Foreign Relations, Media and Communications, Post-War

Bob Rae, The Sunday Times and Wikipedia

In what may be a first for a Sunday newspaper in Sri Lanka, a reference from Wikipedia is used to buttress a case for the alleged pro-LTTE bias of Canadian Liberal MP Bob Rae, recently deported from Sri Lanka after first being issued a visa to enter.

The Sunday Times has a full page devoted to a rather long-winded story titled Lanka’s dual track foreign relations. My interest here is not to debate Bob Rae’s real or perceived partiality to the LTTE, but to briefly look at the manner in which a lengthy excerpt from Rae’s wikipedia entry is used to frame a flimsy argument.

The Sunday Times notes that,

…it was public knowledge that Rae had periodically made strong statements backing the Tiger guerrillas. So much so, there was some evidence in the cyberspace. The Wikipedia, the free, multilingual online encyclopaedia operated by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation, among other things, has these few lines to say about Bob Rae:

“………Rae was a New Democratic Party (NDP) Member of Parliament from 1978 to 1982. Then he moved to provincial politics, becoming leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party from February 7, 1982 to June 22, 1996. He served as the 21st Premier of Ontario from October 1, 1990 to June 26, 1995, and was the first person to have led a provincial NDP government east of Manitoba.

“While in office, he brought forward a number of initiatives such as the Social Contract that were unpopular with many traditional NDP supporters. Rae’s subsequent disagreement with the leftward direction of the NDP led him to resign his membership and join the Liberals. He is known as a supporter of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam), and has supported openly for a separate State for the Tamils in Sri Lanka by dividing the island in to two…….

The Wikipedia account was naturally based on Rae’s involvement with Tiger guerrilla activity in Canada. Rae’s protagonists admit Some Liberal MPs in the past attended functions at which the LTTE was prominent, and Liberal governments resisted efforts to designate the Tiger guerrillas a terrorist organization.

Emphasis mine.

Bob Rae’s wikipedia entry as it now stands does feature any reference for or against the LTTE (at the time of writing, his entry was last modified on 13 June 2009 at 19:05hrs). The sentence quoted in the Sunday Times, that “he is known as a supporter of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam), and has supported openly for a separate State for the Tamils in Sri Lanka by dividing the island in to two” does not appear at all.

Bob Rae’s profile was first entered to Wikipedia on 23 June 2003. Upon further investigation, it’s clear that this sentence only appeared on Rae’s profile on Wikipedia on 11th June and was up there for less than 24 hours. The edit with this controversial sentence was made at 6.31hrs on 11 June and by 17.12hrs, it had been taken out.

In the seven years Bob Rae’s profile has been on Wikipedia, I find it particularly revealing that The Sunday Times chose to quote an edit freshly made to his profile and up for less than 24 hours.

The sentence suggesting Rae was a supporter of the LTTE was added by an anonymous contributor at IP address and edited by a user called Slaphappy, who also corrected other aspects of the edits made by

The jury’s out on the use of Wikipedia as an authoritative source for professional journalism. I use it myself on a daily basis, but given how it can be manipulated and how the quality of entries varies wildly, it’s a source I use with caution and not as an dependable source. In an authoritative take on the uses and abuses of Wikipedia in the newsroom, Wikipedia in the Newsroom by American Journalism Review ends on the following note,

But whatever the verdict on Wikipedia, one thing should not change, says the New York Times’ Johnston: “No matter who your sources are, when you sign your name, you are responsible for every word, every thought, every concept.”

This is where the carelessness, at best, of the Sunday Times comes into play. Noting that “the Wikipedia account was naturally based on Rae’s involvement with Tiger guerrilla activity in Canada” the Sunday Times bases its judgement on data that is hugely suspect and lacks integrity. Further, the strange coincidence of the very short-lived edit to Rae’s profile in Wikipedia precisely matching the lengthy excerpt in the Sunday Times suggest that there may be more than mere journalistic carelessness or ignorance at play here.

In using Wikipedia as it does, the Sunday Times showcases the danger of unprofessional journalism today, parading contested fact as verified information. Ignoring the nature of the web based source and framing the contentious excerpt from Wikipedia in the manner it does, the Sunday Times comes to a damning conclusion over Rae that is not based on any verifiable information. However, the point is that the average reader without the technical skills to investigate the Wikipedia entry would believe what the paper suggests.

