Island Needs to Mind its Mindfulness
Posted on February 23rd, 2016

By Shelton A. Gunaratne, PhD (Minn.)

Moorhead, Minn.–I reckon that The Island editorial titled “ETCA and mandates” (Feb. 22, 2016), which has had 1575 hits by noon the following day, drew the attention of a large audience. This indicates the editor’s correct news sense in selecting timely topics to edify his potential readers.

I concur with the editor’s view that the attempt of the putative “yahapalanaya” clique to endorse the Indo-Lanka Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement (ETCA) without giving adequate time for the press and the public to discuss the implications of its contents violates the democratic principles that they pledged to uphold in the 2015 presidential and parliamentary elections.

However, the editorial would have served a more useful purpose had the writer avoided his apparent petulance and restrained his predilection to humiliate the politicians he presumably despises.

The editorial asserts that the ETCA “will certainly sound the death knell for Sri Lanka’s IT industry still in its infancy; it will prove to be the kiss of death for other sectors as well with the passage of time. Any average person with an iota of intelligence will see that ETCA is heavily loaded in favor of India. Else, New Delhi would not have evinced so keen an interest in it and pushed for inking it in such a hurry. The government says ETCA will help create employment opportunities.”

Had the writer documented these claims with facts and figures, he would have become much more convincing than by insinuating the country’s parliamentarians to be “political blockheads bellowing rhetoric and subjugating the national interest to their political agendas.”

The editorial, therefore, has taken up cudgels for the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA), which is opposing the ETCA because the influx of Indian doctors has the potential of affecting the salaries and job opportunities of local doctors under the agreement. Thus, the editorial praises the 22,000 doctors in the GMOA as professionals who are protecting our national interest because they have “courageously defended the public interest against commercial giants producing tobacco, alcohol and contaminated milk powder; it also threw its weight behind the national medicinal drug policy.”

This evidence is commendable. However, it skips the instances where the Island editorially criticized the GMOA for excessive greed when they demanded higher salaries (February 11, 2001). Also, the Island editorially criticized the trade unions, including the GMOA for “feathering their nests much to the neglect of the public interest” (April 6, 2005). In yet another editorial, the Island blamed the GMOA doctors for having “had to rely on medical reps to know their drugs” (February 19, 2008).

Omission of facts is a propagandist technique.

Editorial writers should balance the pros and cons of important issues of the day with relevant facts and figures and demonstrate why one side is better without disparaging the adversaries or excessively praising the protagonists.

My criticism of the Island editorial is not an endorsement of the ETCA. It’s an instructional piece for improving editorial writing by avoiding the hoity-toity propagandistic approach of hurling “insults” (by intentionally skipping the Sila dimension of the Middle Path) at those who have opposing viewpoints. Because all living beings are composites of the Five Aggregates, we “hurt” ourselves by trying to “hurt” others.

I am also baffled by the apparent differences in the editorial policy toward India applied by the daily Island and the Sunday Island. A decade ago, the Sunday editorial (September 4, 2005) praised india for being the one country that chose not to close its eyes to this [LTTE terrorist] reality, and it 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.” In another editorial one year later (September 10, 2006), the Sunday editor declared: “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.

Now, the daily Island editor appears to have reversed the Sunday editor’s India-pleasing policy.

(Dr. Gunaratne is a professor of communication emeritus living in Minnesota.)

5 Responses to “Island Needs to Mind its Mindfulness”

  1. Wetta Says:

    Dr. Gunaratne is comparing editorial in The Island newspaper in 2016 with those in 2001, 2005, 2006, and 2008. All of the comparisons of principles held by the editor(s) are at least 8 years old and some as as old as 15 years old.

    To my understanding opinions, ideologies, thinking patterns of people, organisations, governments etc change over time, technology, economy, social factors etc which is natural. It cannot be any different for a newspaper editor. Therefore if the current editor in 2016 is having a different opinion or appreciation of a nationally important matter to that in 2001 or 2008, I cannot see any issue with it. I wonder how come a Dr. Gunaratne justifies his arguments against this comparing opinions 8-15 years apart.

