Comment is free, but facts are sacred
Posted on June 25th, 2015

By Rohana R. Wasala

Why is propaganda so much more successful when it stirs up hatred than when it tries to stir up friendly feeling?–  Bertrand Russell, British philosopher (1872-1970)

C.P. Scott (1846-1932) served The Manchester Guardian, now known as ‘The Guardian’, for 57 years from 1872 to 1929 as its editor. The paper celebrated its first centenary on May 5, 1921. In a classic sentence in the commemorative article he wrote that day he summarized the main journalistic principles of the paper’s founder John Edward Taylor, by which Scott was always guided: Comment is free, but facts are sacred. “Propaganda”, so called, by this means is hateful. The voice of opponents no less than that of friends has a right to be heard. Comment also is justly subject to a self-imposed restraint. It is well to be frank; it is even better to be fair.

Propaganda presented as journalism is hateful. We know the difference between the two. A journalist reports factual news, usually without comment, but with a popular slant that only stirs the interest of the reader, listener, or viewer; the work of a journalist also involves writing feature articles expressing opinions about topical events or giving useful  information about various subjects that may engage the general readers’ critical interest and attention. Propaganda, on the other hand, consists of pieces of information or misinformation, ideas, opinions or rumours deliberately circulated in order to bring about the rise or ruin of an individual, group, movement, institution, nation, etc. The term ‘propaganda’ usually has a pejorative sense. But its users welcome it, and are even ready to spend money on it. However, the unbiased reporting on a situation or the deft presentation of a well supported point of view can sometimes be seen as favourable to a particular individual, group, institution, or movement, or unfavourable to their opponents or rivals. In such a scenario, an honest journalist runs the risk of being accused of bias by the party that is negatively affected, which is a common occupational hazard that is often faced by dedicated journalists. The principle that ‘the voice of opponents no less than that of friends has a right to be heard’ should be observed to minimize that risk. Explicit fairness and impeccable  truthfulness distinguish journalism from propaganda.

But the sort of ideal journalism that Scott advocated is hard to come by in a world like ours as vitiated by hegemonic politics as it has been for many decades now. Today media freedom is what the US-led West says it is. Professor Noam Chomsky (b. 1928), linguist, philosopher, and social justice activist among other things, may be described as the most  articulate vocal communicator of the moral conscience of the general American public, that is being frustrated by the country’s foreign policy makers.  In an address in March 1990, he said that in (Western) political discourse every term has two meanings: for example, democracy normally means the public running their affairs; but the technical meaning is what business runs, that is, the American meaning. Another example is the term ‘peace process’. It has its dictionary meaning, but it is different from its technical meaning, which is the American meaning: a peace process is whatever the US is advocating at the moment. This Chomskyan criticism remains valid even today. Political discourse regarding our own country has been ringing with terms like good governance, diaspora, reconciliation, media freedom, terrorism, religious fundamentalism, nationalism, racism, secular democracy, human rights, war crimes, national sovereignty, peacemaking, genocide, etc. They have all been obfuscated by the duality of interpretation explained by Chomsky. Apparently, Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa antagonized the West by failing to follow the current American thinking (that is, that of American politicians at the helm at the present time within their country and outside) about what Sri Lanka should do after the defeat of separatist terrorism.

Chances of enjoying the benefit of an unbiased media set-up are few due to the propaganda model imposed on the world by the US. Globally, media freedom is a myth, for all big media organizations are controlled by them. And what, according to Noam Chomsky, is this model? It is the model that makes trivial issues more important than the fundamental issues. That propaganda model substantially accounted for the success of the attempt to engineer the ouster of Sri Lanka’s Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa in January this year. Corruption and bad governance will always flourish unless the government and the opposition cooperate in  combating them, as demonstrated by what has been happening since January this year. But these are comparatively trivial issues. The more fundamental issues are, inter alia,  policy choices in respect of rebuilding a war affected country, restoring post-war normalcy to a society traumatized by three decades of terrorist atrocities like suicide bombings and massacres, ensuring national security, maintaining economic and political stability, and protecting national sovereignty and independence against global and regional powers that are pursuing their own conflicting geopolitical agendas in our region. Mr Rajapaksa was made to lose on the basis of trivial issues, not on the basis of the really important issues, regarding which the performance of his administration was commendable.

