Colombo, Media and Communications

A response to “News websites caught red-handed doctoring video to make president look racist”

A news item on Lakbima News titled News websites caught red-handed doctoring video to make president look racist has this to say of Groundviews.

“Websites such as Groundviews exacerbated the situation by saying there was confusing reportage, not highlighting the obvious doctoring which was apparent to anybody listening to the video soundtrack and the clip. But this is Groundviews, a partial NGO website run by one Sajana Hattotuwa, under-qualified sub-standard ‘‘journalist’’ pretender, with a sub-standard ‘qualification’ from some obscure Indian university – which obviously did not equip him to be a man with any integrity to tell the truth.”

This is unsurprising reportage from Lakbima News, but the misleading and completely erroneous nature of this news item is evident upon even a cursory reading of our story titled Confusing reportage over comments by the President: Propaganda or fact? and the vibrant discussion and debate it generated. There is nothing more to add in response, save to urge “Media Raj”, who is too much of a coward to write under her / his name, to take lessons in reading and comprehension before pontificating on aspects of journalism. But to make it easier for Lakbima News, we urge the author to take a look at this comment penned in response to another commentator on Groundviews and the advice in it,

@Atheist, where have we perpetuated any lies reg. this story here or elsewhere?

The point of the article, which you have clearly missed completely, was to highlight the positions taken up by Lanka Truth and Lanka News Web in contradistinction to the reportage in the Sunday Times. There are subtle, yet in the context of Sri Lanka’s vexed post-war ethno-political relations, significant differences in emphasis, intended audience and geo-location in the three stories. Ergo, depending on the article, the President’s speech can be perceived very differently. This is also why we have raised concerns over the media campaign of Sarath Fonseka continuing to use an erroneous account of this speech as the basis for its propaganda.

This follows what to the best of our knowledge was the first questioning over the veracity of the stories on Lanka News Web and Lanka Truth, as noted in the article, as well as the first confirmation, though our own independent verification, that the stories were inaccurate.

Reading and comprehension don’t seem to be your forte, which is a personal privation. We trust that it will not, to the extent possible, influence your public engagement in this forum.

  • Suriya

    Unfortunately, Groundviews did initially go along with the false information as per the Groundviews tweets. But fortuntely it was corrected later…however this should have been done much earlier and before reporting as fact, should have been investigated further.

    • Problems of comprehension and cognition abound. Given that you say you are familiar with our tweets and by extension, their timeline, name a single other domestic or international media source that questioned the contentious web stories and confirmed they were untrue as early as we did.

  • SomewhatDisgusted

    I can only comment on my own experiences with Groundviews. I have in the past had direct confrontations with them on their reporting and bias, and we have deferred strongly in our opinions (http://www.groundviews.org/2010/01/05/paying-global-media-for-local-elections/). However, I must give credit where credit is due. The editors have faithfully published my own rebuttals and as such, they do not appear to hamper free speech.

    I also feel a reasonable amount of coverage is given to opposing viewpoints, even if the editorial staff themselves have an apparent leaning to another. Therefore, on the whole, a reasonable balance seems to be achievable. I do think the editor is overly defensive at times and unnecessarily arrogant at others, but then, congratulate his attempts to facilitate debate.

    I do not participate enough in other sites enough to know whether they are any different but would welcome the perspectives of others.

  • @SomewhatDisgusted, your comment here reminded us of the open letter we penned to the President (http://www.groundviews.org/2010/01/10/a-letter-to-the-president-on-his-re-election-campaign-spending/) in response to your challenge, which we took on board, to actually write to the incumbent Executive with our concerns over his election campaign financing over January 2010.

    We did not get a response. You noted then that, “A failure to respond would, in my books, be valid grounds for assuming culpability on the part of the MR campaign.” You also penned a good letter to one Sanjaya (http://www.groundviews.org/2010/01/10/a-letter-to-the-president-on-his-re-election-campaign-spending/#comment-12924) with similar concerns, but never reported back to Groundviews as to whether you heard back from him or the Presidential Secretariat.