And when on Bob Rae’s official website (that finds no mention at all in the story) one finds no evidence of the alleged partiality to the LTTE, one recalls this estimation of the Sunday Times published on Groundviews recently.

  • vivi

    you may have seen this story too, very related to journalists and wiki:

  • CheeLanka

    This latest Wikipedia incident only magnifies what we have known for a long time: the Sunday Times Political Column is largely an amalgamation of political gossip, speculation and Sinhala nationalist propaganda masquerading as analysis. The column could just as easily be written in the ruling party’s office – except for the fact, I suspect, no one there can write a decent paragraph in English! But why bother when the lackeys of Hunupitiya Cross Road would do that job week after week?

    The Sunday Times was once a courageous, independent and professional newspaper when it was under the able and amiable charge of founder editor Vijitha Yapa. He was a rare editor who resigned with his dignity intact than to give in to the then ruling party’s pressures. The servility of Wijeya Newspapers management is such that they will prostitute their media organisation’s editorial independence to remain in the good books of any ruling party. There is a naive belief that the Times is supportive of the UNP because its owner Ranjith Wijewardene is related to the permanent leader of opposition Ranil Wickramasinghe. But these days money matters more than family links to Wijewardene, it seems…

    The tragedy that has befallen the Sunday Times is largely due to its current editor Sinha Ratnatunga’s Sinhala nationalist inclinations. Allegedly hailing from the nationalism revivalist Anagarika Dharmapala, this editor wears his ethnic label more proudly than his professional integrity. He is entitled to his personal choices and political views, but the trouble begins when he hijacks the entire newspaper to serve the ruling party’s SInhala Buddhist racist agenda.

  • cherry

    Totally agree. I live in Ontario and am not a fan of Bob Rae for many reasons let alone the Sri Lankan issue. he has made dubious appearances in ralliess with the LTTE flag etc. which may raise suspicion about his motives.
    Yet reporting doctored facts about him is just plain wrong.

    I am always cautious of referring to wikipedia to confirm facts.

    It is absolutely a horrendous standard of journalism to quote a resource that is NOT peer-reviewed by experts in the same field.

  • Manushi

    This may be somewhat off topic, but you can also check out a program by Ira Basen on CBC radio called “Spin Cycles”. He talks about PR, and how “spindustries” deliberately manipulate the facts. Sri-Lanka was certainly victimized by many “spindustires” in the West.

  • Asanga Welikala

    My own experience is that any undergraduate student in any university who uses wikipedia as a source would fail a paper; and if any serious newspaper anywhere else in the world used wikipedia as a basis of evidence (quite apart from the issues Sanjana highlights) for the principal argument of its main political column, provided it passed muster of the sub-editors, then both the columnist and the editor would be facing the sack overnight. It is useless nowadays to talk about such things as ‘credibility’, and ‘professionalism’, so perhaps the shame of the charge of utter incompetence might be the thing that persuades The Sunday Times to issue a retraction?

  • From the UTHR(J) press release on the deportation of Bob Rae:

    “For the Press too there are some fundamental questions. This government has assaulted, threatened and killed persons in the media who refused to feed off its trough. It is hard for anyone to work under these conditions and keep their sanity. They know there would always be the next incident where a tragedy would befall a journalist whose understanding of patriotism does not conform to the norms set by those in the top rungs of the Defence Ministry. They must constantly worry about crossing the line unawares. Playing safe imposes a conformity into which people slip in by slow degrees. That is what the LTTE relied on. Its effect in the South is reflected in how even the independent media have covered Bob Rae’s deportation. Once facts cease to matter, journalism dies.”

  • Heshan

    “That is what the LTTE relied on.”

    Blaming every mistake on the LTTE, or using the LTTE as an excuse to justify mistakes is a poor method of conflict resolution.

  • Editors Guild of Sri Lanka has published a code of ethics, which says:

    2.1: The media must take all reasonable care to report news and pictures accurately and without distortion.

    2.2: Every reasonable attempt should be made by editors and individual journalists to verify the accuracy of reports prior to publication. Where such verification is not practicable, that fact shall be stated in the report.

    2.3: Editors and their staff, including external contributors, shall not publish material in such a way as to endorse any matter which they know or have reason to believe to be false or inaccurate.

