Colombo Telegraph

Whose Narrative Would You Purchase?

By Malinda Seneviratne –

Malinda Seneviratne

Are there wars without witnesses?  Technically, no.  Some witnesses die with the knowledge.  Some, i.e. those who for whatever reason escape ‘liberation’ from bomb and bullet, napalm and whatnot, live on.  Some tell their stories, so do not.  Some told-stories are dismissed and some are heard, half-believed or believed but swept over by the overwhelming nature of narratives privileged by victor.

This is the 21st Century, although people like US Secretary of State John Kerry confuses it often with the 19th (he famously chided Russia for ‘Invading Ukraine on trumped-up pretext’, forgetting the ‘pretext’ is the watchword of the compulsive invader that his country has been and forgetting unforgivably that a few years ago the USA invaded Iraq telling the world that Saddam Hussein held weapons of mass destruction even though the President of the time knew very well it was a lie).  In the 21st century, given surveillance and communications technology one can’t fight a war in secret.

What can be done is to manufacture the reading of the nitty-gritty pertaining to these not-so-secret wars.  Consider the invasion of Iraq for example.  Think about how the world got to know about it and how the world perceived what was happening on the ground.  What were the sources of information?

We got it all from CNN, Reuters, BBC, ABC and other West-based media houses.  There was enough on-the-ground reportage.  There were ‘experts’ commentating on an hour-to-hour basis. It was basically about how the operation was proceeding.  The viewers were made to ask themselves ‘When will Saddam be captured?’  There was a lot of spectacle.  Suppressed were the horrendous crimes against humanity committed by the invading armies.  The grandmasters of spectacle-broadcast named above did not once question the legitimacy of the invasion.  They purchased, happily, the ‘weapons of mass destruction’ fib offered by George W Bush.

Iraq was bombed into the Middle Ages.  Access to oil was secured. Anarchy was promoted. The fact that millions of civilians died while combatants were massacred in cold blood did not raise any media eyebrows.  Human rights advocates ‘went along’.  That’s the magic of ‘media freedom’.  The veneer of freedom accords regimes which play media puppeteer can, when necessary, do an effective ventriloquist number.   At the end of the day the world was left holding just one though, for the most part: ‘It had to be done and it was done’.  None of the media houses named above showed any remorse when the truth came out finally (with British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg confessing the invasion was illegal).  It didn’t matter though.  Iraq was secured.  The dead were, well, dead.  There were witnesses but few were ready to listen to alternative narratives, not least of all because it was ‘too late anyway’.

Today, in the year 2014, we hear of Ukraine.  The same media houses are cleverly and deliberately painting a picture of that crisis.  Which websites are we visiting for ‘news’ of Ukraine? Do we ask ourselves ‘why do we visit those sites and not others?’  That’s the extent to which our minds have been played with, one might argue.  Do we check out what the Russians are saying about the crisis or are we happy checking out the ‘balancing’ Russian quotes embedded in a Washington-scripted narrative regurgitated by CNN, BBC et al so we can tell ourselves, ‘I have heard both sides of the story’?

Would you take the trouble to check out Russia Today, RIA Novosti and ITAR-TASS?  Would you check out Chinese sources such as Xinhua and CCTV?  If you want alternative takes on things, how about, and Democracy Now?

Would we rather go along with the versions scripted by the biggest aggressor the world has known in recent times, the United States of America?

It’s our call.  Will we make it?

*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at

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