International recognition of his government’s achievements in infrastructure building as an aspect of overall economic development came in the form of Colombo being declared the fastest growing destination city among 132 leading cities in the world by the MasterCard Global Destination Cities Index for 2015. The cumulative annual growth rate of over 21% reached by Colombo since 2009 was described by CNN as ‘staggering’. Tourism has shown a phenomenal recovery after the war against terrorism came to an end. The contribution to this achievement made by former president’s brother Gotabhaya Rajapaksa as Secretary to the Ministry of Defence and Urban Development was immense. The peaceful secure environment created with the defeat of terrorism has been a decisive factor. I wonder whether this nationally important piece of news got the publicity it deserves within Sri Lanka.

The vast majority of the Sri Lankan population have nothing but praise for Gotabhaya Rajapaksa for his services to the nation both during the war against terrorism and after. He didn’t work as a politician who aimed at pleasing the crowds in expectation of their votes. He was only a government functionary ; professional efficiency and perfect honesty in his dealings were his hallmarks. People don’t have a shred of doubt about his personal probity. His achievements in the city beautification tasks he organized and supervised were enthusiastically praised by the opponents of the previous government as well as by its supporters. The 2014 Country Report on Terrorism issued by the US State Department alerts those concerned that the LTTE’s financial network of support continued to operate throughout 2014” despite its military defeat in 2009. It is ridiculous but outrageous that the current foreign minister Mangala Samaraweera, who frequently reminds us of the infamous Joseph Goebbels, the Reich minister of propaganda in Germany under Hitler, has the gumption to assert that the LTTE’s persistent survival in this way is a reflection of the utter failure of the strategy followed by Rajapaksa” (as reported in online Adaderana, June 25, 2015). According to Mangala, Gotabhaya started his war against the Tamil Tigers by accepting commissions!

Some opportunistic politicos, and  journalists started shamelessly exploiting the unspeakable outrage perpetrated on a helpless child in the north  as a pretext to excoriate the former president for making an impromptu remark to the effect that the circumstances of the violent protests that followed that crime needed to be investigated. Chief minister Vigneshwaran seemed to suggest later that the incidence of drug abuse and drug related violence was due to the presence of the army in the north.  He asked for the removal of the army, saying that there was no drugs problem in his province before 2009. This cynical and deliberate falsehood uttered by a person who should have been more responsible was immediately dismissed with evidence by Dr Chamara Samarasinghe, chairman of the National Dangerous Drugs Board. He reminded Vigneshwaran of how the LTTE engaged in narco-terrorism; they did not sell drugs among Tamil youth in the north, but did so in the south, Dr Samarasinghe said.. Following this, Professor G.H. Peiris published a well researched article under the title Hanging onto the Tiger’s tail” in three parts in The Island daily  last week (June 17, 18 and 19) dealing with the LTTE’s involvement in the narcotics trade. He concluded his article with these words: …we should note with regret that Hon. Wigneswaran, despite his intellectual stature and his suave personality, appears to be impelled by considerations of crude political propaganda when making pronouncements on this and other controversial issues such as the ‘war crimes’ alleged to have been committed by the security forces of Sri Lanka in the final phase of the ‘Eelam War’.”

Good journalism of the kind that the legendary C.P.  Scott of The Manchester Guardian exemplified and recommended, devoid of partisan prejudice and detoxified of personal hatred, is a crying need in Sri Lanka today. Journalists should not allow their profession to be prostituted by insincere politicians for their own ends. It is useful to remember that Scott wrote: (in proper journalism) Comment also is justly subject to a self-imposed restraint. It is well to be frank; it is even better to be fair.”

