Anti-LTTE, anti-Indian, anti-IC themes dominate The Sunday Times editorials in first 15 years of current century – Part 1 of a two-part analysis
Posted on January 11th, 2016
By Professor Shelton Gunaratne, Ph.D.
(The writer is a former reporter of the Ceylon Daily News who completed his graduate studies in Oregon and Minnesota following the completion of a one-year World Press Institute Fellowship in the United States in 1966-67. He is the author of several books, including Mindful Journalism and News Ethics in the Digital Era: A Buddhist Approach edited with M. Pearson and S. Senarath and published by Routledge in 2015.)
The newspapers have a tremendous impact on a community depending on its literacy, educational level and wealth. Their impact, however, can vary from person to person and from place to place. Although scholars predict the demise of the newspaper in its current format and mode of delivery in the advanced world before the middle of the current century, they are unlikely to disappear in the developing world where they serve as a social good rather than a commodity.
Because living is coterminous with communication, news will disappear only when life disappears. Communication began long before the emergence of humans when the convergence of the five aggregates made life possible. In this context, no one can claim to be a communication specialist. Mass communication is only a small part of communication. Because of the holistic nature of communication, it is impossible to study the impact of any source, message or channel on any group or entity on a lasting basis.
Therefore, I did the current study of a single newspaper only for heuristic purposes, not to assess its impact on the audience or the reasons for its current popularity among its readers.
The Sunday Times, the English-language flagship of the Wijeya Group that dominates the weekend English newspapers, has an estimated circulation of 325,000, an impressive figure for a country with a low English literacy rate. Started in 1923 as the sister newspaper of the daily Times of Ceylon, it lagged behind the Sunday Observer until it was re-launched in 1987 by the Wijeya Group by imitating the design principles of USA Today. From 1990, under the editorship of Sinha Ratnatunga, a great grand nephew of Anagarika Dharmapala, the newspaper has become a nationalistic organ that has consistently blamed India for destabilizing Sri Lanka through its Tamil connections and the putative International Community.
|A content analysis of a random sample of 16 issues published during period 2000-2015 (stratified by each year) clearly shows the newspaper’s anti-Indian stance, its abhorrence of LTTE terrorism, its open contempt for the anti-national duplicitous politics of Tamil politicians, its support for upholding human rights, libertarian constitutional reform and greater press freedom, and its criticism of the IC countries for not adhering to human rights norms while they blamed weaker countries for such violations.
The editorial titled “Beware India” (August 23, 2000) asserted, ”Deeds not words are required to eliminate the curse of terrorism that India implanted in this country
and now appears to be spreading in the sub-continent.” Quoting the Kerala-based magazine The Week’s revelation that Indians from Tamil Nadu, egged on by the notorious outlaw Veerappan were actively engaged in fighting the Sri Lankan security forces alongside the LTTE, the ST editorial said, “The Vajpayee government appears to be pussy-footing when it comes to dealing with the LTTE because it does not want to rub
the Tamil Nadu electorate on the wrong side in what it fears would seem an anti-Tamil exercise.”
An editorial titled “The peace frenzy” (February 24, 2002) blamed the government for its hurry for signing a peace treaty with the LTTE without giving adequate attention to the possible consequences: “The Prime Minister [RW} and his new government has, like his predecessor did, taken a gigantic gamble – on trust. It’s not just the highways and the coastline that are strewn with mines, the entire peace process is a laden minefield as well.”
Pushing Press Freedom/FOIA
The next editorial in the sample titled “Press freedom’s success story” (February 23, 2003) called on the Sri Lankan press to bear “the onerous responsibility of promoting media freedom and social responsibility as they pledged to do in 1998 under what was called the Colombo Declaration,” and expressed satisfaction over the formation of the Sri Lanka Press Institute by the three main unions of the profession, the Newspaper Society of the Publishers, the Editors’ Guild and the Free Media Movement for the betterment of the fourth estate. Editor Ratnatunga, who played a leading role in forming the press institute, used this editorial to give “good marks” to the government for the way it handled the press despite the press criticisms of the government’s mishandling of the economy and the peace process. It blamed the LTTE for the limited press freedom in the country and called upon the country’s defense minister to be assertive “to ensure the security of the State and her people, in the still very likely event that the LTTE kicks the negotiating table to return to its former ways.” It prematurely bragged on the imminent passage of the FOIA: “Only the I’s need to be dotted and the T’s crossed from a Freedom of Information Act that will open government to greater scrutiny and make citizens aware of the workings of government. A self-regulatory Press Complaints Commission has just been set up by the industry based on a code of ethics, drafted by practitioners. There is a College of Journalism in the offing.” (But even 12 years after this editorial appeared, the government has failed to get parliamentary approval for the draft FOIA.)
