For the second time in a fortnight, subscribers to the Daily Mirror newspaper have been entreated to an interesting disinformation campaign that appears to be conducted with those embedded within, and possibly with the full support of the Sri Lankan Army and its network of patriots.

The full page ad above was published on the Daily Mirror on 23rd May. A high resolution scan can be downloaded here. At the bottom, the advertisement is attributed to the ‘Free Mass Media Movement’. No such movement exists, or has existed. With the clear intention to obfuscate rather than enlighten, the name is a spin off from the Free Media Movement, which for a variety of reasons, is well known to government and also amongst media freedom activists.

To be fair, the concerns expressed therein about the handling of Osama Bin Laden’s murder raise very serious concerns over the ability of the United States to practice the very policies and practices it preaches abroad, including to our own government. The disconnect between advice and action is stark, but fundamentally, the space for robust, critical discussion and debate within the US over its government’s actions is far greater than the space in Sri Lanka, even post-war.

What is most curious about this ad is that within the text, there is reference to an ‘International Accountability Network’. To reiterate, while the ad itself is attributed to the ‘Free Mass Media Movement’, the text refers to the ‘International Accountability Network’. It was this same ‘network’ that on 11 May 2011 ran a full page ad against the UN Secretary General Panel that looked into allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sri Lanka. We did some digging and tellingly found that the sole member of the ‘network’ we could find was the person who set up what is a largely dysfunctional site. When we exposed him, he proceeded to take his CV off the web, but not before we saved a copy of it. As we noted before,

The ’International Accountability Network’ is a fascinating, recent creation. It was registered late March 2011 by an individual called Chirasthi Perera. The domain name record notes the registrant as one Arnold Chira, though a simple Google search of the associated email (a Gmail account) reveals the real name, and a personal website which has his CV. Clearly, the man has some technical training, but particularly revealing is that the one non-related referee noted in the CV is Dr . Thiran De Silva, Head Of IT, Sri Lanka Army along with the fact that this individual is currently a Web Consultant/Trainer to Sri Lanka Army. The ’International Accountability Network’ website is, politely put, a dysfunctional mess with content largely automatically generated from various web (RSS) feeds. The little human curation of this content suggests that the site’s owner seeks to expose the double-standards of the US in supporting the UN Panel’s report in light of the events surrounding the murder of Osama Bin Laden. Absolutely no details about what is exactly is ‘international’ about this ‘network’. Few of the links on the site in fact work. This is most unfortunate, because Chirasthi Perera is associated with other leading sites like Colombo Fashion (as its CEO), Sri Lanka: Awake in a Miracle (sic) and the yet to be launched Colombo Night Life, sites that are clearly about issues of war crimes, crimes against humanity, justice and accountability. Not.

In sum, there is no network, there is no real interest in accountability and there is nothing really international about it other than the money which could have flowed in from ‘patriotic’ diaspora individuals and networks to fund the ad campaign.

In fact, The Hindu paper called this a “mocking ad” of President Obama. Speaking of The Hindu, something quite peculiar happened there as well. Sri Lanka mocks Obama, Ban Ki-Moon was the headline of a story that was published on its website on 23 May 2011, around 14:59:28 GMT. The original URL of the story was http://www.thehindu.com/news/international/article2041735.ece. It has since been deleted. Though we cannot say exactly when it was deleted, the Google Cache version of it appears here. A PDF version can be downloaded here.

In general terms, it’s rather silly for a paper of the stature of The Hindu, which must surely have at a minimum one person at least slightly knowledgeable about web media, to believe that something published on its site could be successfully erased off the web, even if it wanted to. More specifically, we wonder why The Hindu – known be extremely partial to the Rajapaksa regime – deleted this article? It is not just The Hindu. The Daily Mirror, after having published a news story that exposed what was clearly a outrageous lie by Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister, proceeded, perhaps on account of pressure, to delete it, but not before we read it off its RSS feed, where it is still archived.

A final concern lies with media institutions that run these ads – which are in effect supported by those working in the Sri Lankan armed forces. NGOs engaged in rights advocacy and governance reform, and even this site, are repeatedly and viciously berated for the funding their receive, which somehow makes them everything from agents of the CIA hell bent on regime change to apparatchiks of the West, who can only send their tourists here, and emphatically not their democratic ideals or liberal institutions. But one can employ the language of hate and harm because the sources of funding are in the public domain – online, audited, with the Central Bank, tabled in Parliament with varying degrees of accuracy, published in the media, spat out on TV and radio.