    Did you hear back?

  • Rohini Hensman

    Totally unfair to Groundviews and to Sanjana. They are both doing a great job in defending freedom of expression and responsible journalism in very difficult circumstances.

  • SomewhatDisgusted

    Dear Groundviews,

    “Did you hear back?”

    I did not hear back. However, shortly afterwards, the following was put up on the site: http://www.mahinda2010.lk/downloads/janathawa_wetha.pdf

    It did not address the specific issue though. Did you hear back?

    • @SomewhatDisgusted, nope. Frankly, didn’t expect to either. Thanks for link to PDF, hadn’t seen that before and it’s useful reading.

  • Janaka ( Australia)

    @ Groundviews.. Can you please post a link to the response you got from Gen Fonseka regarding his election funds???

    • @Janaka, do you have any information you would like to share? If so, please send. We would be happy to publish.

  • Groundviews Buster

    “But this is Groundviews, a partial NGO website run by one Sajana Hattotuwa, under-qualified sub-standard ‘‘journalist” pretender, with a sub-standard ‘qualification’ from some obscure Indian university – which obviously did not equip him to be a man with any integrity to tell the truth.”

    OMG OMG.. How subtle, no ?

    Couldn’t agree more 🙁

  • Belle

    The Lakbima piece is supposed to be about the distorted reporting of a news event. But the one website that tried to investigate and correct the item got worse venom than the original and deliberate offenders. This is a personal attack on Sanjana and Groundviews.

    The writer doesn’t note the irony of attacking other websites for anonymous writing, while himself/herself signing off with a pseudonym. Not too bright, I’d say. And dishonest.

  • Suriya

    My point is, tweets like:

    “Outrageous racism and shocking behaviour by Sri Lankan President http://bit.ly/cvNfUy #srilanka #lka”

    and

    “Outrageous behaviour by the President. To hell with reconciliation, racism is alive and well in post-war Sri Lanka. http://bit.ly/a3Yu4U

    should not have been put out in the first place without verification.

    That they were corrected later was commendable.

    However, does not change the irresponsible nature of the original tweets.

    • @Suriya, thank you for your comment, but it seems you have really not read the original article. Your point is addressed therein, where we note that,

      Groundviews first tweeted about this speech after we received an email pointing to the article on Lanka Truth. We flagged what was prima facie an outrageous example of racism and insensitivity by the Executive, and bizarrely so, given the context of the upcoming parliamentary elections, the ostensible location the speech was given in and the community to which the comments were directed towards. We also pointed out the harm these comments had towards post-war reconciliation especially in the North. At the same time, we reached out via email to our regular readers and contributors to verify the story.

      We go on to delineate how exactly the Lanka Truth / Lanka News Web versions of the speech were verified to be untrue and the manner in which it was done.

  • Grim Hope

    Salute to groundviews for searching the truth. I think going back and re-examining, correcting is really good journalism. Facts are not perfect, reality is not perfect and whats important willing to accept new facts and reality in favor for older ones. This is not what we get from any other media in Sri Lanka. People who oppose a certain view doesn’t fall into another view. I think groundviews have shown that. Sanjaya and groundviews keep truth to it’s guidelines and I have experienced that few times. Initially, I was angry but it seems like they try to enforce correctly to everyone. Where there are people who dont follow what they peach, Sanjana and groundviews is a good counter example.

    Sanjana, I have one issue I want groundviews to uncover.

    “The Western Conspiracy”
    1. What is it?
    2. Why west is so much interested in Sri Lanka?
    3. Who are the major hands in this?
    4. Why certain people can understand this problem and others can not?

  • Some comments say Groundviews is partial , bias and various allegations.
    What these people say about the news circulated by the media brothels
    ( pardon my language) such as Lake House, Rupawahini, ITN, Lakbima and
    SLBC.

