By Malinda Seneviratne –
The news/views website, Colombo Telegraph is blocked for users from Sri Lanka. This is not the first occasion this has happened. Colombo Telegraph is not the first website that has been blocked either. Tamilnet, which was the voice of the LTTE was blocked years ago. Other sites which like people to think that gossip, wish and other mischievous missives marketed as ‘news’ that the operators of the websites believe would in some way help their political project(s) have also been blocked. Pornographic sites have been blocked too.
The blocking of websites is first and foremost silly. Those who really want to visit such places can do so at the cost of just a few mouse-clicks. It is therefore childish. Now we don’t know for sure who blocked CT, but let’s assume that the Government had a hand. If that is the case, the Government is not doing itself any favors. Indeed, it can be argued that it is detrimental to the Government to block CT or those other classes of websites referred to above.
As I argued in a piece titled ‘The staunchest friends of the regime’ that sites like Colombo Telegraph helps the regime. It’s an old theory, true, but dissent and criticism is more containable within democratic structures and in this case such opposition gets off loaded into virtual space largely inhabited by invective-spewing hotheaded cowards who are loathe to walk the talk.
Colombo Telegraph has more uses than this dissent-offloading business. Even if you thought CT was run by nutcases with nutcases and for nutcases with narrow political objectives that are against the larger interests of the citizenry, it can be taken to be a place where the enemy shows up, shows face, spouts criticism. Knowing the enemy by face, name and word is very useful in politics.
But CT is bigger than that. CT gives space to a wide range of political views. While it has its complement of regime-haters (mostly out of disappointment and rage that preferred outcome(s) did not materialize), there is enough cogent criticism to make such whiners irrelevant and even sufferable. The benefits outweigh the negatives.
Speaking strictly for myself, in addition to CT accommodating my articles, it has offered me insights into the characters and politics of those who don’t necessarily agree with me. I am richer for reading their versions of things and their vision of how things ought to be. Sure, I don’t care much for the invective of the largely ill-informed and politically compromised commentators who throw up frequently below what is posted, but that’s fine with me; I just don’t bother to read that stuff. I do read the articles and I find them by and large to be well-written and well argued (even though I may not share the assumptions and may find fact-selectivity problematic).
CT, more than any other source, mined Wikileaks for documents pertaining to Sri Lanka, many which wrecked the sweet picture of the USA and UN that those opposed to the regime, for example, may have entertained.
What is fundamentally objectionable here is the curtaining of expression-freedom, the intent rather than the act (which, as I said, could be sorted out with a few mouse-clicks). It implies fear. It implies retarded thinking process. It implies lack of counter-argument (to whatever it was that bothered the ‘blocker’) or inability to articulate objection. CT has not shown that it will not honor the right of reply to any article posted on the website, but even if it did, that kind of ‘censorship’ is too common for anyone to gripe and whine.
This blocking of CT is a violation of my right to information, my freedom to visit websites that I find useful. It is a childish and pernicious move on the part of the blocker(s). CT is not a threat to my security and not a threat to national security, and even if that were the case, the best way of responding to that kind of threat is to engage using the same weapons, primarily word and argument. This, is counterproductive, and moreover offers free ammunition to those who actually may have pernicious designs on the nation and national interest.
If some state element is behind this blocking, it deserves the tag ‘dumb-ass’. If not, it is in the interest of relevant state agencies to find out who did it and put a stop to these kinds of meaningless and childish responses to what is in the view of the blocker(s) objectionable.
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