Despite President Mahinda Rajapaksa being a PR maestro, a fact that was vividly displayed to the entire world when he invited a journalist of the Channel 4 of Britain for a cup of tea as the latter approached him with a provocative question during a CHOGM related event in Colombo, what seems to be lacking in his subordinates is exactly the very skill which was also exposed to the world through their handling of the journalists of the same Channel.
What would have been the difference had the authorities allowed the Sri Lanka basher Callum Macrae and his team to proceed to Jaffna, rather than supplying them with another negative story by blocking them at Anuradhapura? After that incident Channel 4 carried a story saying they were prevented from going to the north as there was a protest by relatives of the people who disappeared during the war.
They were turned back at a time when a visit by British Premier David Cameron to Jaffna was on the cards, a move authorities were not supposed to stop or block midway. The message that would have been taken to the world by the Channel 4 is now being taken by Cameron who also had come to Sri Lanka to deliver a “tough message”, according to the British media.The sum total has been the negative story about the alleged disappearance of people plus an additional negative story on the scuttling of media freedom being spread around the world.
There is no doubt that the Channel 4 media productions on Sri Lanka represented the most debased and unethical journalism, since they were maliciously one sided while fairness was one of the fundamental elements of journalistic ethics. Although Jon Snow, during his initial narrations to Macrae’s “Sri Lanka’s killing fields” in 2011 says the LTTE too violated human rights by using the civilians as a human shield and recruiting child soldiers during the war, the film did not include a single visual to prove the point.
How strange was it that Macrae, who had been clever enough to find video clips that purportedly showed harrowing scenes of the war front, had failed to find a single witness or a visual to say that it was the Tigers who drove the civilians in Wanni with them while they were retreating, and herded the men, women and children into a small piece of land where they themselves were entrapped at the last lap of the war, endangering those hapless people’s lives. He ridiculously failed to find visuals or witnesses to say that Tigers killed Tamils who attempted to flee their grip into the army held areas, to say that the Tigers shelled from behind the people towards army positions with the clear knowledge that it would invite counter shelling by the troops and also to say that Tiger suicide bombers were forced to explode themselves while being among the people fleeing from the war front, with a view to scare the others in the war front from escaping the rebel grip.
Snow, in a passing reference in Macrae’s film mentions that Tigers recruited child soldiers, but the latter surprisingly failed to include or were careful not to include at least one of hundreds of authentic file photos of child soldiers that had been used by the Sri Lankan and other media outlets, if his sources had been reluctant to provide live examples of child soldiers.
Hence, the authorities must have realised that antagonising or provoking journalists with such wavelengths would definitely be counterproductive and it would have vindicated their accusation that the Sri Lankan government was suppressing the media and would provide them with more ammunition. The best approach could have been to engage them and to question their morality in public in a cultured manner, as the local scribes did after Cameron’s refusal to answer their questions at his press conference on Saturday, which even Channel 4 journalists said was unfair.
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