    One may ask:

    Had any of these guide lines been followed by the writer of this article, if not why?

    This is what the preamble says:
    “Those standards require newspapers to strive for accuracy and professional integrity, and to uphold the best traditions of investigative journalism in the public interest, unfettered by distorting commercialism or by improper pressure or by narrow self-interest which conspires against press freedom”

    Over to you, readers of Groundsviews

  • Harry J.

    This author is trying to turn the Bob Rea’s story to an another side. The issue here is weather Bob Rae’s finger pointing on Sri Lanka’s internal matters is right or wrong? It does not matter what ever written on Bob Rae’s Wiki note. Bob Rae has to stop make a living on Sri Lanka’s suffering. If I were representing SL govt. I would do the same to him. GET LOST BOB RAE WE DON”T WANT YOU!

  • CheeLanka

    The way things are going, we might as well start calling the Sunday Times by its de facto name, Sinhala Times! For that’s what this once multi-cultural newspaper has now become, under its racist editor.

    There is already an extremely racist tabloid ‘newspaper’ named The Buddhist Times edited by Dr ( Mrs) Hema Goonatilake which is xenophobic in general, and has an appalling track record for openly inciting violence against Christian churches and their priests in Sri Lanka. In any other country, this would have been grounds for legal action, but not in this land like no other!

    It’s interesting to note that this is the spouse of Dr. Susantha Goonatilake, a regular contributor of Sinhala racist columns to the Sinhala Times, sorry the Sunday Times. Between these two, there seems to be enough hatred and venom to poison the whole country – and the Wijeya Newspapers have become the chief peddler of this poison!

  • Atheist

    We oldies are thinking of starting a paper called MABJY (Murugah, Allah, Buddha, Jehova, Yahweh) . This is strictly for religious propaganda.

    The next one called Sinthamuburja (Sinhala, Thamil, Muslim, Burgher, Java) is purely to promote racist propaganda.

    What’s the use of having ethnic/religious harmony when it doesn’t bring happiness to people. These two papers will bring great joy to those who are not going to seek medical attention for their paranoid delusions, fantasies and phobias. This will give a knock out punch to the psychiatric industry !

  • blashpemous

    The link below seems to be a direct response to this post, and points out how Sri Lankan journalism has been using Wikipedia for a few years, now:

    I think the institutional decay is a direct result of the ethno-centric policies of the SL government. When we blame minorities for our faults for the sake of political expediency, and then wage war on them as they revolt in dissent, and then curtail our own freedoms in the name of ‘security reasons’, this is what we get. That’s basically the subject of the book Blowback: Linguistic Nationalism, Institutional Decay, and Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka by Neil Devotta ( that follows Sri Lanka’s history from 1948 – 1983.

  • Ivan Alvapillai

    During the time Bob Rae was premier of Ontario, the Tamil Eelam Society was receiving millions of dollars annually for community work. But what Bob Rae would not have been aware at that time was that this society was run by a bunch of men and women whose activities were not transparent and were controled by the pro-Tiger World Tamil Movement whose head at that time was Suresh Manickavasagar alias Daniel Thayalam (in Sri Lanka) who was ordered deported for his Tiger activities. In this way the first major funding for the LTTE in Canada came from Canadian taxpayers but the Ontario government would have been totally naive to the ways of the LTTE. Bob Rae was not an LTTE supporter but he advocated a federal solition for Sri Lanka and a number of Sri Lankans support it.

  • Debbie

    Thank you Groundviews for highlighting the appalling journalism that the Sunday Times has been producing for the last few weeks. (may have been longer than that though…..) It actually only struck me the week after the war was declared over. I expected an objective view of the whole situation but instead felt like I was reading something that dear Nalin de Silva would have written!

    Its degeneration was made obvious on the 31st of May when the front page carried a photograph of the UNHCR’s rep in Sri Lanka at a night function which the ST referred to as a “new chore” while apparently poor old Sri Lanka had to battle it out in Geneva over war crimes – though of course they achieved a “diplomatic victory”. I was totally disgusted at the ST’s spin on events. So much for the Sunday Times being one of the few objective newspapers left in the island.

  • ahamed

    A Canadian court has upheld the government’s ban on the entry of anti-war British MP George Galloway for a speaking tour.
    The Scottish member of the British House of Commons was barred last week from entering Canada for his links to the Palestinian Hamas group that is banned as a terror organisation in this country.

