Dismissing inconvenient truths – The Divaina’s take on Groundviews

Clearly, Groundviews seems to be doing something right in highlighting the plight of IDPs and refugees in the embattled North and East of Sri Lanka through stories such as I pray God that no one in this world should face the hardships, faced by my child and me and We are nobody’s children… and others.

The Divaina, a Sinhala daily published by the Upali Newspapers Group, had this to say on our recent story on IDPs in Trincomalee:

“මෙයට සමගාමීව කොටින්ට පකෂපාතී ස්වෙච්ඡා සංවිධාන අලුතින් අන්තර්ජාල වෙබ් අඩවි ආරම්භ කරමින් ත්‍රිකුණාමලයේ අවතැන්වූවන් අතිශය දුෂ්කර ජීවිතයක් ගත කරන බවට ප්‍රචාරයක් විකාශනය කර ඇත. මේ අන්තර්ජාල වෙබ් අඩවිය ආරම්භ කළ තැනැත්තා කවූරුන්දැයි දැන් හෙළි වී තිබේ.

ශී ලංකාවේ පූරවැසි මාධ්‍යවේදියා නමින් හඳුන්වා ගනිමින් ආරම්භ කර ඇති මේ කොටින්ට පකෂපාතී වෙබ් අඩවියෙන් පවසා ඇත්තේ හමූදාපති ඝාතන ප්‍රයත්නයෙන් පසූ යූද හමූදාව ත්‍රිකුණාමලයේ එචිලන්පත්තු ගම්මානයට මෝටාර් සහ රොකටි ප්‍රහාර එල්ල කළ බවයි. මින් පැහැදිලි වන්නේ වන්නි කොටි බේරා ගැනීමට මෙරට ස්වෙච්ඡා සංවිධාන විශාල මෙහෙයූමක් අරඹා ඇති බවයි”

This excerpt, from Divaina’s defence column published on 12th August 2007 (available here as a PDF) by Keerthi Warnakulasuriya, demonstrates the growing influence of citizen journalism in shaping the analyses of columnists in mainstream media. By labelling those who bring to light uncomfortable realities of war as “LTTE agents” and alleging Groundviews to be part of a giant conspiracy of NGOs supportive of the LTTE, Divaina demonstrates a marked intolerance of narratives that run counter to and questions the veracity of its own journalism.

In highlighting simply powerful stories from citizens living in the midst of violent conflict and who have been displaced on account of it, Citizen Journalism and new media in Sri Lanka demonstrate an increasing capacity to unsettle mainstream media’s influence in shaping public opinion. As noted in an article published on Madrid11 on Groundviews and Citizen Journalism::

The more Groundviews is successful in fostering new voices in support of peace, the more it will become a target of concerted attacks to prevent its growth.

And it is here that our greatest challenge lies. Not in the technology itself, but in the creation of a social and political movement – one fostered by citizen journalism mediated through new media and new technology – that is able to maintain, in some small way, the hope of a just and lasting peace in Sri Lanka.

This hope fuels Groundviews, not as a simplistic magic bullet against terrorism, but as an increasingly important vehicle for ordinary citizens to record their views in support of democracy as the only way through which terrorism can be effectively combated.

  • http://landlikenoother.blogspot.com VIC

    //This excerpt, from Divaina’s defence column published on 12th August 2007 (available here as a PDF) by Keerthi Warnakulasuriya, demonstrates the growing influence of citizen journalism in shaping the analyses of columnists in mainstream media.\\

    Sanjana,

    Only you identify groundviews as a “citizen journalism initiative” you have to learn a lot about real citizen journalism. A site which censor opposite opinions, for mysterious reasons, can never be rated as a citizen journalism initiative. Clearly, Keerthi got it right there. “Sri Lankawe purawesi madya wediya kiya handunwa ganimin”. Translated to English it’s “SELF PROCLAIMED citizen journalist”.

    Your site is clearly biased towards a one political view about the ethnic conflict. I’m not saying you are directly supporting the tigers. But, the tigers get a huge benfit from your political mission.

  • http://www.cpalanka.org groundviews

    Dear VIC,

    The story, which I trust you’ve read, that is referenced in the Divaina article is one that was submitted to Groundviews based on an interview with an IDP and a citizen of Sri Lanka. It was an instance of journalism that brought to light the plight of a group in Sri Lanka who are often collectively referred to as IDPs or refugees. That they exist and that their damning plight is not often highlighted in mainstream media is reason enough to continue to publish their stories here, as articulated by them.

    I don’t quite see how Colombo based, desk bound reporters with an axe to grind with NGOs and who paint them, carte blanche, as supportive of the LTTE are in any position to pontificate on how this site in particular and others like it are partial towards terrorism. For them, as I suspect for you, the content herein, which is admittedly based on the political objective of bringing to light that which subverts the propaganda of the major stakeholders to the conflict (incl. the Govt, Karuna and the LTTE), threatens your own perceptions and beliefs. Hence the knee jerk and persistent reaction of accusations, personal diatribes and vicious denials.

