By Latheef Farook –
Prime Minister’s attack on media which divided communities; Some home truth–better late than never
Today’s communalized local mainstream media is the result of decades of racist policies and politics which contributed for the unfortunate current communal divide in the country.
Even today neither politicians who used racism to achieve or remain in power since independence in 1948 nor the media which thrive on chauvinism under the guise of protecting religion, culture and the community, learnt any lesson
Over the years today certain sections of the print and electronic media have virtually become propaganda machines of both local and foreign destructive elements.
This is not something new as this trend started decades ago. In the immediate aftermath of the independence in 1948 the two leading newspaper organizations, Lake House and Times Group, did not incite rancor and violence among communities.
However this tradition was shattered in the early 1960s with the appearance of the Dawasa Group of Newspapers which thrived on chauvinism to promote its business.
For example it was around August 1968 when the then Prime Minister late Dudley Senanayake tried to introduce a” District Council” Bill in the Parliament to honor his pledge to Federal Party for its support to form the National Government .
This was a mild form of power sharing, compared to what was offered subsequently to LTTE, and it could have averted the subsequent militarization of Tamil youths which turned this country into one of the worst killing fields in Asia.
However, Dawasa group opposing the proposed Bill unleashed and campaign whipped up anti Tamil feelings.
The opposition was so intense that Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake had to drop the Bill forcing Federal Party to leave the National Government as they have failed to provide the District Council which they pledged to their electorates. When asked what was FP’s option the assassinated Federal Party leader A Amirthalingam told me in the parliament lobby that “Dudley genuinely tried to fulfill his promise, but racist forces blocked it. Inevitably FP had to leave the government and support it from outside”.
In a research paper on “ethnic bias in Sri Lanka’s mainstream media” presented at SAFHR Regional workshop on Sensitizing Media in November 2002 in Chennai,India, Sri Lankan journalist sunanda deshapriya had this to state;
“It is not new to say that there is an ethnic bias in the mainstream media in Sri Lanka. Innumerable studies have proved this fact beyond an iota of doubt. Compounded by protracted ethno-political conflict, exacerbated by ineffective media reforms and coupled with the imperatives of market economics, the mainstream media in Sri Lanka continues to perceive ethnicity as immutable and innate, neglecting its responsibility to demystify stereotypes and buttress institutions and practices that can ameliorate ethno-political”.
However, the multiplicity of voices in the media should not become a cacophony of half- truths, and must avoid the ills of rabid ethnocentrism and tabloid sensationalism. To do this, there could be several practical steps media organizations can take:
Promote ethnic and gender balance in the newsroom.
Regular updating and internal review of editing and style handbooks.
In- house workshops and training on conflict sensitive journalism.
Greater co-operation between personnel in Colombo and grass-roots level correspondents.
In the aftermath of the military defeat of LTTE in May 2009 all expected politicians and the media to learn from past mistakes, bring communities together and move the country ahead.
Unfortunately all such hopes were dashed. Politicians continued to aim at vote banks while the irresponsible coverage in the media inciting the Sinhalese against Tamils and, lately against Muslims, continued leading to the situation where we are today.
The role played by certain section of the media in highlighting explosive agendas of small racist groups during the past regime indicated that the local media has no vision other than serving as tools for politicians paying no attention to the interest of the country.
Lately most media institutions freely publish, often with prominence, provocative outbursts inciting Sinhalese against Muslims and went to town with slogans to create sensationalism.
This country which emerged from a three decade of destructive ethnic war cannot afford yet carnage. However, the performance of certain section of the media since the end of the war demonstrated the need to ban all hate speeches, statements or any such material which could poison the hearts and minds of people of one community against the other.
The situation was such that even the previous government which openly promoted racism tried to introduce a “Code of Media Ethics” to all print and electronic media.
In June 2014 organised violent attacks on Aluthgama, Dharga town and Beruwala Muslims made the local media a laughing stock. This was a disaster for the local mainstream media which made an all out effort to cover up this carnage. However people were kept informed of the barbarity with minute by minute comments by several sources including mobile phones, sms, face book and twitters.
In one of the most shameful developments in the history of the island’s mainstream media, wide publicity was given to news and views of politicians and others who tried to hide this crime and put the blame on the victims. However, foreign media covered the carnage with all the details exposing local media’s hypocrisy and hostility towards Muslims.
Thus the imperative need of the hour is not code of ethics but to strictly ban publishing and telecasting of hate speeches disturbing communal harmony .The irony is that the present government which tried to introduce a bill to ban hate speeches abandoned the move.
It was under such circumstance came Prime Minister Rail Wickremesinghe’s scathing attack in Parliament on Thursday 28 January 2016 accusing the media of promoting racism. He added that journalists don’t talk big as their hands are not clean.
When it comes to international affairs, Sri Lanka’s mainstream media has become blind follower of United States led European war mongers’ pro Israeli media.
As a result readers were deprived of the opportunity to know the truth about developments especially of US, UK, European and Israeli wars raping and ravaging Muslim countries worldwide since the collapse of the former Soviet Union in 1989.
In doing so they help hide the atrocities of war mongers and their evil agendas against humanity perhaps for various incentives as accused by the prime minister
For example during the recent visit to Sri Lanka of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, a war criminal, a section of the local media gave wide publicity to his lecture at Lakshman Kadirgamar Centre and meeting with President Sirisena. However the media was completely silent on his crime records against humanity.
In another example US, UK, Europe and Israel invaded and destroyed many Muslims countries during the past two and half decades. This range from Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, now Syria, Egypt, Yemen, Bosnia, Kosovo and several other countries under the guise of fighting War on Terrorism which in fact is “ MADE IN US AND ISRAEL”.
According to United Nations report around sixty million people, mostly Muslims, were made refugees suffering in extreme conditions. These war crimes of US and its allies were never highlighted by local media in their proper perspectives.
However some columnists go all out to pick up some fiction to implicate local Muslims with extremism though they are the most peaceful of the three communities.
Now Israelis are here in a big way and they have suspected to have penetrated many sections of the local media hiding their well document ted crime records while getting their mercenaries to project their Palestinian victims and Muslim victims of US led wars as terrorist and what not. It is also not an easy task to get an article in the local media highlighting the plight of Muslims worldwide due to US led campaign demonising Islam and Muslims to justify its invasions and destruction of Muslim countries.
Muslim countries have traditionally and historically been some of the best friends of Sri Lanka. In times of crisis they were the first to rush to island’s rescue including their support in all international forums.
Around a million Sri Lankans are employed in the Gulf remitting around seven billion dollar annually which help sustain our economy. Do the local media highlight these positive sides?
This has been the pattern of the local media. Isn’t it time to shed racism and being pawns in the hands of international war mongers and provide the news and views, local and international, in their proper perspective in the larger interest of the people and the country?