Comparison and contrast of editorial policies of Sunday Island and Sunday Times from 2000-2015 show disagreements on Tamils, India, and federalism Part II
Posted on February 6th, 2016

By Shelton A. Gunaratne, Ph.D. (Minn.)

Professor of communication emeritus, Minnesota State University Moorhead and lead author of the book Mindful Journalism and Media Ethics in the Digital Era: A Buddhist Approach (New York & London: Routledge, 2015)

  1. September 4, 2005
  2. Sunday Island Editorial Title:   “When the chips are down”

Summary: This editorial was on the JVP’s decision to support the Prime Minister [MR] as the presidential candidate of the UPFA (Sandhanaya) just before the arrival of the lame duck president [CBK] from her overseas visit. The Supreme Court had ruled that she could not “have one more year on the throne” that enabled MR to become CBK’s successor. The editorial called on both major presidential candidates [MR and RW] to declare unequivocally if they have any agreement or understanding with the LTTE on the resumption of the peace process. The Sunday Island revealed its position unequivocally: “We have no doubt that the country, after years of debilitating war that has sapped its vitality, will vote overwhelmingly for a federal solution [emphasis added]. The Tigers are already trying to wriggle out of their commitment to a settlement on these lines expressed in Norway in early direct negotiations after the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) was signed.” It condemned “the continuing LTTE strategy of unbending a little when the chips are down and then retracting back to Square One which is Eelam.” it praised india for being the one country that chose not to close its eyes to this reality, and asserted: “India is the one country that can help us over this hurdle and she is morally obliged to do so, given the role she played in making the LTTE what it is today.” it faulted the media for letting the politicians off the hook by not digging out what the politicians would prefer to leave unsaid.
B. Sunday Times Editorial Title: “
Exchanging the devil for the rascal”

  • Comparison and Commentary: The ST editorial focused 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 0internationalizing 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.”
  • [These two editorials reveal the differences between the two “cousin” newspapers. The SI editor looks at India in positive terms as “the one country that can help us” whereas the ST editor views India with utmost suspicion. The SI editor also hopes that the country would vote “overwhelmingly for a federal solution” whereas the ST editor convincingly argues that a district c0ouncil system is the way to share power because the   country will never reach a consensus on federalism. Even though the SI editor says that the Sinhalese interests were inadequately represented in the agreement reached with the LTTE, he seems to believe that the Tamils who demand self-rule (eelam) will not settle for anything less than federalism.]
  1. September 10, 2006
  1.      The Sunday Island Editorial Title: “The cat among the pigeons”

Summary: This editorial re-iterated the Sunday Island’s pro-Indian stance by reprimanding Tourism Minister Anura Bandaranaike for setting “a cat among the pigeons” with his two-fisted attack on the Indian High Commissioner Nirupama Rao for interfering with the internal affairs of the country. It asserted: “Good relations with India must be the cornerstone of Sri Lanka’s foreign policy. Some facets of Indian assistance in military and security spheres must be left unpublicized for good and obvious reasons” [emphasis added]. It supported both the president (Rajapakse) and the foreign minister (Samaraweera) for disavowing Bandaranaike’s criticism and acknowledging “deep appreciation of her [Rao’s] proactive role.” The editorial asserted: “Sri Lankans who applauded Bandaranaike have not forgotten the famous parippu drop when the government of India “which does not interfere in the internal affairs of any country” prevented the LTTE’s defeat at Vadamarachchi by a flagrant intrusion with fighter jets into the sovereign Sri Lanka airspace to deliver an ominous message. Nor have they forgotten a high commissioner called Dixit who was accused of behaving like a Vice Roy, provoking a pun about a latter day Vice Rao! While the past must not be forgotten, we have to live in the present.”

  1. The Sunday Times Editorial Title: “Democracy despite strife”
  • Comparison and Commentary: The ST editorial cited the Norwegian-led Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) 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, it argued, 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. [Although these two editorials dwelt on different topics that are unlikely to have been spurred by discussions of the Editors Guild, they are related in the sense that they help the two “cousins” to elucidate the justification for their stands on India and the disregard for human rights in the LTTE dominated territory supervised by Norwegian-led SLMM.]
  1. March 18, 2007
  1. Sunday Island Editorial Title: “Time has come to do what’s right”

Summary: This editorial focused on the saying “Politics … is the art of the possible. But some of our politicians are doing not just what is possible but what in any democracy … would surely be considered impossible.” It provided examples like the huge cabinet of ministers and “the ladling of taxpayer funded gravy into overloaded ministerial plates”; the size of the presidential entourage to China; the abuse of the National List by leaders in power to “give patronage to undesirables” like the three politicians who controlled the Colombo underworld. It concluded: “the time has now come for the president [MR] with over one year in office under his belt to forget about cashing cheques for his friends and supporters and run the country in the best way possible for all its people.”