  • ATTENTION -“CheeLanka”-Youare sadly mistaken about The Buddhists who are very TOLERENT in faith when compared to other faiths.You think this CHRISTIANITY is a very peaceful faith-even
    Pope John Paul gave an apolopgy to the world for the atrocities
    commited by the Catholic Church,converting people in to Christianity.In South America The Catholic Spanish & Portuguese
    in the name of GOD stole the land,gold reserves,spreaded small pox germs to the natives(1st registered germ warfare),enslved &
    forced the natives into prostitution.Please refresh history than

  • saman

    the new tras-national goverment of LTTE needs to be eliminated. Our diplomatic corp needs to now take over the battle and ask the countries not to allow people who are hosting such organisations to be stopped as they cant accept SL as unitary state as well as have a exile government who seeks a division of SL. pressure must be applied and ambasdors should be sent home.

  • ForATruelyIndependantSriLanka

    Chee Lanka,
    you seem to be going down on a seperate path. This article is about the Sunday Times writing an article using wikipedia as a reference (and manipulating facts). Where does racism come into this?
    Seems like you’re dislike for the sinhala community is clouding your view.
    Otherwise you’re one of those people that just shouts racism with your eyes closed.

  • Kshama

    It is indeed tragic, that the Wijeya group of Newspapers seems to have abadoned its pledge to fair and balanced reportage of news and current affairs. That is especially so, since it sits on the directorate of the Sri Lanka College of Journalism, where budding journalists are taught the fundamentals of their trade.
    To substantiate a story using a Wikepedia entry, and one that seems to have been hastily put up and edited, does not portray professinallism.

  • Migara

    All the criticism of The Sunday Times on Groundviews is rendered invalid by two simple and powerful facts:

    1. The Sunday Times has won more awards for excellence in journalism than any other newspaper in Sri Lanka, year after year, in the annual awards presented by the Editors’ Guild of Sri Lanka.

    2. Sanjana Hattotuwa, who edits Groundviews and authored the above article, is a columnist for The Sunday Leader, a rival newspaper to the Sunday Times. This makes him biased and also poses a conflict of interest. He of all people cannot comment on any other newspaper as long as he remains a columnist for one.

    As for allegations of racist bias, we should leave it to the discerning readers of the Sunday Times to judge. Every Sunday, they vote with their wallets and hearts for this best-selling Sunday newspaper. Need we say any more?

  • Migara, firstly, winning awards bears no relation to examples of shoddy journalism and what is more, this example is shocking precisely because of the argument you make – that this is not a paper defined by or generally associated with poor journalism.

    As for my association with the Sunday Leader, gosh, well done! You’ve discovered something I wanted kept secret. Not. Tell you what, if you can find a single instance of the Sunday Leader, or my own public submissions over 8 years in the Sunday Observer, Daily Mirror, political magazines, web magazines or on TV where wikipedia has been in a similar manner quoted and used to defame a person with unverified information, I’ll be happy to carry it on the home page of Groundviews.

    Till then, your advice is better directed at the Editor of ST himself and his web media illiterate columnists. It’s never too late to learn, and I am happy to engage in this regard as I have with so many other journalists over the past decade.

  • By the way Migara, perhaps it’s just coincidence that you share the same middle name as the Editor of the Sunday Times, or perhaps not? In any case, forgot to note in my previous missive that the Sunday Times also has also more than just atrocious wikipedia sourcing to worry about.

  • Migara

    Who or what is Groundviews to advise the respected Editor of a leading national newspaper about professional standards and media industry norms? How audacious is it for a little voluntary effort to pick faults of an established newspaper with a long, proud tradition, published by a leading media house that is part of the Newspaper Society of Sri Lanka, and co-founder of Sri Lanka Press Institute and Sri Lanka College of Journalism?

    Let the figures speak: The Sunday Times has a print run of 140,000 copies every week. Assuming a modest readership of 3 per copy, this reaches out to over 400,000 readers – among them the political and business elite, intellectuals and diplomatic community. This does not even taken into account the hits to the Sunday Times website.

    Are the outreach figures for Gripeviews, sorry Groundviews, anywhere near this? If not, is it not evident that the little voluntary website is trying to make a name for itself by taking on an industry leader.

