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Why are Western journalists anti-Lanka?

The season for bashing the foreign media has commenced judging from commentaries that had appeared on the Sri Lankan scene in recent weeks. This writer too has been a foreign media basher for long years and I do feel that some of the fury unleashed is justifiable but it is also time to reflect on the futility of the exercise.

Two weeks ago on the World News of the BBC, an anchorman was interviewing his reporter on the displaced persons (IDPs) who had been housed in the newly set up camps around Vavuniya. The question of the anchorman  was something like this ( I can't recall the exact words): So these people who have escaped from the cross-fire are now being  put into 'Concentration Camps?' The reporter himself appeared to be taken aback at the terminology used.  'Concentration camp' is too strong a description, he replied, before he went on to tamely answer other questions.

Concentration Camps?

Conditions in camps in Vavuniya  would not have been ideal to meet the standards of the BBC anchorman but this comparison with 'concentration camps' in  the World News programme - of the oldest international news service which many still regard as 'independent' - was unpardonable.

Were the camps hastily set up in Vavuniya being compared with the Belen or Treblinka Camps of Nazi Germany or even Abu Gharaib or Guantanamo Bay which the British are still actively associated with? Not even a novice reporter could have made such a gaffe.

A few days later another horrendous gaffe was made on the news broadcast of al Jazeera, the 'independent' TV channel, which is said to be favourable to the Third World. The anchorman was on the same issue of displaced persons in camps in Vavuniya. These displaced persons are now being kept in places surrounded by 'razor wire'? he asked. By 'razor wire' in my opinion what was implied was 'barbed wire,' a term commonly used by Sri Lankans.

Did not these pundit and their backroom advisers not know of the Sri Lankan IDPs plight that made world headlines for weeks? A suicide bomber on one occasion had come in with the IDPs and blown herself up killing many service personnel and IDPs. A bus carrying IDPs had been shot at. Didn't they consider that some sort of security was required? In other countries is security imposed at such refugee camps as lax as that at boy scout jamborees?

The horror created by al Jazeera was perhaps more devastating than the BBC. Here was a TV channel that most Third World viewers consider to be different to Western channels. There appears to be no difference between this TV channel whose key journalists are like those of other Western channels except perhaps they are paid better with petrodollars. The difference could only be witnessed when Arab interests are focused on.

Why the hostility

Why is this seeming hostility of the Western journalists - not all - towards Sri Lanka, particularly Sri Lankan governments? 

In my opinion it goes back to a quarter century when India was under 'Empress Indira Gandhi' as The Economist at that time described her. India's relations with the West was quite different to the cosy relations of today. Indira Gandhi was with the other superpower, the Soviet Union and she saw the West as a force destabilising India - the foreign hand.

Western media covering South Asia was stationed in New Delhi and Indira was viewing them with a jaundiced eye. However, the Sri Lankan situation gave an opportunity for the Indian bureaucracy and intelligence (RAW) to use the Western media in New Delhi's interest.

What happened in New Delhi can only be surmised but in Colombo we saw Indian officials particularly those identified as being RAW - Research and Analysis Wing - having close relations with the newly arrived international correspondents in Colombo. Some of these Western correspondents were themselves quite raw to the profession having been sent out after a brief stint in provincial newspapers.

These young journalists were cultivated quite openly by Indian agents who helped them very greatly in their professional assignments. An information/intelligence network sprang up in the north and east through which any incident in the north and east was flashed to Colombo within minutes. All what the international hot shots living comfortably in Colombo's hotels such as the then Ramada Hotel or Galle Face Hotel had to do was to transmit the messages immediately to their headquarters in world capitals to be disseminated around the globe.

Some of these reports that went against the Sri Lankan government forces were true, particularly when raw Sri Lankan recruits ran amuck against civilians but on the whole news packaged by RAW was against the Sri Lankan government leading to charges of genocide against the Tamils.

Genocide charge

Against this backdrop were the attempts made at Geneva to raise resolutions of genocide against Sri Lanka actively backed by India and also new found friends in the West - America and European nations. Signs were beginning to show of the emergence of a burgeoning Indian middle class with market potential of about 350 million and even Ronald Reagan during the tail end of his administration could not resist.

A fallout of this New Delhi endeavour is the tainting of Sri Lanka for a quarter century - the rights of the minorities were being deliberately suppressed while the atrocities of terrorists were treated with indulgence. There is much more to this theory of an New Delhi conspiracy where newly created think tanks disseminated the journalistic shorthand to explain it all -  'Sinhala  majority through centuries have been suppressing the Tamil minority and this is all ordained in a historical text the Mahavamsa where the Sinhala Buddhists are  the 'chosen race' to protect Buddhism in this island.

It took a senior American journalist Barbra Crossette, Bureau Chief of The New York Times to say that this 'journalist shorthand' was too simplistic an explanation to a rather complex problem.

Sri Lanka vs. The World

Nonetheless the problem exists and however much our Sri Lankan defenders lambaste the international media it will be of no effect. Some of the criticism is justified but on the whole the reportage has been biased. What critics could do is not to continue with their spite and venom but try to remedy the situation. A handful of Sri Lankan critics cannot take on the powerful Western media.

To accuse Western journalists of being bribed by terrorists is to throw fuel into the fire. Those who know journalists realise very well that the best way to 'bribe' them is not with material gains but to provide them with exclusive stories. A few experienced advisors in the state media outfit know this very well but they would be stepping out of line and risk being called 'traitors.'

Its time to check the hubris of stout defenders of the Rajapakse faith and instead begin thinking  afresh of making friends and influencing people.









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