The new year, for that matter, the new decade has started off with social media dominating every nook and corner of Sri Lanka political dialogue.
This has nothing to do with the looming general elections, but will determine the outcome of those elections. Two weeks into 2020, UNP MP Ranjan Ramanayake is the pinup model for Sri Lanka social media.
Model he is, has been and will be. A role model he is not, even by a long shot.
For starters this gentleman lacks any common sense of securing taped dialogues. Well before Apps and smart phones became ubiquitous, taped recordings were a fact of investigative journalism, police investigations and sleaze.
One of my first tasks as a journalist was translating the infamous Chanel 9 tapes for late Lasantha Wickrematunga. He never did reveal how they were recorded, not even the guy who was suspected to have done the recordings did that, but by the time I got them, they had been digitised. I got them on CDs.
But Wickrematunga was a bit more intelligent and savvier in the art of investigative journalism and he knew how to keep the original recordings safe.
The content shows other aspects of Sri Lanka public lives – the sheer lack of decency and the ignorance of cyber hygiene. The manner public officials move between the details of their work and nothing but sleaze is astounding
In fact, Wickrematunga also had the habit of the recording conversations over the phone. And again, I doubt if he kept bundle loads of those at his home.
My former boss also did not have a case load of 120,000 recordings. This is partly due to Ramanayake’s own peccadilloes and smart tech. He has admitted that his phone automatically recorded all calls and backed them up. Thus, the political, the sleazy and the creepy are all in one lot.
Knowing what these contained, it is simply mind boggling that he did not take action to secure them. Even after the UNP alliance lost the presidential election.
The content shows other aspects of Sri Lanka public lives – the sheer lack of decency and the ignorance of cyber hygiene. The manner public officials move between the details of their work and nothing but sleaze is astounding. Ramanayake obviously thought his recordings were innocuous or he kept listening to them over and over again.
But if not for social media the Ranja tapes would not have been this ground- breaking. The sheer number would have been an absolute nightmare were they to be uploaded on to traditional media.
Some of the content would never make it on air. These are some of the parts that are most attractive to the sleaze seekers. There would be liable laws and time constraints.
The web has just undone all this. These tapes, now can be uploaded from anywhere in the world without any hindrance.
Whatever Ramanayake’s contribution to Sri Lanka cinema and to its politics were before this, with the tapes he has opened an unedited private view of both. What we have seen so far is nothing less than sickening
This is not the first time that Ramanayake has used social media to major effect. This episode he probably would have wanted to avoid. The last one, he was proactively in the driving seat.
This was during the constitutional crisis of 2018, when most of the electronic media outlets toed a line supportive of the removal of then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. The UNP was finding it hard get its side of the story out. Lo and behold Ramanayake used Facebook live to undercut the partiality of Sri Lanka legacy media houses to broadcast without interlocutors.
Even then though, it was clear that Ramanayake lacked the discipline to make sure his actions would not return to bite him on his rear end. One such meeting he live streamed was a group meeting of UNP and allies. It was very clear he had not planned how to get about it other than live stream the full meeting. He walked up to visibly baffled members who looked wide-eyed into his phone before they realised what was going on. Some members also found it hard to make the shift that what was taking place was a political meeting and not Baila sessions. They behaved like teenagers after their first shot of Arrack. But in postscript those meetings were an uncanny forerunner to what Ramanayake was backing up via his phone.
Whatever Ramanayake’s contribution to Sri Lanka cinema and to its politics were before this, with the tapes he has opened an unedited private view of both. What we have seen so far is nothing less than sickening.
The writer is currently pursuing a Masters by Research at CQUniversity, Melbourne on online journalism and trauma.