    Here’s a piece of advice: pick a target of your own size!

  • Dear readers, this is impersonation. I never posted such a comment. Admins, please take action.

    “Migara said, June 17, 2009 @ 8:27 am . . . “

  • asela

    dear sanjana
    dont you think its even more vile where a Leading sunday paper started a column (in the fornt page) where they inserted titbits about people and organisation by mearly changing the actual name (e.g San-jan-a), while vilifying people without accurate journalism? isnt it the ultimate level of lack of ethics?

  • @Migara #2 – Don’t worry, the other Migara is actually the Editor of the Sunday Times.

  • @Migara / Sinha – Your response is telling. We aren’t debating circulation figures, awards, your pride or your vain self-perception here.

    The issue is about your columnist’s marked ignorance of how to source web content that led to the indefensible, and to be honest, quite hilarious misuse of Wikipedia. As has been pointed out in the comments, not just is this a source that any respected University discourage undergrads to quote in their work, this is in violation of the Editors Guild Code of Ethics, which last time I checked you were part of? Clearly the excitement of discovering Wikipedia for the first time (it’s been around for a while you know) by your political ‘columnist’ must be checked in the future with saner counsel, more befitting all that you say your newspaper is.

    Just to note that the Sri Lanka College of Journalism (SLCJ) will use this article as an example of how not to use online source. Even pathetic media dinosaurs who hold back the progress of journalism in Sri Lanka clearly have their uses.

  • Dear Asela,

    There’s a qualitative difference, or at least there should be, between a political column on Sunday and a gossip column. A gossip column is precisely that, and most Sunday newspaper carry their own flavour. I’ll give you that most ‘political columns’ published today are no more than gossip thinly veiled and ill written to boot.

    A political column, such as that which is critiqued by me, needs in my book to base its analysis on hard evidence. Any columnist is free to air his opinion, but if the sources that opinion is based on are as vacuous as a hasty edit on Wikipedia, the resulting product is worse than gossip and more obnoxious.


  • Sanjana, get real! This is Sri Lankan journalism you’re picking on… next you’d complain about the driving habits of VIPs.

    I think its hilarious that Sinha has been outed so easily… worse that he clumsily digs himself into a rat hole with the “they vote with their wallets and hearts for this best-selling Sunday newspaper” comment. hmm… I wonder what Lakehouse circulations figures are like?

    That said, Sinha is entitled to be chauvinist and we don’t have to buy his paper, or drink with him at the club if we don’t want to… just as he doesn’t have to defend himself at Groundviews… be we do and he does too. Makes it all worthwhile…

  • Migara

    Why are the newspapers held accountable to high standards while little voluntary websites, pretending to engage in journalism but really indulging in spiteful, defamatory activity and rumour-mongering, not made answerable to any law, norm or standard? Now that the Press Council of Sri Lanka has been revived, all sensible people should call for these so-called citizen journalists to be also brought under its purview.

  • @ Migara / Sinha, Tell me, what are the high standards the Sunday Times abides by? Your highfalutin, vainglorious self-definition of high standards? Or existing high standards of the print media industry you flagrantly violate as Sunanda Deshapriya points to above? Or the high standards that allow you to indulge in plagiarism? Or the high standards that make it fine to quote contested Wikipedia articles as an authoritative source, and then defend it to boot?

    How pedestrian but utterly expected of you to refer to the recently reactivated Press Council, staffed now by media geriatrics of your ilk, as a mechanism to protect your out-moded and outrageously unprofessional notion of journalism. For the record, since its obvious you don’t know, what you suggest in terms of holding citizen journalism on par with professional journalists is already part of the 2008 Colombo Declaration on Media Freedom and Social Responsibility. In oral and written submissions over 2008, I impressed upon the Sri Lanka Press Institute (SLPI), of which you are part of, to recognise that blogging – globally and locally – was increasingly indistinguishable from content produced by mainstream media and, as such, needed to be afforded the same recognition and protection as traditional journalism. This parity of status I felt was necessary to encourage traditional journalists to work with and using new media as well as provide an incentive for some bloggers and new media producers strengthen the professionalism of their output.

