12 March 2018

Hate Speech coverage of Sri Lanka’s Conflict – Print Media or Social Media?

Has print media ethically reported on Sri Lanka is a question that readers in Sri Lanka & abroad need to ponder. Have their write-ups on the current situation given the reader the correct & unbiased reporting needed for the readers to make their own conclusions? It is pretty clear that no reader – foreign or even local is aware of what happened or even what led to the outcome. No one seems to be aware that it was 4 drunkards who brutally massacred an unarmed man who died 10 days after the attack was what set the scene for a planned attack simply because the police did not arrest and deny bail and charge all 4 men for murder. While the whole world is made to believe that the attacks were by Sinhala Buddhists upon Muslims, there is no reporting that even Buddhist temples had been attacked or harm had come to a Buddhist monk. The print media has had a field day lying and printing falsehoods while social media has been blocked because it was the only means of countering the lies media was spreading.

Some of the first videos that came out clearly established to the people living outside the area of attack, that some kind of mischief may have taken place. This Muslim cleric clearly pointed out that Muslims were told to remain inside, then electricity suddenly was cut and men in buses attacked their homes. Please listen to the youtube clip. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JVPUF52oJkk

He went on to say that it was only the Government who could cut electricity, that the police did not take timely action and that the men who came in buses were not from the area. He further said that had the police taken action against these 4 drunkards who had killed an innocent man none of the chaos that occurred would have happened. What no one or even print media has answered is whether at any time the houses of these drunkards were also attacked. Media also conveniently omitted to mention that some Muslims had even come forward to build the home of the deceased. Media was very happy to spread hate but reluctant to print the good that the communities were sharing.

From this clip it is clear that had the police arrested and kept the drunks in police remand without bail and the OIC of the area instructed the police to inform the action of the police there would have been no room for parties to plan mischief. Why did the police not arrest & keep these drunkard men in custody? Up to this point what is important for everyone to note is that this was an isolated incident and it was not important that the 4 men were Muslim or that the lorry driver was a Sinhala Buddhist. All that the police required to do was to take action against the wrongdoing and the wrong doers. Everyone is in agreement with this.

How much of these facts have readers in Sri Lanka & overseas comprehended by reading print media? Obviously not much. Take every article that came out and even local readers are left baffled as to what really happened and why and the Government has nicely withheld a lot of information from the people too.

In the absence of the Government clearly articulating the unfolding of events not only to its citizens and the world, the print media went on a rampage of lies completely distorting and aggravating the situation in Sri Lanka. This was hate speech at its best.

Both Sinhalese & Muslims living in other parts of the country have felt angered and fearful for no reason. Everyone is well aware that the people having suffered 30 years of terrorism has hardly been allowed to raise its head and start life afresh as destabling agents want Sri Lanka to enter another chaotic time. Many are aware that the present UNP government has a history of putting ethnic communities against each other to remain in power. It was something Muslims themselves were quick to realize.

By blocking social media great harm has been done to one community globally. The local & international media have completely ignored media ethics by articulating that Sinhala Buddhists have attacked Muslims going so far as to plug in their own theories and floating them to the readers giving no opportunity for the other version to be relayed. How fair and just is this?

Here are a few examples of headlines and statements articulated via print media & private websites that control comments disallowing counter versions to be aired.

·      Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka: Muslims flee eastern Sri Lanka town following Sinhala mob attack

·      Colombo Telegraph - Anti-Muslim Assaults: Sinhalese Mobs Ignite Kandy

·      Washington Post - Buddhist mobs sweep through Sri Lanka's Muslim neighborhoods

·      Al Jazeera - Sri Lanka: Police inaction as Muslim shops torched by Buddhists

·      CBS News - Buddhist mobs burn Muslim homes, businesses in Sri Lanka

·      BBC - Sri Lanka struggles to halt days of Buddhist riots

·      Firstpost - State of emergency in Sri Lanka: 'Supremacism' of Sinhalese Buddhists or ‘segregation’ of Wahhabi Muslims?

