Villainizing the victim trapped between 19A and Covid-19 emergency courtesy of free media manipulation? A point to ponder
Posted on April 28th, 2020

By Rohana R. Wasala

The news of the postponement of scheduled parliamentary elections by the Elections Commission was carried in the online Asian Tribune newspaper with an apparent anti-government bias. After closing the nominations on March 19, 2020, the EC postponed the general election, earlier scheduled for April 25, in view of the situation caused by fears of the Covid-19 pandemic gradually engulfing Sri Lanka. The move was in accordance with the provisions of the Parliamentary Elections Act of 1981. Immediately reporting this under the headline Sri Lanka’s General Election postponed: Until the polls the country comes under Election Commission”, Asian Tribune (AT) datelined March 19, Colombo, states with strange glee:

 QUOTE The Election Commission (EC) has indefinitely postponed the parliamentary election earlier scheduled for April 25. Until the polls the country virtually coming under the direct control of the Election Commission. Country’s President and the Caretaker Government cant move a ‘bit’ without the consent and permission of the Election Commission even to peeing.

Country’s President had the opportunity to cancel the dissolution of the Parliament, prorogued it obtained the resolution on Covid – 19 and had time until August 290290 to dissolved it and could have called for election again. A missed opportunity is a lost one.” UNQUOTE

Through such reporting, the Asian Tribune editor K.T. Rajasingham implies, wrongly of course, that the temporary/caretaker minority government, appointed after the November 16 presidential election,  is acting in a wayward  manner and is in need of being held in check. He seems to mistakenly assume that the existing constitution has turned the EC into a dictatorial body that, at this moment, is poised to virtually replace the executive president and that the Corona-19 crisis has given it the opportunity to make the necessary intervention in controlling the government’s activities! Nothing is further from the truth. The constitutionally valid decision to postpone the election was taken independently by the EC with unquestioning acceptance of the postponement by the president, who himself had already casually mentioned its (EC’s) power to do so when the nomination process was completed. Nominations having been accepted, the names of candidates and polling booths had to be gazetted as per Section 24 (1) of the Parliamentary Elections Act of 1981. This step had to be fulfilled for the EC to secure the authority to postpone the election in terms of Section 24 (3) of the selfsame Act. 

A retrospective glance at Asian Tribune is in place at this point. Its editor K.T. Rajasingham (KTR) started the online publication in Bangkok, Thailand around 2002. I remember welcoming it as a novelty among the media I routinely consulted. In a note published in his paper years later, he described himself as a Sri Lankan Tamil journalist ‘who was forced to leave his country after LTTE raised its head and systematically targeted him’. According to the same note, he relocated to Sweden with his online newspaper; and at present it is operated by the World Institute for Asian Studies (WIAS), apparently his own creation, whose goal, KTR claims, is to bring Asian nations closer together. 

The phrase Striving for Asian Solidarity” prominently displayed by Asian Tribune as a journalistic catchword on its masthead must be a reference to this alleged mission of the WIAS. But it is difficult for one to see any implicit or explicit definition of ‘Asian solidarity’ as a political, economic, social, cultural or any other worthwhile concept or ideology that may be identified as underlying its reportage. Be that as it may, it is worth thinking about why the Asian Tribune founder and editor  experienced such a sense of malicious pleasure at the unanticipated postponement of the general election. The announcement of the postponement actually caused deep frustration and despair among the sane majority of multiracial and multireligious Sri Lankans who have been impatiently waiting to vote in a new parliament and help form a stable government during the executive presidency of the universally acclaimed Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the common target of all those who are opposed to that extremely probable and propitious eventuality (i.e., the election of a fresh parliament that will enable the new president’s vision and mission for the country to be accomplished). 