    Sections 10.3 notes of the 2008 Colombo Declaration notes,

    “One of the most significant developments in the last ten years has been the growth of the Internet, which has resulted in the democratization of media and encouraged the emergence of non professional journalists in the form of bloggers etc. We acknowledge the contribution of bloggers towards the promotion of free speech and democratic media. We also recognize that bloggers are as susceptible to controls by the state, misuse of their work as traditional print and broadcast media. We take this opportunity to commit our support to responsible bloggers and other new media practitioners, and hope to work with them in solidarity towards establishing a convergent media which is strong and independent.”

    In a similar vein, Section 10.4 notes,

    “We specifically call on the government to recognize the internet as an important space for deliberative democracy, and extend to it, all such policies as would enhance the space of free speech on the Internet, and to avoid all policies of banning, blocking, or censoring websites without reasonable grounds. There is now a convergence between the traditional print media and the internet, with a number of newspapers being accessed through the internet, and we would strongly urge that all the privileges and protections sought in this declaration be extended to the web editions of newspapers.”

    All of that you point to in your last missive is precisely that which the ST indulges in repeatedly, with scant accountability. That this site managed to get you to respond in the manner that you have demonstrated the power of citizen journalism – this is now public record that you cannot erase, wish away or choose to hide. As the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) noted in a statement dealing with the suspect quality of journalism in newspapers published by Wijeya Newspapers Ltd,

    … the best way to deal with false and unfair reporting is to present the case to the public ourselves. Thanks to the communication revolution that has taken place in the world people no longer have to wait on newspaper owners, sometimes referred to as ‘magnates’, to get their ideas published. Much of the suppression of opinion in the country has gone through such absolute control of the media by a few persons. However, in this age of the World Wide Web there are avenues to present a case to the public without having to depend on newspaper owners.

    At a time the Press Complaints Commission of Sri Lanka is dysfunctional at best, you can rest assured that Groundviews, bloggers and plenty of other sensible people who know more about the web than you do will hold you accountable for your reporting.

    Deal with it.

  • Frederica

    As far as a columnist or writer of one newspaper commenting on another is concerned, it would be advice well directed to Migara’s one time columnist Rajpal Abeynaike (trained by Sinha R no less) who is now the editor of the Lakbima. The rest we will respond to once we count our awards won by The Sunday Leader, and none of them were for web sourced stories either!

    Frederica (and I never use my second name)

  • ThiFerdi

    Sinha Migara Ratnatunge, editor of Sunday Times every Sunday ‘people vote with their wallets for the best selling Sunday newspaper’, using a commercial jingle to cover up for a lack of substance. False claim, as the best selling Sunday newspaper remains the Sunday Observer, though it maybe for all the wrong reasons such as an excess of obituaries and classified ads etc.,

    But despite his ranting about being the best (what a monkey praising his own tail) Sunday Times cannot even get ahead of the classified-packed Sunday Observer. The only reason the Sunday Times has some kind of circulation now even though those figures are below that of Sunday Observer, is that the Times without being able to beat them, decided to join them and beat the Observer with a classified hit-ad section. So many of my friends put away the Sunday Times when they buy it, and after committing the main section to the waste paper basket they keep the hit-ad section all week.

    The Sunday Times has certainly not won more excellence in journalism awards than the other papers and the opposite of that is true. Almost all other English language newspapers have won more awards than the Sunday Times. Take last year for instance when the ‘Nation’ won a good deal of awards, before that paper went under due to external pressures, and the Sunday Times won none. It has been the case in previous years with the ‘Leader’ winning most of the awards, and the Sunday Times winning some sporadically.

    Sinha Migara Ratnatunge of the Sunday times is a journalistic fossil. He started the Excellence in Journalism awards thinking that his Sunday Times would win all the awards. He is now quite obviously irrelevant in journalism be it in cyberspace or print, and that’s a fair guess why he is so defensive. Poor Migara, for journalism has progressed far beyond his feudal one-dimensional vision of it.

    Last but not least, Sinha Migara Rant-natunge should be hauled before the SL Press Complaints Commission not about Wikipedia but about all the false assertions he makes here with regard to circulation and with regard to awards Sunday Times never won, fibs that can be authoritatively debunked with even the most rudimentary of research.