5 Responses to “Comment is free, but facts are sacred”

  1. Christie Says:

    Namaste: Look mate, Guardian or any other paper is run by a number of things. A friend of mine was in UK just after the 1983 July Sinhala uprising against the Indian Imperialist in the island. He wanted to post a classified remembering the slain unarmed soldiers by the Indian terrorists (LTTE). Guardian flatly refused and he approached other papers and the response was the same but they wanted this and that like death certificate’s and so on. London Times accepted it and was published. The Cadet who took the advertisement explained why it was not accepted by other papers. There are a lot of Indians in UK, Sinhalese are not many and hardly any of them have any accounts with the news papers, that is no advertising accounts. Most of the paper sellers are Indian shop owners. Journalism or media is no different to any other business. Jai Hind

  2. Lorenzo Says:

    Journalism must have an objective.

    e.g. save SL

    Otherwise it is just another business.

    ANY GOOD act arouses HATE from the BAD camp.
    ANY BAD act arouses HATE from the GOOD camp.

    Good journalism must arouse human feelings, hate included, love included, compassion included.

  3. Independent Says:

    We remember someone gave 1 million to Muslims. This one is for Buddhists !

    Sri Lanka pledges US$1.5million in aid for the recovery of Nepal
    Thu, Jun 25, 2015, 08:38 pm SL Time, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.

    June 25, Kathmandu: Sri Lanka has pledged US$ 1.5 million in aid for the recovery of Nepal after the deadly April 25 earthquake and the subsequent aftershocks that ravaged the Himalayan country.

    Sri Lanka made its pledge to aid the recovery efforts of Nepal during the International Conference on Nepal’s Reconstruction held at Hotel Soaltee in Kathmandu on Thursday.

    During the conference donor countries have pledged US$4.4 billion in aid, half of which in grants and the other half as loans, for the recovery bid of Nepal.

    India has announced the largest amount in aid – US $ 1 billion, while China has pledged US$ 760 million both in loans and grants.

    Minister of Disaster Management, A.H.M Fowzie accompanied by the Secretary for Resettlement and Reconstruction Affairs represented Sri Lanka at the international donor conference.

    At the Conference, Sri Lanka has undertaken to reconstruct two heritage temples that were damaged by the earthquake – the ‘Anandakuti Vihar’ and the ‘Rato Macchindranath Hindu Temple’.

    Following the devastating earthquake, Sri Lanka actively participated in the relief and rescue operations by dispatching teams of military doctors, nurses and rescue workers.

  4. Lorenzo Says:

    Independent,

    Nepal is a HINDU country!!!

    Please don’t twist the TRUTH to suit Maru Sira. Musaavadaa verani sikkha padam samaadhi yaami.

    “We remember someone gave 1 million to Muslims. This one is for Hindus !
    Sri Lanka pledges US$1.5million in aid for the recovery of Nepal”

    MR gave $1 million house maid earned dollars to Muslim Palestine, Maru Sira gives $1.5 million house maid earned money to Hindu Nepal.

  5. Independent Says:

    Percentage Buddhist by ethnic groups as in 2001.

    Tamang 90.3 % 1 Million Buddhists
    Magar 60 % Buddhists 1.2 million Buddhists
    Gurung 95.9 % Buddhists 3 million Buddhists
    Newar 15.3% Buddhists 0.3 million Buddhists
    Sherpa 92.8 % Buddhists 0.15 million Buddhists
    Bhote 98% Buddhists 0.1 million
    Hyolmo 98.4 % Buddhist 0.2 million

    6 millions of Buddhists live in Nepal and numbers increasing. How many Buddhists live in Palestine ?
    Who is twisting ? LTTE hate Buddhism more than Sinhala race. They don’t like Buddhists getting some relief.

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