Colombo, Human Rights, Peace and Conflict

Media, Terrorism and Subterfuge: Where is Sri Lanka’s Zola?


Mr. President, this is a blot against your name!

It’s not Mahinda Rajapaksa I refer to when I begin my article with these words, but Félix Faure, the President of France at the time of the infamous Dreyfus Affair, involving the wrongful conviction for treason of a young French artillery officer, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, and the political and judicial scandal that followed until his full rehabilitation.

I begin my article with a lone voice of reason and truth, Émile Zola, who stood up in support of Alfred Dreyfuss. In an open letter to President Faure, Zola said that the haunted vision of a man wrongfully accused troubled him at night and compelled him to stand up for truth and justice.

In doing so, Zola inspired writers and thinkers ever since to stand up for what is right. For the truth. And for justice.

My article goes on to explore the recent events in Sri Lanka in which media personnel were branded as terrorists and apologists for the LTTE. Today, when the threats against media abound, and all sorts of conspiracy theories are making the rounds, I bemoan that a Zola, while urgently needed in Sri Lanka, is also impossible to find.

Read my full article here.

  • Theja

    “…but I affirm, with intense conviction, the Truth is on the march and nothing will stop it.” — Émile Zola

    Clearly the march has yet to begin in Sri Lanka.

  • Lu

    Dear Uvindu,

    Zola said in his celebre letter ” Je n’ai qu’une passion, celle de lumire, au nom de l’humanite qui atant suffert et qui a droit au bonheur…”

    ” I only have the passion, in the name of the humanity which has suffered immensely and which has the right for hapiness…”

    We, here in Sri Lanka, are in a dying need of a Zola.

    Many wishes to you, hope you are walking towards there!

  • Francophone


    You’ve made a slight spelling error – the real quote from Zola is “Je n’ai qu’une passion, celle de la lumière, au nom de l’humanité qui a tant souffert et qui a droit au bonheur.” which I think translates better into:

    “I have only one passion, that of the light (truth), in the name of a humanity that has suffered so much and has the right to the good life”

    We in Sri Lanka are dying. A Zola may already be too late.

    Uvindu, great article – a bit heavy though for someone who isn’t very conversant in Sinhala.

  • pin head


    great piece, I don’t think we should wait for Émile Zola’s to come and rescue us, we all have a certain percentage of Émile Zola’s in us, we should do what we can as individuals to better the situation in the country.

  • Chandu

    The article is well written, I think if all the other jounalists can think and work like Zola, the situation in Sri Lanka would have been much more different. But Zola’s work can’ be done by a journalist himself, all the strong journalists should unite and work together. so there will be more zolas so the so called gouvernment can’t publisize filthy stories and make murders at innocent citizens. but I wonder whether all journalists will act like that? thats a big question.

  • Shantanu

    Author is living in a dream. The writing does not indicate the challenges to media in Sri Lanka that his colleague Sunanda Deshapriya writes often to this website on. If there was a Zola to appear, or many Zolas for that matters, they would possibly be abducted, killed or silenced one way or another the moment they write or speak against the government. No one will claim responsibility. No investigation will reveal the culprits. The victim’s family will suffer from media stories that say Zola was really a terrorist supporter. The FMM will issue a statement condemning the murder / abduction / silencing of Zola. The Government will say it is committed to media freedom. Zola’s writing will appear on Groundviews, but over time, will be forgotten.

    The author does not address this reality – that I think he knows well (see his name on websites from time to time). Today we are looking for Zolas. Tomorrow, we will be looking at ourselves from a graveyard of good intentions that never made a difference to strengthen free media.

    Don’t fall into that graveyard dear author.

  • SH

    So Shantanu…what alternative do you propose?

  • uvindu

    Dear Shantanu,

    I agree with you. But my main point is this;

    The main enemy of free media is the domination of ideological conviction over informative reliability. Another enemy is blindness, which leaves one able to make only trite observations. In a democratic country the media are tempted to use exclusive information leaked from secret services, but these leaks are just an attempt to steer the media from out side, to manipulate public opinion.

