racists dictate the tone in Sri Lanka. The public need to use their brains and understand that some politicians, some in media, some in religion and some in society are very eager to shout loudly and push their personal agendas to demonize all minorities. Claiming to be sinhala buddhists, these people never practise what the buddha taught. Their morals are in the gutters yet they hunger to influence and control society. History has lots of lessons for us. Look where the nazis took Germany in their quest to dominate other races. The real sinhala buddhists, the true practitioners of the teachings of buddha, need to wake up and take control of the narrative from those usurpers who claim to speak in their name or Sri Lanka is in for a dark future.

    • 3

      There were times, that unknown men gunned down the journalists.
      These men work for Derana TV and Hiru TV, will have to face it if they continue their kind of racial behaviours openly as they can today.
      This country has a record of crimes again and again… in the end, nobody knows who may have perpetrated.
      This Chathura has now become a pain to the many in growing circles of the country. SO is the frequency also for many of the HIRU journalists.
      Those abusive owners escape, in the end, their bone licking dogs such as Chathura and Dilka would have to pay a high price in the days to come.
      Then we can all it – KARMAYA solved it .

  • 4

    Part 1

    Story of one person when Gotha Microphones are off

    J Amstrong · 10 hours ago
    I’d like to share the story of my brother Lester Nelson who passed away in part due to the current situation in Sri Lanka. Lester was experiencing chest pain last week and went to the emergency department at Lanka Hospital. They performed an EKG which showed an abnormal rhythm and enlargement of the heart. His blood sugar was elevated. Lester was told no specialists were coming to hospitals due to the coronavirus, that there was nothing they could do for him, and advised him to go to the General Hospital. He was admitted to General Hospital and the next morning around 4am he began having severe chest pain again. He walked to the nurse’s station to seek help, telling them he was also having difficulty breathing. He was given a pill to put under his tongue and told to return to his bed and get some rest. At 8:30am the ward doctor finally arrived and told him that they cannot run further tests, nor are there any cardiologists who can attend to him, again because of the coronavirus. Unable to do anything else for him, their recommendation was to go home and return in 2 weeks for an outpatient appointment. Despite being so unstable just a few hours earlier, I was shocked to hear that he was discharged without further intervention. Because of a delay in processing the paperwork, he waited until about 3pm before being allowed to go home. In the meantime, we called every hospital in Colombo to see if there was a cardiologist willing to see him sooner.

  • 7

    Part 2

    Each time we were told no, no one could come because of the risks of coronavirus and the curfew in the country. Finally, we found a friend who personally knew a cardiologist who was willing to see him the next morning at Lanka Hospital where he originally was. He was re-admitted to Lanka Hospital later in the evening where he waited for the cardiologist to come the next morning. Around 3am however, he suffered a massive heart attack which caused him to go into cardiac arrest. CPR could not bring him back, and he passed away. I know writing this will not bring my brother, a loving husband and father of four boys, back. But it’s a shame that there wasn’t a doctor willing to see him when he needed it most. My belief was that all doctors take an oath to save lives. Lester was only 56 years old, and perhaps he could have been saved if there was a better system put in place. This virus is affecting people all over the world. Rather than shutting down care for their citizens, other countries are protecting them more than ever. I hope that Sri Lanka takes steps to make a change, because this kind of loss could be prevented if our healthcare providers had the tools and support to be on the front lines–where they belong and where they have taken an oath to be. If you feel that reading this could help someone who relies on the health system in Sri Lanka, or that it could possibly save a life, please share.

  • 3

    The lesson from the above for all Gotha lovers is that Sri Lanka is a 3rd World Country struggling to cope with COVID-19 despite all the BRAVE Macho talk..

  • 1

    I find the comments here reflect more serious mindset than what transpired when the microphone on/off modes. In essence we all suffer a dual live personality syndrome.

    Who are the Majority Sinhalese the likes of Eagle Eye or the Minority few non existent noble Sinhalese ?

    It was the Majority that started the Pogrom Agenda in this Country in 1915 and faithfully carried all the way down in the footsteps of Rev.Angariga Dharmapala under various names and pretexts. The latest in the row being the ‘so called war against Terrorism’ that is supposed to have proclaimed stopped but continues to this second even though the microphones are truly turned off.

    The supposed minority of good cops had never gainsaid a word of condemnation during 1915 to 2020 saga.

    Microphones are true heroes whether on or off, sincere in their duty to their masters. But are we as sincere in our hearts as the Microphones , I doubt ?

  • 1

    Chatura and Aluthgamagay very correct they know Sri Lanka belongs to Sinhalese Aryans. 1815 year Sri Lanka’s Tamil Population 8% and Muslim nearly 5%. Bygone days name of Sri Lanka, Heladiva> Hela means, Sinhala

  • 1


    “At that time it was dominated by white women”

    You mean your time, in Black and white film.

  • 0

    Muslims are lucky to be left alive after they carried out the most inhumane attack on humanity since 2nd World War. Culturally, not even animals are disturbed while they’re eating even if they’re to be slaughtered for meat later on and no soul is disrupted on an act of worshipping. And uncultured Muslims found the two most undefensive instances to slaughter worshippers and those who were eating, in hundreds, including scores of infants, toddlers and children. How many articles were penned for the rights of those who died? And yes I said Muslimes did it, each of the bombers was Muslim, they become terrorists afterward. That’s the fact. This is a time where killers have the kind of rights, which victims never had chance on.

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