  • Sony
    • @Sony, Thank you for pointing this out. This is a copy of an email sent to the Guardian, and a comment in response the article in question:

      Dear Sir,

      A worldwide boycott of Sri Lanka by Suren Surendiran which appears on your site (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/apr/11/worldwide-boycott-sri-lanka) notes the following,

      “However, Sri Lanka’s president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, at one of his election campaign rallies in the north of Sri Lanka – which is part of the Tamil homeland – raised his voice in anger last week and shouted in Sinhala: “We are Sinhalese and I am Sinhalese – you listen Tamils!”, as the crowd hooted at him to express their frustration and despair about his policies.

      The tone and the words used shows the president’s attitude towards a community that he claims to represent. Imagine a similar utterance by America’s Barack Obama, Britain’s Gordon Brown – or for that matter, India’s Manmohan Singh – against a ethnic minority community in their respective countries.”

      Your columnist bases this submission on a doctored version of the President’s speech published on two dubious websites. I would like to point you to Confusing reportage over comments by the President: Propaganda or fact? at http://www.groundviews.org/2010/04/04/confusing-reportage-over-comments-by-the-president-propaganda-or-fact which is, to the best of my knowledge, the only investigative report that compares the deliberate falsification of the two web reports of the President’s speech with another, factually accurate version that appeared in the Sunday Times, a respected, non-State owned newspaper.

      In anchoring his article and submissions to two wholly discredited web reports, your columnist gravely risks the Guardian’s own critical engagement with Sri Lanka.

  • Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

    I didn’t know that Delhi University was ‘ an obscure Indian university’. Could we know the university from which the writer of the comment graduated? Is it more or less obscure than DU?

  • Agnos

    I don’t get the time to follow Groundviews regularly, but I think Sanjana and Groundviews have been doing an excellent job.

    I am wondering if Media Raj is the same Rajpal Abeynayake who edits the Lakbima News given his past potshots at Groundviews and NGO’s in general. Given that Lakbima News is owned by Thilanga Sumathipala, a politician who contested under the UPFA (I don’t know if he was elected last week), how its editors rationalize such astounding conflicts of interest of their own, while about Groundviews’ NGO affliation is beyond me.

  • 2nd Southerner

    I agree with what SomeWhatDisgusted said, Groundviews does give a reasonable amount of coverage to opposing views and it was wrong of Lakbima to call out Groundviews/Sanjana with such statements.

    “Outrageous racism and shocking behaviour by Sri Lankan President” this was the first tweet by Groundviews over the alleged speech by MR. Link: http://twitter.com/groundviews/status/11527842928. No matter how you look at this issue, everyone knows that anything that comes out of “Web Kela Paththara” like LankaNewsWeb/LankaTruth/LankaeNews is opposition propaganda. Every opposition voter hoped that the first audio clip on LNW/LT was true(including Groundviews) when it was not.

    I was annoyed by the fact that during the the spat between Atheist and Groundviews seen here: http://www.groundviews.org/2010/04/04/confusing-reportage-over-comments-by-the-president-propaganda-or-fact/#comment-16781 escalating into some serious name calling…Groundviews goes on to calling Atheist “idiotic”/”moronic” , and “desist”. I think Groundviews should refrain from calling its viewers such things if it wants to maintain its credibility and allow ‘opposing views’.

    Technical note: I am having trouble commenting on your mobile version of Groundviews, gives me an error “Invalid Data: Please go back and try again”. Please fix this if you can.

    • @2nd Southerner, will look into mobile version issue, but we are launching completely revamped version of site anon. As for name calling, go over the discussion thread again carefully. Atheist, whoever she / he is, much like Lakbima News accuses us of spreading lies and rumours, based on the same incomprehension and partial reading of the article in question. When this was clearly pointed out, this person bizarrely then went on to attribute statements of a third party to the site and even more strangely, faulted us for comparing the two web news reports with that which appeared in the Sunday Times! Moderating over 15,500 comments, or well over 1.5 million words of discussion in 4 years, we are still imperfect in our moderation. But your submission to maintain our credibility by giving manic trolls a free run on this site is not a suggestion we will embrace.