KTR’s complaint that the president had the opportunity to rescind his (March 02) dissolution of parliament  in view of the threatened worsening of the Corona-19 situation that would make campaigning and polling impossible is a frivolous one to say the least. The people are 100% sure that nothing could be gained by reconvening the dysfunctional parliament, arguably the worst since 1948, that was dissolved on March 02. No elaboration is necessary to drive home the point. The government under the executive presidency of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has been doing everything possible, from the third week of January itself to deal with the unfolding conditions associated with the global Corona-19 pandemic with the dedicated participation of the health, security, and law enforcement and civil functionaries  as he explained in his address to the nation on March 17. He said that confidence is the mark of real leadership in a crisis. He has demonstrated that quality in himself in abundance since 2005, as the ordinary people know. The president concluded his speech with the words This country that is yours and mine is secure today”. But this confidence was not shared by diehard opponents.

Sarath Alwis of Colombo Telegraph (‘A Brave President, A Benumbed Nation’/March 24, 2020) scoffs at the president’s statement as wrong, after first praising it as a forthright fearless statement”, adding: The President in the statement embodied courage and sincerity.” Sarath Alwis (SA) finds fault with the president’s assertion that the country is secure now because there is more to national security than fighting with separatist terrorists, monitoring the activities of religious fanatics or countering political dissenters. He states the obvious when he says that dealing with an epidemic is different. The extremely biased Sarath Alwis must have chosen to ignore the fact that Gotabaya Rajapaksa has a much more profound, much more comprehensive understanding of what national security involves and has achieved much more for the nation in that sphere than the likes of Alwis would like to appreciate. Colombo Telegraph is run, as they claim, by a group of ‘exiled journalists’ who, significantly, fled the country after it got rid of separatist terrorism for good. The Colombo Telegraph went to town with its one-sided condemnation of the presidential pardon of war veteran Sunil Ratnayake with hardly a glance at the ground realities or the actual circumstances that justify that move, while the Asian Tribune has commented negatively on the pardon of the soldier without showing the self-absorbed enthusiasm of the CT, describing it as ‘Arbitrary release of a convicted non-commissioned military officer’. Though, outwardly, the two publications were or still are at loggerheads with each other, they could be journalistically contributing to the same brand of anti-Sri Lanka destabilizing politics, which, while being sympathetic to the defeated separatist cause, is actually part and parcel of a more global operation launched by external powers running geopolitical agendas in the region.  

Eight years ago, the Colombo Telegraph carried news about KTR being found guilty of gross defamation” by a Swedish court  in a case instituted against him by an alleged Norwegian journalist named Nadarajah Sethurupan (NS) under the headline Asian Tribune Found Guilty for Defamation in Sweden” (CT/February 24, 2012). When it did so, the Colombo Telegraph  exhibited the same sort of schadenfreude that the editor of the Asian Tribune experienced at the recent postponement of the general election. It was reported that Sethurupan told the paper (CT) that KTR phoned him when he (NS) was in Oslo in 2003/2004 and that KTR tried to persuade him to attack the Norwegian peace officials and the SLMM (the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission) and to work with him and his ‘secret unit’ in order to wreck the said peacemaking process; but Sethurupan refused. Subsequently, Sethurupan charged, KTR started attacking him personally calling him a ‘terrorist’ through his newspaper the Asian Tribune. The attacks continued from 2005 to 2008 according to SN.  At a Swedish district court trial KTR was adjudged guilty and this judgement was confirmed by a Swedish Appeal Court, which ordered KTR and the WIAS to pay Sethurupan $ 20,000 and the Swedish state litigation costs incurred. 

Whether the Swedish justice system was correctly apprised of the facts of the case and whether the cause of justice was served is a moot point. The CT reporter drew attention to the fact that the compensation amount of SEK 125,000 (equivalent to $ 20,000) was the highest amount imposed for defamation in Swedish judicial history up until then! How many millions of SEK or Dollars could be claimed by the relevant political leaders of Sri Lanka (I mean, particularly, the Rajapaksas) as compensation if legal action was taken based on the actually available authentic information against Tamil separatist supporters abusing the hospitality of such gullible European societies for defaming them over the last fifteen years calling them war criminals, murderers, crooks, despots, etc. without any evidence to support those denunciations!  