The ST editorial titled “Exchanging the devil for the rascal” (September 4, 2005) continued its critical focus on the “trigger happiness” of the LTTE, which has been “pussyfooting on the peace process,” and the almost altogether lost credibility of the Norwegians. It ridiculed President CBK’s attempt to internationalize the peace process:
“It’s doubtful that either Presidential candidate [MR or RW] will endorse this kind of internationalizing of what is essentially still a domestic dispute. It could be a case of as is best said in the pithy Sinhala idiom ‘ getting rid of the spouse with the cold for the spouse with the cough’?? The best is that the peace process be on cold storage now.”
The ST editorials relentlessly attacked the LTTE and its Norwegian backers whenever the opportunity arose. An editorial titled “Democracy despite strife” (September 10, 2006) cited the Norwegian-led Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission and the LTTE for being impervious to human rights violations by their own groups as evident from their lack of concern for international scrutiny in their killings of innocent civilians such as at Kebitigollewa. But the Sri Lankan State could not descend to the levels of terrorists and indulge in human rights violations. Furthermore, while “the negative experience of the SLMM may not foreshadow wide public acceptance of international monitoring missions,” it drew attention to the success of such missions in South Asia in countries like Nepal.
Repeat India Bashing
The eighth editorial in the sample titled “Be on the right track” (March 16, 2007) alleged that in the1980s India began “lobbying foreign governments” like Argentina against Sri Lanka at the behest of Tamil “separatist guerrilla groups that India was openly sponsoring at the time.” It argued: “Now, 25 years later, the Indians are on the sidelines after their Prime Minister was assassinated by these same guerrillas, and the British have no qualms about being in a West-led campaign scrutinizing human rights violations in Sri Lanka.” The ST condemned the “Sri Lanka Bashing Week” in Geneva — the week when the IC (International Community) comes from all nooks and corners of the world, but especially the West to sermonize on how a miserable little country like Sri Lanka must administer herself — and cleanse herself of all murky goings-on like human rights violations.” Citing UN Ambassador Allan Rock’s “half-baked findings based on flimsy evidence” on human rights violations in Sri Lanka that have found their way to the United Nations Security Council, the editorial concluded: “Government officials have reason to grouse. They ask, quite legitimately, why the Human Rights lobbies and Western Governments have bleeding hearts only when the Security Forces give the guerrillas a bloodied nose.” Thus, the editorial found no reason for letting UN investigators make whistle-stop visits to areas under military conflict in Sri Lanka in the light of the Rock findings and the unsuccessful mission of the Norwegian-led SLMM to monitor a truce and bring about a politically negotiated settlement since 2001.
The ninth editorial in the sample titled “Fixed dates instead of fixing polls” (August 23, 2008) commented on the inadequacy of the Dinesh Gunawardena Select Committee report on electoral reform because of its failure to consider the fixed term, fixed election dates as practiced in the United States “except to give the Commissioner of Elections the right to fix the date of polling on a Saturday. Holding the poll on a holiday is intended to eliminate the wastage of work-hours.” It asserted that the gerrymandering of the terms started with the 1972 republican constitution thereby vitiating the country’s democratic framework by allowing a president to hold elections at times s/he deems favorable to her/his political fortunes. This editorial is clearly aimed at enhancing the democratic potential of the country.
Pushing Press Freedom/FOIA Again
The 10th editorial in the sample “Don’t say no to the people’s right to know” (November 22, 2009) repeated the need for the passage of the FOIA. It argued: “The Government, which claims to be a progressive one rather than turning the clock back and rekindling archaic laws like the Press Council Act in a bid to suppress the free flow of information, must look to implementing laws that are modern and empower the citizen.”
