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.)