  • In Your Face

    Groundviews,

    Write a thorough rebuttal to Lakbima News, and let’s move on!

    Education is not necessarily about qualifications; it also involves emotional intelligence, empathy and impartiality.

    People around the world, who are struggling to eke out a living, appreciate the latter from their leaders/helpers.

    If Lakbima News continues with this trend , there is always the other option: sue them.

  • Atheist

    Desapriya,

    Why must you pardon your language when using the word brothels?

  • Deadline Is Always

    This article is related and interesting.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/11/opinion/11pubed.html

  • 2nd Southerner

    @Sony.

    I do hope the Guardian lets someone else tell the other side to this story…unless the Guardian wants Suren to look like a complete idiot.

    lol SteveJones123 has given some nice replies to him btw:
    http://tinyurl.com/y2gxzaw
    http://tinyurl.com/y4otj6s

  • Niyaz

    Sunanda Deshapriya discredited media rights ‘activist’ who got caught with the hand in the CPA till and was castigated for this publicly by Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, to talk about brothels..!

    • @Niyaz, to be fair, the commentator you refer to is not the same as person you point to in your comment, as far as we can judge by virtue of comparing emails and IP addresses.

  • SomewhatDisgusted

    Dear Groundviews,

    It would be great if you could have a section titled “most active discussions” so that it would be possible for readers to find them. I believe it would be more useful than the “recently posted” section, as the recently posted articles are visible on the main page anyway.

    My personal experience has been that, older, active discussions are difficult to locate once they disappear from the “recently posted comments” section, especially if there are frenzied discussions taking place in certain threads which make the recently posted comments section fill up fast. You never know whether someone has commented on the older threads. (unless they use the RSS feed. But how many people do?)

    Just a possible improvement.

    cheers!

    • @SomewhatDisgusted, damn good suggestion and one we are planning to incorporate into a complete site redesign in the next few weeks. Thanks.

  • Sony

    Groundviews

    Thanks for posting a response exposing the “lie” at the Guardian site.

  • Observer

    this is a problem with this whole web 2.0 real time thang.. people are too trigger happy with news..

    Outrageous racism and shocking behaviour by Sri Lankan President http://bit.ly/cvNfUy #srilanka #lka

    Outrageous behaviour by the President. To hell with reconciliation, racism is alive and well in post-war Sri Lanka. http://bit.ly/a3Yu4U

    Have asked all mainstream media we know of to investigate veracity of President’s speech as reported on http://bit.ly/a3Yu4U #srilanka #lka

    We have verified information that the President’s speech reported on http://bit.ly/a3Yu4U is not true. #srilanka #lk

    Verification came after blasting the president. Which as you can understand will make some people rather unhappy. You did make a mistake, so you should be able to take some slack for that. Don’t worry it will roll over… This is not the end 🙂

  • Observer

    “@SomewhatDisgusted, damn good suggestion and one we are planning to incorporate into a complete site redesign in the next few weeks. Thanks.”

    Or you could implement something like DISQUS
    http://disqus.com/

  • Heshan

    ” “The Western Conspiracy”
    1. What is it?
    2. Why west is so much interested in Sri Lanka?
    3. Who are the major hands in this?
    4. Why certain people can understand this problem and others can not? ”

    I am also interested in this great Western conspiracy. Who is behind it? When did it start? At the same time, I am interested in why SL continues to deal with the West? Is there anyone or anything that prevents SL from cutting off all ties with the West, including UN membership?

  • Heshan

    And the same thing with NGO’s… if they are that bad, then kick the whole lot out!