Even local media which regularly carries columns by writers who are given the green light to ridicule Sinhala Buddhists did not shy from copying the same versions of the foreign media. If anyone is in doubt take the local newspapers, read some of the regular columnists as proof. If a Commission of Inquiry is appointed, these articles should all be submitted as evidence for how media racism has played a key role in dividing communities and inciting racial tensions. Statements by even politicians especially the minority politicians must be submitted. There has been no politician coming to the defence of Sinhala Buddhists to say it is wrong to pin point blame on them.

The modus operandi of the whole operation was to denigrate Sinhala Buddhists well ahead of bigger plans that required to corner Sinhala Buddhist majority and weaken their defence while setting the other minority against the majority for these bigger plans. The media has been complicit in this endeavor .

Apart from a handful of media & journalists not many would even call LTTE as terrorists and their reporting of LTTE attacks were always ‘allegedly committed’! The media never took to defend the nation during LTTE terror reign by articulating to the world LTTE crimes when it had every opportunity to set the story straight. Even now, the many irritants that are causing disharmony is not clearly presented so that these can be directly dealt with.

Why was social media blocked? People’s expressing of views cannot be stopped. When people’s rights and freedoms are curtailed unfairly and denied, this leaves further room for people to ponder as to who the real culprits are. Oft times the curtailing of freedoms has everything to do with denying freedoms to prevent people’s opposition against the Government far more than the Government being concerned about preventing hatred. Planned events are set to justify the strict legislations being introduced!

In the manner print media has been denigrating one party it was only the platform of social media that could have challenged this demanding to know why print media could make conclusions as they have and how print media allows columnists to make such brash assumptions without evidence or facts. Is this why social media was blocked?

While social media does offer unrestricted opinion – people can then and there challenge lies or distortions and a third party reading both versions is given the freedom to decide which version he wants to believe. Unlike the print media – the reader does not only have one version to accept whether they like it or not. Of course there are pros and cons to everything, good and bad in everything. By simply blocking social media, this Government cannot think that it has saved the day for even most Muslims of the Kandy areas are blaming the Government far more than blaming social media!

For all the lies that print media is printing – how can we respond demanding apology? The editors or owners will not even give a right of response. Even if given their general excuse is the limit on words and they end up heavily chopping and editing giving a totally different version.

Print media thinks they are the king makers in opinion making but there will come a time when people will start stopping buying their lies and distortions relying on their own instinct and searched versions. This would spell the end of print media and livelihoods of many. As can be seen the circulation of print media is slowly on the decline as there are plenty of alternative media and news for people.

Of course we cannot expect media, its owners, its editors or even the regularly Buddhist bashing columnists to feel sorry for unethical reporting.

In the absence of giving a fair picture, it is our duty to place before readers what is hidden by the Government & print media and allow the readers the freedom to ask questions and search for answers.

What must at all times be remembered is that it was an isolated incident, police inaction and the death of the victim gave an excellent opportunity for a group of people to use that as a justification to carry out an attack that would have been planned and kept waiting for an incident like this to occur to put into action.
When the Muslim cleric says that buses not of the area and people not of the area attacked them, it clearly establishes this.

What we want to know is – who are these people, do they have foreign or government connections and backing, were the police complicit.

In terms of punitive action against the perpetrators – each of the guilty (whoever they are) should be fined an amount or should be asked to help repair the homes and shops they ruined. They should not be allowed to simply get away.

Let us remind all that the men that attacked Tamil homes in July 1983 had in their possession electoral lists (which clearly established that the then UNP politicos had given these lists to them), the homes were looted first & set fire by thugs who were supporters of the government in power and these thugs were Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims (people who had no religion or ethnic group and simply wanted to loot) Even in 1983 media did not come out to say Sinhalese neighbors kept their Tamil neighbors in their homes, fed and looked after them. That same media is doing the same damage again.

Shenali D Waduge