  • Realist

    What high standards has the ST indulged in – rubbish. Our newspapers have been called the ‘kept press’ very appropriately. They have not practised fair and objective reporting but have been subservient to the government for fear of their lives perhaps. But then to talk of high standards is utter hypocrisy. They indulge in self censorship and do not report facts objectively for public enlightenment as is so vital in a democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties should strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. The Sunday Leader alone fearlessly exposed the graft and hypocrisy of the rulers and poor Lasantha paid the supreme price. No wonder that paper has won international awards. The Groundviews also has been filling a role publishing more objectively what is the truth instead of sucking up to the government -the President and the Ministers. It has published articles which would never be published by the likes of the Sunday Times. So to fault the Groundviews editor and say he is in a conflcit of interest situation and his assessments should be rejected is utter nonsense. I suggest the ST adopt the standards of the Groundviews- publish whatever the public needs to know even if it will displease the powers that be. Selective reporting (spiking, double standards) are very common among our newspapers.

  • blashpemous

    The relevant excerpt from the link I posted above (minus the hyperlinking):

    We all use it, even Groundviews. Actually, so do The Island, the Sunday Observer, and The Sunday Leader. But you know, I’m actually glad that they cite their sources. This shows that they have some journalistic integrity, if that’s any consolation. I mean, it could be worse. In fact, all of these traditional print Sri Lankan newspapers use Wikipedia and cite it as a source when they do. How odd! Now there is a story worth investigating…

    I don’t know why this whole discussion has become a back-and-forth between Sanjana and Sunday Times supporters, only. It’s now endemic of all Sri Lankan journalism. According to the website, even award-winning Iqbal Athas used it. I’m sure Wikipedia is just the most obvious manifestation of a more fundamental issue here.

    So….. we’re all in this together. What do we say?

  • @ blashpemous

    My response to the post on Voices in Exile you point to, still awaiting moderation, was as follows:


    Thanks for this super follow up. I stand corrected on the issue of using Wikipedia as a source in Sunday articles. The two excellent AJR articles I point to in the piece on Groundviews clearly note the potential and pitfalls of using Wikipedia in particular and web based sources in general.

    The examples you point to above are very revealing! I’m happy to engage in conversation on how best online sources can be referenced, or whether they can be at all. The point I was trying to make is that whereas Groundviews, for example, points to Wikipedia references through the Apture plugin and direct hyperlinks, at no point has an allegation as serious as the one made against Rae by the Sunday Times being based on a Wikipedia article alone.

    When bad journalism marries contentious web sources, the result is a product that through ignorance or malevolence misdirects and misinforms the public. While on the one hand this is a strong case for strengthening media literacy, it is also a strong case to urgently develop capacities of senior journalists and Editors to more fruitfully leverage the web and Internet in support of independent and professional reporting.

  • Dilkusha

    I read this post with interest and am glad that there are journalist who adhere to and value the highest standards in journalism. My daughter is in the middle of her undergraduate studies and I recall her mentioning that “wikepedia” is not a valid or permitted source to be quoted when handing in her assignments. I am sure many of us go on “wikepedia” extensively but since it is an open source, verifying the content via other journals or documents is the responsibility of the writer if the writer can’t substantiate the facts on “wiki” the article does indeed appear weak and false.

  • nandasena

    Harry .J, wants the Canadian dolalrs, but not their visit!! What is the security risk he was posing, was he carrying a Gun or Bomb? This is like give us money, but don’t talk. Do not think others are fools. The whole world know that Sri lanka is hiding GENOCIDE!!! No amount of white washing will wash Mahinda Rajapakse and his clan’s sins away!! Sri Lanka ceased to be a democracy long ago. It got worse and worse every day!!

  • Some of our politicians (Mahinda, et. al.) play the ethnic drums, even though they are only opportunists and not racists…

    Some of our journalists (Sinha, Gamini, are racists at heart and yet they are desperate for the acceptance of those who are not…

    Funny how they (Politicians & Journalists) sell their souls from opposite ends of the divide and yet they are so much alike.

  • blashpemous

    Great comment, there.

    The ST Editor’s comments are amusing indeed. I have more readers –> my stuff is always better –> I am not subject to criticism from people with less readers. Then replace “readers” with “awards” and repeat. As he says, the “proof” exists because “people vote with their wallets”.

    This argument might hold if journalism isn’t also a business, if people aren’t creatures of habit, and if the target audience only subscribes to one newspaper. I read all of the SL papers, myself. But I read them online, of course — a fool and his money are soon parted.