  • wijayapala

    Dear Heshan,

    Interesting question. We should ask the same for the LTTE supporters:

    http://www.srilankaguardian.org/2010/04/discussing-tamil-national-interest.html

    Question 1: Do you agree that Sri Lanka was only able to capture the Tamil
    homeland because of the West’s provision of weapons and training, and pro-active efforts to weaken the LTTE?

    Question 2: Do you agree that the West’s, particularly the US’s, pro-Sri Lanka
    stance is unrelated to 9/11 and the subsequent ‘war on terror’?

    Question 3: Why did India, which trained the LTTE to fight for Tamil Eelam,
    turn against the notion?

    Question 4: What explains that shift in Western attitude?

    Question 5: Are there any indications of the West and India shifting their attitude towards the conflict?

  • It is not the danger of always being on, it is the danger of bias emerging.
    News journalism is about – as much as possible – reducing the scope for the personal biases of the journalist and editor

    Note that the initial tweets –
    “Outrageous racism and shocking behaviour by Sri Lankan President http://bit.ly/cvNfUy #srilanka #lka”

    and

    “Outrageous behaviour by the President. To hell with reconciliation, racism is alive and well in post-war Sri Lanka. http://bit.ly/a3Yu4U

    – are very personal and vituperative at best. As the story is disproven, the tweets become much more formal and noncommital.

    If the initial tweets had been more balanced like “LankaeNews alleges outrageous behaviour…” or something, we would have been able to accept that GV is unbiased.

    The progression of the tweets from informal to formal brings out the Groundviews editors’ significant anti MR/SL government bias in a way that Lakbima News’ sad mumblings do not.

  • Wish You All A Happy & Prosperous Sinhala & Tamil New Year!
    (Tamil-13th, inhala-14th April)

    Sri Lankans are celebrating the new year in every inch & corner of Sri Lanka after liberating the country (18th May 2009) from the most ruthless terrorists who massacred sri lankans for the last 30years. People are flooding to cities to buy clothes and food to celebrate the new year. They feel now the air of freedom! Those Eleamists sitll exist, they can do only drop a comment in a forum. Their weapons are silenced!

    ALL IN ONE!
    For your convenience I uploaded the video of president Rajapakse’s Vavuniya speech and linked all articles connected to it. So people can see racist/pro-Eelam journalism and the truth.

    It is unforgiveable cruel act for calling President Rajapakse as a racist when he spoke for ethnic harmony. He represented as the president of all ethnics by correcting some intolerant Sinhalese who tried to stop him speaking Tamil.

    It is even more PATHETIC if BRITISH TAMIL FORUM, Suren Surendiran making such a comment:

    “However, Sri Lanka’s president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, at one of his election campaign rallies in the north of Sri Lanka – which is part of the Tamil homeland raised his voice in anger last week and shouted in Sinhala: “We are Sinhalese and I am Sinhalese – you listen Tamils!”, as the crowd hooted at him to express their frustration and despair about his policies.”,

    after watching the tape (both in Tamil and Sinhala) where President Rajapakse has defended Tamils infront of racist Sinhalese.

    I request Surendren and et al to watch the tape and correct his statement where ever he has dis-informed (west part of) the world and proof himself as a gentleman and convince us that he has given up racist Eelam terrorism.

    Sri Lanka President’s Vavuniya Speech Was Misquoted By Pro-Elamists Fueling Racism.01.04.2010 link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1wvOG7UcSNc

    somewhatdisgusted, I do agree with the comment (change of GV). It is a good sign for all of us!

    Groundviews, thanks for transforming from undemocratic and bias perspective to moderate and more tolerant attitude.

    But, in this issue your response was too quick and too early to publish the news without verifying it, perhaps your impatience has insisted you not to wait for verification. The damage has already done, the election (8th April) was over when things get straightened. That could be a reason why Mahinda Rajapakse lost in North and East (majority Tamils), because your news brought Tamils dissapointment in president Rajapakse government!

    Happy New Year!

    NoEalamInSL