By Malinda Seneviratne – The Nation editorial today –
We live in a world where the Bible and Quran are used to justify anything and everything, a world where the teachings of the Buddha are (mis)interpreted to buttress political projects quite antithetical to the teachings of Siddhartha Gauthama and a world where the works of Karl Marx are mined for ‘appropriate’ quotes to support preferred political position. In such a world, selectivity, deliberate downplaying and happy inflation abound. The internet, for all its promise, is made as much of information as misinformation. It can empower and it can also lead astray.
So this is a world of (mis)information overload where effective regulatory laws really don’t exist. It is a world made for slander and lying where those with bucks and guns can mine selectively, conjure up files upon files of fantasies and, let’s face it, vilify with impunity. And there are enough takers too, enough people who revel in garbage production and enough demand to lap up the produce with glee. The discerning would have a good sense of true weight of ‘story’ and by and by figure out which sources are reliable and which are not.
The most important point is that you can’t really shut people from going where they want to go. Those who want pornography will visit such sites. Those who want gossip will find it. It all depends on what people want and how serious they are about getting reliable information. For example, if you want information about the ills of smoking, it won’t be enough to look for anti-smoking websites. What appear as anti-smoking sites in the first several pages of Google, for instance, are operated by various sections of the tobacco industry. Even the ‘opposition’, thus, is regulated. If you have bucks, it can be done. On the other hand, the truth, as they say, is ‘out there’ and it is virtually impossible to block all roads leading to it.
This is why site-blocking is a puerile exercise. Anyone can say ‘any old thing’ slander included. What is blocked can be accessed through proxy servers; works for pornography and works for mischievous or slanderous sites that paint themselves as neutral, political commentators.
Colombo Telegraph (CT) is not a porn site. It is a political news/commentary site. Those who run it have their political slant. They do allow the ‘other side’ (shall we say?) some space, but for the most part privilege columnists with undisguised antipathy towards the current regime. They indulge in what could be called gutter journalism, hitting below the belt in ways that do themselves much disservice, for example the recent tasteless attacks on Rajpal Abeynayake, the Editor of the Daily News. The management of comments is equally unprofessional. And yet, there is enough good-sense stuff in CT to attract a good cross section of people interested in Sri Lanka’s political firmament. Indeed, it is a convenient place to visit if you want to know what those who are opposed to the regime think. That entire club meets there, so to speak.
But CT is not just platform for regime-haters. CT also puts out information that is of absolutely import in defending Sri Lanka against various machinations from rogue-players in the international community. CT has ‘broken stories’ that have been used extensively by those opposed to ‘imposed regime-change’. This should also be recognized.
CT has been blocked on many occasions by various internet service providers in Sri Lanka, both state-run and private entities. It has to be consequent to orders from somewhere close to the top of the regime, obviously. Only the blockers and those who order blocking will know the ‘why’ of it all; we can only comment on the meaninglessness.
The United States of America doesn’t block in this crude manner. It purchases dissent for the most part or regulates/manages it. That’s being smart. Cost-effective. The US knows that what cannot be stopped should be managed. That’s why we get ‘conflict management’ as opposed to ‘conflict resolution’. Washington probably knows that it is better to have the opposition visible than have it go underground. It should not be forgotten that avenues to vent anger and opposition are an important part not only of a vibrant democracy but in consolidating power, especially since virtual space is the preferred battleground of slothful critics. Keyboard warriors show where the fault lines are and thereby serve regimes that are terrified of even the slightest threat to perceived invincibility.
The internet, for all its liberating appearances, is a tool more effectively used by the powerful. In Sri Lanka’s case, since ‘threat’ is more from outside and since real power is also resident elsewhere, there’s little that can be gained by blocking CT, either domestically or internationally. It only betrays regime-jitteriness.
*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at www.malindawords.blogspot.com