    Any way we need to do some thing. If not as Zola said “the phantom of an innocent man, suffering in dreadful tortures for the crime he did not commit, would haunt us at night”


  • Sanjana


    Ideological convictions invariably influence our perception of “informative reliability” or put another way, our perceptions on Truth and Justice. The reporting of events and processes in turn influence, over time, the formation of ideology. This symbiosis is what makes the thrust and parry of divergent viewpoints in the media so important – and rather than say there is one TRUTH, it is in my opinion more useful to think of a journalist as someone who eschews this simplistic notion and instead explores the existence of multiple truths. As the adage goes, truth has many facets, and any one of them alone is a lie.

    Sure we need to do something – and you clearly are. But Shantanu’s point is well taken – without champions of what you propose as alternatives in positions of power, such as the media, your lone voice in today’s context won’t possibly add to much.

    Don’t also forget that though J’accuse was written by Zola it was published in L’aurore, owned and edited at the time by Georges Clemenceau, who later went on to become a Prime Minister that led France to World War I. As a student of terrorism, one notes that it was Clemenceau who introduced the concept of “total war” and though he had a dictatorial bent, perhaps his media training led him to say, at the height of the war, that “The right to insult members of the government is inviolable”. The point is that Zola was not really a “lone voice of Truth and Justice”, but he was supported by media institutions and by media personnel partial to his personal quest for democracy.

    Who are those that you would turn to, in a similar vein, today?

  • Shantanu

    SH, I don’t have an alternative. I’m not a journalist and don’t live in Sri Lanka,so not my place to talk about alternatives. Journalists in Sri Lanka must think whether writing these types of articles, and doing what the FMM does is important and if how, to what extent. Just doing things for the sake of doing things isn’t sometimes enough.

  • SH


    What do you think of the suggestion that Sri Lankans living overseas in a safe environment write to media outlets, local MPs etc. and make people aware of the dire consequences that you outlined to Uvindu, of journalists exposing government officials?

  • Shantanu


    Your idea was proposed by a couple of us a while ago as a way in which international awareness could be raised on the situation in Sri Lanka in our communities.

    I’ve been in touch with Sanjana also and as he’s mentioned somewhere here, one reason he set up this website was also to be a source of viewpoints that could not be found easily found elsewhere and could help support letters of the nature you suggest outside of Sri Lanka.

    I’m working with other progressive minded Sri Lankans, Tamil, Sinhala (no Muslims where I live) to write letters regularly – but we need more voices doing the same. A few won’t make a difference.

    And safety outside is also a concern it seems – I read on the web that a Tamil activists house was ransacked in France / Paris? It’s sometimes tough to write even outside of Sri Lanka. Tougher to stay silent though no?

  • SH

    Shantanu said
    Tougher to stay silent though no?
    I must admit I don’t know the incident about the Tamil activist in France.

    Actually, I live in Australia, and I can tell you that I have never belonged to any political group here, but as an individual when I have contacted MPs at state and federal level, or the local council about any concerns I have been impressed by how prompt they are in replying to me and sometimes how receptive they have been to my concerns.

    Even at the basic level, down my street, my neighbour was collecting signatures for a petition about a nearby public building burglar alarm going off everyday at 2am! To be honest I have never heard it…but I signed it purely out of goodwill…hoping she could get better sleep.

    Freedom of press is a pretty fundemental and non-controversial neutral issue to bring up I think.

    Unless I am being naiive?

  • SH

    Sorry Shantanu, I quoted you but whatever I put underneath doesn’t match your quote.

    Yes…it is tough-if you know the facts.

  • SH

    Globalisation is a blessing and a curse. Reading through some of the websites today, looks like Amnesty is doing a J’accuse.

  • SH

    Found this quote used by Julian Burnside QC:

    Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under. – HL Mencken