The crisis of our time

At a recent media event by SCOPP, I asked Prof. Rajiva Wijesinghe how the Government or SCOPP hopes to facilitate the entry of media personnel into the newly cleared areas by the State forces. His response was that this would be a systemaic process that would be handled by the MoD, and that media wasn’t allowed in the conflict areas “for their own safety”. An answer that should be looked at, and thought about.

Journalists, especially those who cover battle situations, can be a pain in the ass to someone who is trying to hide something. Wars and battles can be expensive things, and the Defence industry is a game of high stakes,but for those who play with extremely lucrative prospects. On one side, jounalists who are working away from the battlefront expose the waste and corruption that exists, in addition to the actual expense (which is oft sugar coated in a yummy tasting layer of patriotism) of running a war.

The expense, in a rare moment of honesty, was commented on by Minister Maithreepala Sirisena on 8th January 2007, when he said “We may be thrilled to see the spectacle of multi-barrel attacks, but what we don`t realize is the price we all have to pay for such attacks” while addressing an SLFP gathering in Polonnaruwa. He added that the country was losing almost one hundred jobs with each Multi-barrel rocket fired on the LTTE. This was in 2007, when the war was at a much minor scale.

On the other hand, journalists, especially those armed with camera, can tell stories of death and human suffering to the people. While some say that civilian casualties are unavoidable, and sometimes expected, in the back of every empathizing human’s mind the fact that innocent souls are lost, is simply unacceptabe. But when you restrict journos coming in, seeing the suffereing, and then living to tell the story, you can have a blank cheque to do whatever you want to “save” the “country”, and to take actions for “national security”.

Unless information that comes out from the ground are from a non-partisan source, it can’t be trusted. If it comes out from either party, then it’s propoganda. Whilst SCOPP (which is part of the GoSL propoganda arm) puts their vision as “To act as the cutting edge of the Government of Sri Lanka to consolidate and strengthen the peace process on behalf of all Sri Lankan citizens, whilst promoting a negotiated settlement to the current conflict”, the Media Centre for National Security is more out-there about it when they say “The MCNS, as the sole state authority to distribute national security and defence-related Media releases, data, statistics, visuals and other information to the public, produces special dossiers, audio-video clips and various documentaries”.

Currently, in addition to feeding the media through bodies like MCNS, GoSL adopts a guided tour strategy. where selected journalists are taken around, and given the chance to take pictures of carefully set up photo-ops. Carefully drafted releases are sent out, edited photo kits are given out, video clips from air recon missions where the targets that are accurately taken out distributed, and well written speeches are given.

Due to obvious reasons, mainstream media in the country remains unsurprisingly complacent. Listening, compiling, and reporting. A lesson can be learnt from Stephen Colbert’s speech at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner of 2006. (Full transcript can be read here)

But the rest of you, what are you thinking, reporting on NSA wiretapping or secret prisons in eastern Europe? Those things are secret for a very important reason: they’re super-depressing. And if that’s your goal, well, misery accomplished. Over the last five years you people were so good — over tax cuts, WMD intelligence, the effect of global warming. We Americans didn’t want to know, and you had the courtesy not to try to find out. Those were good times, as far as we knew.

But, listen, let’s review the rules. Here’s how it works: the president makes decisions. He’s the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put ‘em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know – fiction!

[Emphasis added]

The original article was published on the former blog of Dinidu de Alwis. Reproduced here in part, with permission.

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2 responses to “The crisis of our time

  1. Why did De Alwis take down his blog? It was quite good.

  2. Well, technically he never left. 🙂

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