Where does the funding for the ‘Free Mass Media Association’ and the ‘International Accountability Network’ come from? If we are principled in a robust quest for greater transparency, which rightfully includes civil society, then it is particularly revealing that the majority in Sri Lanka today don’t apply these high standards to content that is congruent with the government’s strident propaganda, and can in effect be traced back to its armed forces. While somewhat poorly expressed, the essence of Sohan Fernando’s serious ethical concerns over the publication of dubious ads such as this are useful for mainstream media to consider.

We suspect, however, they won’t. The bogus ‘Free Mass Media Association’ and the ‘International Accountability Network’ offer mainstream media what they need most – money, and lots of it. A full page, full colour ad in the Daily Mirror runs into several lakhs, and perhaps closer to six figures.

Ethics at bay, when coffers are at play?

  • Godaya

    Dear Groundviews,

    If you keep exposing the crude and self-defeating propaganda efforts of these people you will soon ahve to rename your own product as UNDERGroundViews!

  • Disanayke

    I used this very ad in my first year class on Media Literacy. When I asked them who they thought could have possibly paid for the ad when I told them that there was no such Free Mass Media Association. They mumbled very quietly, “the government.” To which I responded, “be careful they might be listening.”

    Thank you Groundviews for all that you do!

  • veedhur

    Not sure what these ads are trying to achieve? Whom are they targeted at – the professional middle class?

    • dingiri

      What are they trying to achieve: Preaching to the converted.
      Whom are they targetted at: The “easily led by the nose” class and the The “Self interest above all” class.

      There is definitely a parallel between the killing of Osama and the killing of Prabakaran. Also the killing of Ayman Al Zawahari (if that were to happen) and the killing of Nadesan if Al Zawahari was killed while trying to surrender. The two former individuals were cold blooded killers who personally planned and executed their cimes. The latter two idealogues. There is no evidence of them personally planning and killing people but they justified these acts as necessary to achieve their ends.

      The US and the UN have never pursued accountability for the killing of Prabakaran. They realise that he was killed much in the same way he ordered the killing of scores of others. What they are pursuing however is the killing of thousands of non combatans during the final two weeks of the war. If the website is trying to equate the SL and US actions the US would have had to flatten Abottabad from the air in order to kill Osama. But this did not happen.

      • Lanka Minimaruwos

        So, all these guys are denying the war-crimes are saying “THAT GOSL didn’t even kill a rat or even a cockroach????? RIGHT! Bullshit… [Edited out].

  • Sohan Fernando

    Huh, familiar picture….
    …. aha: it’s what, 2 weeks ago after your expose, I saw at that website:
    see http://www.inaccnet.org/worldnews1.php

    That has the (almost) identical advert.
    Except the banner at the bottom is different: not “Free Mass Media Association”.
    And also I see the text layout is very slightly different: I suppose “Free Mass Media Association” went to the trouble of retyping what they took from “inaccnet.org”…

  • Lanka Liar

    This is Sri lanka. It works according to Ma Hinder Chindanaya. By the way is Ram still in Hindu or has he gone passed the use by date.

  • Velu Balendran

    Thought this will be of interest to my friends here

    Osama Bin Laden’s Death: There Is Much More To Say – By Noam Chomsky

    http://countercurrents.org/chomsky220511.htm

  • Disanayke

    For me the main point is that a private media source, the Daily Mirror is running advertisements which seem to be nothing more and nothing less than government propaganda. Yet there are no letters to the editor or outrage over such a misuse of a supposed independent news agency. If I worked for the Mirror as a journalist, I would be outraged and embarrassed by this travesty.

  • PitastharaPuthraya

    Dingiri,

    Well said sir!

  • PitastharaPuthraya

    I like to add little more to Dingiri.

    Osama fought with the west because he may have thought that west treats muslims differenelty. The origin of Muslim extremism is so complex that finding a solution to it is not very easy. American is fighting an enemy not within. The enemy, who is not an american citizen, is not fighting the American government asking from some rights, which has not been given to them by the American people.

    On the other hand, Prabakaran is a malignant symptom of a justifiable cause, which is denial of political rights of Tamils by majority sinhalese since the independence. Prabakaran was a citizen of SL. The people killed, both terrorists and civilians. were Sri Lankans.

    As Dingiri correctly said, nobody from west talked against killing Prabakaran. Instead they are concerned with the killings of civilians.

    We should not juble the issues to confuse the others for short term gains.

  • Iqbal

    Rajapakse brothers will try everything under the sun to stop any independent probe of their war crimes, human rights abuses and the impunity extended to the culprits of violations of international laws in Sri Lanka, this is one of those acts.