Slamming Constitutional Tricks
The 11th editorial in the sample, “Slaughter of animals and the constitution” (August 29, 2010) made a two-pronged attack on the Rajapakse administration for ignoring the constitutionally legislated (Prevention of) ‘Cruelty to Animals’ law and the Butchers
Ordinance for allowing the gory annual animal sacrifice of more than 400 goats and hundreds of chicken at the Sri Badrakali Kovil at Munneswaram in Chilaw “to appease the god” at a time when the Constitution itself was being “brazenly flouted.” It castigated Rajapakse for his refusal to implement the 17th Amendment, which the parliament had unanimously passed in 2001. Asserting that the continuation of the executive presidency; the abolition of the independent commissions for the police, elections, bribery and corruption etc., were of paramount concern for the general well-being of the country and its people, it accused the president of attempting to “rush through” amendments, which are “still being hatched in secrecy and incubated in darkness,” as urgent bills. [While one may view this editorial as a commendable attempt to promote libertarian democratic norms, it also shows the weakness of many ST editorials: the lack of syllogistic testing in the absence of a clear thesis. The editorial leaves the reader confused because it does not show how the violation of animal rights law relates to the desire for enhancing presidential power.]
Repeat IC Bashing
Next in the sample, the editorial titled “Clinically shred war crimes allegations (April 24, 2011) blamed the government for its failure to activate the think-tank Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of Foreign Relations and Strategic Studies that would nave enabled it to quickly respond to the voluminous but faulty report of the panel of experts appointed by the UN Secretary General to inquire on the alleged crimes in Sri Lanka. Observing that there is a bigger agenda behind this report, the editorial concluded: “The UN report’s findings must be clinically shredded to pieces. The Government must point out the UN Charter -which proclaims the inherent right granted to a sovereign state to self-defense. But just as much as the panel of so-called experts has mixed its apples and oranges, the Government too cannot keep demanding national unity when its own conduct is under scrutiny at home. It can no longer ignore calls from home, for political accountability and good governance by forever relying on the people’s patriotic fervor to bail it out of difficult situations.”
Relentless India Bashing
The anti-Indian stand of the ST was clearly evident in an editorial titled “Vital agenda for Indian EAM (October 6, 2013) published during the official visit of the Indian external affairs minister to Sri Lanka. It alleged that “the Indian Government keeps badgering Sri Lanka about is the implementation of the ‘Made in India’ 13th Amendment to the (Sri Lankan) Constitution, [which] has not only the feigned interest of the minority Tamils in the North and East insofar as the Indians are concerned, but it serves the domestic political compulsions and geo-political interests of India in having a foothold in north Sri Lanka – the closest land mass to its southern flank. Now, with the pro-India Tamil National Alliance (TNA) in office in the North, India’s objectives in triggering that separatist insurrection 30 years ago have been achieved.” It called on the visiting EAM to consider “ whether India’s foreign policy vis-a-vis Sri Lanka will forever be Tamil Nadu-centric and if that be so, isn’t this alienating the rest of India from good neighborly relations with Sri Lanka and losing the Sri Lankan people’s natural affinity and goodwill for his country?”
Tamil Bashing Again
The ST’s anti-Indian and anti-Tamil theme was apparent again in its editorial titled “A return to the bad old days” (October 19, 2014) that criticized the “duplicitous politics of the northern politicians” –the Northern Chief Minister and his councilors — for boycotting the Development Council meeting chaired by President Rajapakse in the wake of the re-opening of the railway line to Kankesanturai, the cost overheads of which were nearly triple the amount what they should have been. It berated the NCP chief minister for having “ the gumption to call upon a foreign country [India] to directly interfere in the internal affairs of Sri Lanka.” The editorial went on to say: “Time and again, the Government has been warned that the Tamil National Alliance (TNA)-run Northern PC is going to be a proxy for India — now it is official. The Secretary General of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) went on record very recently pointing out to the hidden face of the TNA. In a letter to the Indian PM he has exposed the dangerous politics they played once, acknowledging the LTTE as the sole representatives of the Tamil people of the north and east. The TNA supports an international probe into the conduct of the Armed Forces that liquidated the LTTE in 2009.”
Only three editorials in the sample did not fit the dominant thematic concerns of the Sunday Times during the period 2000 to 2015: the second titled “I’s called survival” (September 9, 2001), which gave full marks to the People’s Alliance for surviving September 7 by signing a memorandum of understanding with the JVP; the 13th titled “No harm in judicious clash” (October 14, 2012), which concerned a tussle between the parliament (legislature) and the JSC (judiciary) on an oblique attempt by the President (executive) to interfere with the independence of the judiciary; and the final editorial titled “President waves white flag and capitulates” (July 5, 2015)– a comment on defeated President Rajapakse’s Adhi Esala full moon day announcement that he would contest the August parliamentary elections as a UPFA candidate following his successor President Sirisena’s inability to deny him party nomination.