    Also if GMOA had some issues or opinions on different matters many years ago, I cannot see how they can relate to this current issue of ETCA being discussed. Editorials blaming GMOA for demanding higher salaries in 2001 and 2005 and/or a matter regarding medical reps and drugs in 2008 has absolutely no link with GMOA’s current opinion on the ETCA matter in 2016.

    India’s view on LTTE in 2005/2006 has nothing to do with India’s current view on ETCA in 2016, 10 years latter on an entirely different matter.

    As per one’s opinion, you can blame for one issue of an entity today and blame the same entity for a different issue tomorrow. To me that is a quality of being “neutral”, and that is exactly what we need in our media, don’t we?

    In Buddhist literature, we know someone called “Ahinsaka” who was a nice, innocent, bright and clever student who became a serial murder called “Angulimala” and then again changed to an “Arhath” called Angulimala maha thero. This has not happened over many years, but it was a matter of months if not weeks.

    Are we going to argue against the Angulimala maha thero that he was a serial murder few months before he became Arhath and therefore challenging why he changed his ideology of being a murder to the monk-hood of Arhath status later on, rather than keeping with the same status as a murderer? I don’t think so.

    So why not The Island editor can change his opinion on India after 8-15 years. To me it is natural process of evolving of ideology. I can take Dr.Gunaratne’s point if the same editor was having controversial opinions on the same subject only few weeks apart, while nothing else regarding the matter has changed. But this situation and the examples drawn by the writer is not justifying the argument.

  2. Dham Says:

    Wetta,
    You asked
    “In Buddhist literature, we know someone called “Ahinsaka” who was a nice, innocent, bright and clever student who became a serial murder called “Angulimala” and then again changed to an “Arhath” called Angulimala maha thero. This has not happened over many years, but it was a matter of months if not weeks”
    “So why not The Island editor can change his opinion on India after 8-15 years.” ?

    Good argument. People change with time. Why not Ranil change ?
    Why not MR change ?

    How good for our country if these individuals change ?

    But the change occurs after enlightenment is enormous. It is not a normal change of opinion.
    If Buddha was not there, this change would not happen.
    Budhdha is not alive now, his Dhamma is. But fools do not follow his Dhamma.

    Problem is defilements and fetters. Any decision taken with Thanha could be wrong. Decisions taken in anger could be wrong.

  3. Sooriarachi Says:

    Our goal in all these debates, comments and critique on issues of national interest is to endorse “good” policies and practices and to change anything we consider “bad” into “good”.
    I think Mr Gunaratna has got muddled in his critique, by mixing up issues relating to violence and terrorism with those relating to economics and administration, as well as trying to compare comments on matters relating to 10 to 15 years ago with those of today. Everything change and this change could be for the better or for worse. Further, someone or some group could have good policies on a particular issue and bad policies on some other issue and we could oppose them on one issue but agree with them on another issue. There is a saying that, one must not compare ‘apples with oranges etc’, if we are to make a meaningful critique on any issue. Further I cant understand how the application of “mindfulness” comes into play on a matter like this. Maybe we have misunderstood what Mr Gunaratna is trying to convey.

    However, from what I can gather from this article, in its present form, I could but only agree completely with Mr Wetta’s comments on Mr Gunaratna’s article, which he has quite clearly laid out.

  4. Christie Says:

    I respect most of the views in the “Island” news paper founded by Upali Wijayawardhana.

    Upali was blown up in the air by Indian colonial parasite terrorists of Indian Empire’s terrorist arm operating from Malaysia.

  5. Christie Says:

    “will certainly sound the death knell for Sri Lanka’s IT industry still in its infancy; it will prove to be the kiss of death for other sectors as well with the passage of time. Any average person with an iota of intelligence will see that ETCA is heavily loaded in favor of India. Else, New Delhi would not have evinced so keen an interest in it and pushed for inking it in such a hurry. The government says ETCA will help create employment opportunities.”

    Had the writer documented these claims with facts and figures, he would have become much more convincing than by insinuating the country’s parliamentarians to be “political blockheads bellowing rhetoric and subjugating the national interest to their political agendas.””

    Free trade agreement with Indian Empire, then Sirima Shatri Pact and Nehru Kotalawal Agreement.

    Past experiences are a good foundation to look at the future outcomes.

    I will say you cannot trust even a dead Indian.

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