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Sri Lanka's Genocidal War - '95 to '01
Sinhala owned Sri Lanka press accused of war mongering and racism....
" The Sri Lankan press has been accused of war mongering, racism and ignorance about the country's ethnic conflict in a study conducted by an independent think-tank here.
"It is as if all journalistic norms have been discarded in the frenzy to criminalise Tamils and to create an atmosphere of suspicion bordering on paranoia,'' said the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), in its Media Monitor report just published.
The report's conclusions were arrived at after monitoring English, Sinhalese and Tamil newspapers over a three-month period in 1997 but the CPA said the trends of that period "still appear to hold true''.
Along with the police, military and other state apparatus, the press had also contributed its share to the ever-increasing polarisation of the majority Sinhala and minority Tamil communities (described as "races'' in Sri Lanka), the report said.
One area which the report has taken up in detail is press coverage of the arrest of Tamils. It was found that newspapers did not require their reporters to observe the basic journalistic norms of verification of facts and follow-up stories.
While newspapers would typically report that "terrorists'' or "Tigers" had been arrested for plotting the most heinous conspiracies against the state, the media watchdog stated that a cursory follow-up -- that reporters never do -- would reveal that those arrested had been released for want of evidence.
For example, the Sinhalese-language daily Divaina reported on its front page the "capture'' of "two most wanted Tiger women''. However, Media Monitor's enquiries revealed that neither of these two women were on any wanted list and that one had been released after questioning. The other was being held on suspicion that she had passed on some information to the LTTE.
"By and large, in most of the stories, sources are not identified, locations are not specified and the information is vague and incomplete,'' the report noted.
Moreover, reporters displayed an amazing readiness tobelieve the worst of any Tamil. An illustration provided by Media Monitor was a report in the English-language daily Island headlined, 'Tamil Woman Who Visited Her Fiance Detained'. The story informed that the woman, who had been taken in for questioning in Kandy, had been visiting her Sinhala policeman fiance. It stated that the woman had a Sinhalese father and a Tamil mother.
However, it gave no reason for her arrest, "as if the liaison were sufficient self-evident grounds for suspicion''. Media Monitor noted that the reporter seemed to have been further incensed by the fact that the woman had a relationship with a Sinhala man, who to make matters worse, was a policeman.
Despite the woman's part-Sinhala parentage being evident in her surname, the reporter, in a "selective and even perverse use of ethnic identity'' had chosen to describe her as Tamil.
The watchdog said such newspaper reports served to inform readers about the "selfless and ever-vigilant'' Sinhalese-dominated security forces and at the same time reinforced the "certain knowledge that Tigers lurk behind every building, ensuring the continued criminalisation of Tamils and the exacerbation of the war mentality among the general readers''.
Media Monitor also criticised news editors and sub-editors in allowing such reports to pass their scrutiny and described the situation as a "virtual open season'', where the dominant perceptions are never questioned. As a result, "fear-jerker'' stories dominated front pages, creating an atmosphere of tension and apprehension.
The yawning gulf between the two communities and the "hatred and insensitivity'' being whipped up among the Sinhalese community was further evident in the way the same news reports are treated in Sinhalese or Sinhala-owned newspapers and Tamil or Tamil-owned newspapers, Media Monitor noted.
A meeting between Tamil political leaders and the minister for ethnic affairs to discuss police harassment of Tamils was headlined in the Island as, 'Tamil Parties Complain'. A statement on the same issue was headlined, 'Tamil Organisations Demand Ceasing of Harassment'.
However, the Tamil-owned English newspaper Weekend Express used the more reasonable, 'Tamils appeal,' which, according to Media Monitor, was not only more accurate but also did not undermine the nature of the complaint.
This has prompted Media Monitor to the "the sad but stubborn'' conclusion that the Tamil language newspapers in Sri Lanka are "irrevocably alienated'' from the Sinhala and English language press." (Nirupa Subramaniam reporting in Indian Express, 18 September 1998)