At the time that the  legal action related to, KTR was allegedly accused by separatists of being opposed to the Norwegian brokered peace process while being friendly towards the Sri Lankan government, which was embattled with the anti-state separatist terrorists. It was even held among KTR’s critics that the the then UPFA government financially supported the Asian Tribune; but this was an assumption that was not plausible given that the then president Mahinda Rajapaksa, though he was sceptical (with reason) about the separatists’ actual commitment to finding a peaceful solution, actively went along with the Norwegian mediation effort, until the terrorists forced his hand, by closing the Mavil Aru anicut, to take decisive military action against them, in which they vainly hoped to defeat the government defence forces and realise their separate state dream. 

It is not only online tabloids such as AT and CT that have been co-opted (this is my hunch, but could be wrong) by the powers that be to play a cankerous role against Sri Lanka. Even the mainstream English broadsheets with wide  circulations seem to be subject to the same pressure (The journalists employed by them are helpless; they have no option but to toe the line set by their employers who probably feel obliged to serve vested interests just to sustain their businesses that in turn protect the livelihoods of their employees). Ceylon Daily Mirror (March 27, 2020) published an exclusive interview with a senior US lawyer, Larry Klayman, allegedly a former federal prosecutor under president Ronald Regan. Klayman said that he was ready to work with Sri Lankans and others towards building international pressure on China. No need to say anything about the absurd hypocrisy or the hypocritical absurdity of such a proposal to Sri Lanka as the ground realities relating to the country’s vulnerable position between the two giant contenders China and America are so well known. To his credit, the Daily Mirror journalist Easwaran Rutnam who interviewed him made the apparently needy old lawyer eat his words at every turn through his informed questioning, which was redolent with sarcasm and scepticism. The Daily Mirror of April 10, 2020  carried an edited version of an Open letter (dated April 8) from the Chinese Embassy addressed to the Chairman of its owner Wijaya Newspapers. It was written by Luo Chong, the Spokesperson and the Chief of the Political Section of the Embassy in response to two articles published in the paper (one of them being the interview I have just mentioned). Somebody seems anxious to drive a wedge between tiny Sri Lanka and giant China, two nations that have enjoyed thousands of years of close cultural and trade relations.

2 Responses to “Villainizing the victim trapped between 19A and Covid-19 emergency courtesy of free media manipulation? A point to ponder”

  1. Ratanapala Says:

    This must be the reason the snake-eyed country rat (Ooru Meeya) Ajith Perera mused on the Balaya Political Program of Hiru about bringing charges against China. The Samagi Jana Balawegaya seems to have taken on board the task of being the cat’s paw for this venture.

    Ties with China are long-standing and Sri Lankans will never be given in to such backbiting and ungrateful act against an all-weather friend of Sri Lanka.

  2. aloy Says:

    Rohana R Wasala,

    When you wrote an article like this a few days ago I asked you and the Sanga Collective that met the prez why neither you nor the Sanga see any thing wrong with the unethical manner the affairs of the country is being conducted. There were no comments from you or anybody else.

    Now you are saying that free media (Asian Tribune) is villainizing a victim trapped between 19A and Covid-19. What I am trying to say here is unless we realize who is creating all these problems we will have no escape. Who ever wins the election Prez is not going to get the executive powers. If the ruling party gets 2/3rd it will be MR who will fashion our constitution and if he doesn’t win but gets a simple majority then he will be the one who will call the shots as is being done today. And if by any chance SJB wins it will be the minorities who will the affairs like in yahapalanaya.

    We can always find out the behavior of Covid-19 and workout a model according to its variables, parameters etc. that affect our particular situation and fight it successfully. In fact our professionals aided by try forces are doing it very well. But if we do not know which is the actual virus that plagues our nation then we will not know how to attack it and will definitely succumb to it. That virus has entered the heads of most of our seasoned leaders and muddying the waters causing havoc. 4/21 is one such thing. The infighting that we see is caused by that virus that came from ME. We have to get someone outside the system to help the Prez, to my mind.

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