    I find it interesting that the story in question is quite explicit in the damning NGOs and INGOs for not living up to their promises of supporting IDPs in camps, is taken to be one that is supportive of the LTTE. It ends with a plea for help, is based on the experiences of a person who has lost more than you and I have or possibly ever will to this wretched war. Clearly, you are free to debate the causality of her suffering but I don’t think you, or the Divaina columnist, are in any position to debate the veracity of her life story.

    As for Groundviews, you are entitled to your opinion. I believe that Groundviews has catalysed mature debate on highly emotive and contentious issues in the blogosphere, caters to a niche audience, has a devoted following and, if it is any measurement of success, has resulted in ever increasing hate mail and all manner of threats to self and family because of the nature of the content published. Groundviews is increasingly picked up by mainstream media for content that they cannot themselves generate or get access to. This is proof to me of its impact to date and future potential in challenging the status quo.

    However, given your avowed expertise in citizen journalism, perhaps you can begin a site of your own? I would be happy to learn from and indeed, link to you, should you set an example of what CJ can and should be in contradistinction to what I and CPA believe.

    Best regards,

    Sanjana

  • Chamath

    Taking a serious interest in citizen journalism, my point of view is that opening up the debate to different voices will lead to chaos and confusion. There will be calls for dictatorships, religious states, communist states and you name it, anything else you can think of.

    But this chaos and polarized opinion, I believe, is needed.

    Non exclusion of any opinion must be a fundamental principle of Citizen Journalism both in terms of access and coverage.

    So where, in my opinion, is Groundviews in all this? GR has made an outstanding and groundbreaking foray into citizen journalism via the web medium which is very much what Sri Lanka needs right now and hats off to Sanjana for spearheading it.

    Diverse opinion and postings are found on Groundviews, so I don’t agree with the view that there has been a “censorship” of opposite opinion. I do believe that the moderator has a right to delete comments badly expressed in violent aggressive language.

    However a preference for a focussed debate may have led to a narrowing down of coverage in terms of opinion, which can open room for accusation of bias.

    On the way to move forward, I believe a focussed debate is not possible within Citizen Journalism, as Citizen Journalism by definition allows anyone to post their view.

    To me basic journalism must encompass a broader agenda than mere reporting and extend to feedback, discussion, interaction and unhindered public access to such interaction through which, hopefully, some of the chaos may resolve itself, i.e. the goal of citizen journalism.

    My preference is to see unfettered access for anyone to post their opinion, even badly written. (with the only constraint that its not abusive)

    But, how will that pan out? What will that look like?

    I honestly don’t know. I am seriously open to the suggestion that it might not, practically, be a good idea.

    But to see the humanity behind all views and opinion, I believe, must be the goal of Citizen Journalism.

  • suntzu

    Amen to that Chamath!

  • http://citizenjournalismwatch.wordpress.com Claire

    I’m not sure that there is a global consensus on what citizen journalism is and isn’t. It’s still in the early stages of its development. This is a very well presented and interesting website.

  • Bentzz

    //Diverse opinion and postings are found on Groundviews, so I don’t agree with the view that there has been a “censorship” of opposite opinion. I do believe that the moderator has a right to delete comments badly expressed in violent aggressive language.//

    i think this is an very important issue that has come up.As an NGO based initiative i think groundviews must be representing the idea that Media should be free from any kind of censorship.But in the practical situation it is not as easy as it seems.thats why you(groundviews) use moderators.

    I personally don’t believe that your moderators are only deleting comments based on above stated criterias.It really is a censorship done by groundviews and i totally accept the right to you to do that. The problem is u guys are breaking your own rules when deleting such comments.and according to your political views(As i see them)you don’t have the right to decide what to be posted and not.

    And i would like to remind If the goverment use a so called “moderator” for media there cant be an “Irudina” news paper publishing.If they delete “badly expressed in violent aggressive language” in that news paper there will be lot of white space in the paper.

    And another question that i have to raise is on what grounds are you accusing the main stream reporters as”Colombo based, desk bound reporters with an axe to grind with NGOs”. Are you telling that Groundviews has the capability
    of being in the ground and represent public opinion more than them.I find that very hard to believe that given most of you guys are also Colombo based.

    And i doubt whether there is such a thing called “citizen journalism” in Groundviews or for that case in any other media in the world.

  • Melvin Ally

    I think when we make accusations against Groundviews (or anyone for that matter), it must be based on fact – not suspicion – otherwise the accuser might as well be in Parliament with the rest of the johnny mudslingers.

    Does anyone have proof or any evidence that shows that Groundviews censors contributions to its site? If there is, I am yet to see it mentioned by the people who lay the accusations.

    In my opinion, Groundviews does express opposing views which are even critical to it/Sanjana in numerous blog articles (pls read Rajpal Abeynayake’s “tribute” to him in a previous blog), so as far as I am aware, these accusations seem to be baseless.

    I have previously contributed articles to other local blog websites which have sadly not been published because of its political sensitivity (however no reason whatsoever was given to me by the moderator). My understanding of CJ is a medium for true freedom of expression, and I think Groundviews will score high points in this reagrd.