  1. Sunday Times Editorial Title: “Be on the right track”

Comparison and Commentary: This was another India-bashing ST editorials claiming 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.”  Now, 25 years after their prime minister [Rajiv Gandhi] 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 editorial also reflected the ST’s anti-IC stance by its condemnation of what it euphemistically called the “Sri Lanka Bashing Week” in Geneva.  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 UN 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.” The ST, therefore, found no reason for letting UN investigators make whistle-stop visits to areas under military conflict in Sri Lanka, and it again gleefully slammed the biases of the Norwegian-led SLMM.  [Again, the SI and ST editorials dwelt on two different topics. The ST focused more on wider cosmopolitan/international issues in contrast to the SI, which preferred to pontificate on narrower local/political corruption and misuse of the National List and  Cabinet portfolios for patronage– issues that ST editorials have also covered time and again.]

  1. August 31, 2008
  2. Sunday Island Editorial Title: “Inflation terror”

Summary: This SI editorial dwelt on “the dangers of printing money to fund wars or provide subsidies to populations that are being impoverished by inflation.” It claimed that the recent provincial council election results were a clear indicator that the voters, despite the economic travails, preferred the Tigers to be militarily crushed to achieve a durable peace rather than risking another period of euphoria that followed the 2002 ceasefire agreement that the LTTE used to re-arm and re-group. It agreed with the contention of the deputy governor of the Central Bank that “the best way that a Central Bank can support a government fighting terrorism was to maintain price stability and help society to create more wealth.” Already, those people who were fortunate to be in jobs that entitled them to EPF benefits wee being robbed of their savings in EPF coffers with the inflation rate running well ahead of the interest paid on such savings.
B. Sunday Times Editorial Title: “Fixed dates instead of fixing polls”

Comparison and Commentary: This ST editorial 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. [Thus, the ST editorial was concerned with the broad issue of constitutional reform to enhance the country’s democratic framework whereas the SI editorial bogged down in an attempt to inappropriately compare the effects of inflation with loss of life resulting from terrorism. The SI editor failed to apply the syllogistic to test his premises, which takes the illogical form: Inflation diminishes the purchasing power of fixed-income earners; this loss of purchasing power is similar to the loss of life caused by terrorism; therefore, those who are responsible for causing inflation are terrorists. The untenable second premise exposes the vacuity of this editorial.]

  1. November 22, 2009
  2. Sunday Island Editorial Title: “Health sector worries”

Summary: This editorial asserted that a conscious effort to depoliticize the public sector would help greatly in restoring the efficiency of essential services, such as health. Those who administered the health sector must grasp the truth that health is wealth. Asserting that dreaded diseases like dengue are coming back in an era when people are deprived of free health care, the SI declared: “Not everything could be bartered away in the ‘free market’. Sectors, such as, health, education and agriculture, need to be protected from the corrosive impact of ‘commodification’, which comes in the wake of market liberalization. The state needs to intervene strongly to save these sectors.”

  1. Sunday Times Editorial Title: “Don’t say no to the people’s right to know”

Comparison and Commentary:  This ST editorial 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.” [These two editorials clearly mark the ST’s predilection for topics with a cosmopolitan touch vis-à-vis the SI’s preference to comment on domestic issues such as the politicization of the country’s public sector, including the essential health services.]

  1. August 29, 2010
  2. Sunday Island Editorial Title: “Appointments to our missions”

Summary: This SI editorial centered on the controversy over the use of diplomatic appointments as an instrument of political patronage and reward — a subject of intense interest for the Island during the entire period. Pointing out the successful non-career diplomats like Sir Oliver Goonetiilake and Sir Senarath Gunawardene as examples, the editorial went on to say: “There must be the right balance of career officers and others whose experience in different fields can serve the country well. We must not forget that experience is often the best teacher. But considerations such as kinship or rewards for personal services should not be part of the equation. Former Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar … tried to get the mix right and combine career appointments with those from outside in accordance with a fixed proportion.”

  1. Sunday Times Editorial Title: “Slaughter of animals and the constitution”
  • Comparison and Commentary: The ST editorial made a two-pronged attack on the Rajapaksa administration for ignoring the constitutionally legislated (Prevention of) ‘Cruelty to Animals’ law and the Butchers Ordinance for allowing the gory annual animal sacrifice n 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 the President [MR] 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. Although one may view this editorial as a commendable attempt to promote libertarian democratic norms, one can also see the editor’s sloppiness in failing to subject his comparison to syllogistic testing. in the absence of a clear thesis, this ST editorial leaves the reader confused because it does not elucidate how the violation of animal rights law relates to the desire for enhancing presidential power. [The SI editorial tries to justify the patronage system in the diplomatic service without any attempt to examine the criteria that Foreign Minister Kadirgamar tried to apply to derive the “right balance” while other SI editorials have unequivocally blamed the patronage system for the politicization, inefficiency and corruption in the public sector.]

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