    SL journalism has already witnessed a sharp decline in quality that compounds the more obvious threat to Southern journalists (which has been happening to Tamil journalists for quite some years before, but as Lasantha alluded to, then they were through eliminating Tamils and came for him). But I think the elephant in the room for many is that this issue of SL journalism stems from the deterioration of all institutions in SL. The impunity afforded, the wrecked institutions ignored are the allowances that were given to the govt. by the SL populace when they voted the Pres.’s administration in and supported the Final War policies. We have to own this situation, too, to own our faults before we can reclaim our agency and correct those faults, if we are to effect lasting change.

  • Observer

    Sanjana, it is a bit cheap to take a swipe at a competing news paper isn’t it? Direct conflict of interest no doubts.
    As migara has said why don’t we just leave the masses to decide? After all it’s a democratic endorsement of the public isn’t it?
    For instance we have our reasons for reading and commenting on ground views. And you do quite proudly boast the site stats no? No.1 citizen journalism, this award, that award, etc. etc. So what shame in migara stating his stats?

    I have a lot of concern with majority of the “journalistic” articles published here with no references at all. Though I see it is getting better now, slightly. If you promote this blog as journalistic type then please the codes of ethics and standards that applies to journalism applies to this blog too. But we don’t even see a Wiki reference in most of the articles! Some articles, you just have to wonder how it got through an editor.

    I’m not trying to say this blog is bad, all I’m saying is all of you’re paddling in the same boat. Trying to find moral high ground is just ……. Please don’t censor this. Thanks.

  • @Observer – you deserve to be a ST reader. The issue is not about awards – if in doubt, try to read and comprehend the original article and resulting comments.

    If you have any concerns about the content here, given your prolific and verbose comments, I’m surprised you were silent about it without querying respective authors?

    As for standards, if you looked around the site you may have encountered this. It appears that Migara / Sinha’s myopia is sadly contagious.

  • “The manner in which Bob Rae, a former Prime Minister of Ontario, was denied entry and deported after being issued a visa by the Sri Lanka High Commission (with clearance from Colombo) was both clumsy and disgraceful. It was ridiculous to refer to him as a threat to our national security. Rae has been to Sri Lanka several times in the past and has been a strong supporter of democracy and human rights. Only last year he wrote in a Canadian newspaper referring to the LTTE as “a merciless armed group … engaged in brutal attacks against civilians as well as assassinations of their opponents.” The UTHR (J) in a report issued last week referred to Bob Rae as having chaired a Human Rights Watch meeting in December 2004 in Toronto launching a report looking into the LTTE’s recruitment of children. “It was his commitment to Tamil children that led him to take a strong stand on the child soldier issue even as pro-LTTE activists attempted to disrupt the meeting.”

    To justify the action in denying entry to Rae, pro-establishment journalists and other apologists have tried to portray him as a supporter of the LTTE without an iota of evidence. The standards of integrity of some journalists with a political agenda have been exposed in the Groundviews web blog, A senior journalist writing a political column in another Sunday newspaper tries to make out that Rae was an LTTE supporter and refers to the following sentence in his biographical details allegedly published in the online Wikipedia encyclopedia: “(Rae) is known as a supporter of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam), and has supported openly for a separate State for the Tamils in Sri Lanka by dividing the island into two” But Groundviews’ investigation has revealed that Bob Rae’s profile was first entered to Wikipedia on 23 June 2003. This particular sentence (in line with the defence establishment’s reasons for refusal of entry) first appeared on Rae’s profile on Wikipedia on 11th June and was up there for less than 12 hours. The edit with this controversial sentence was made by an anonymous contributor at 6.31 hrs on 11 June and by 17.12hrs, it had been taken out.

    Is it merely a curious coincidence that the journalist has ignored Rae profile that has appeared in Wikipedia for seven years and chosen to quote a sentence that was inserted by an anonymous contributor and which was up for less than 12 hours? Surely, senior journalists need not be reminded of Scott’s well known dictum for journalists: ‘Comment is free but facts are sacred’. And journalists who publish ‘news’ received from tainted sources do so at the peril of their journalistic integrity.

    Taken from The IDPs need to be treated just like other citizens, published in The Island, 20 June 2009