Sri Lanka: After the world’s media has moved on

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As the Editor of Groundviews, I was invited by World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN/IFRA) to give a presentation on Sri Lanka at the 20th World Editors Forum (WEF) and the 65th World Newspaper Congress, held recently in Bangkok, Thailand. As noted on the WAN/IFRA WEF site,

“The World Editors Forum is the leading network for print and digital editors of newspapers and news organisations around the world. It is built on a commitment to defend press freedom and promote editorial excellence.”

As the only Sri Lankan invited to speak at the Forum, I focussed on challenges facing governance, human rights and democracy in Sri Lanka, over four years after the end of the war. I also spoke about the violence against independent media, and the culture of near total impunity against those who have killed, abducted, harmed, forced into exile and murdered journalists.

Moderated by Anne Nelson, Groundviews shared a stage with Philippe Massonnet, Global News Director, AFP, France, Zaffar Abbas, Editor of Dawn, Pakistan and Javier Garza, Editorial Director of El Siglo, Mexico. My presentation was illustrated by photos carefully selected from Vikalpa’s Flickr photo stream, which features hundreds of compelling photos, and is a unique photographic archive of Sri Lanka’s tryst with war and peace.

When the world’s media has moved on has in under a day been viewed close to 1,500 times. On the day it was published on SlideShare, it quickly became one of the most shared presentations over Twitter globally. Towards the end of the day, it was featured on SlideShare’s homepage as one of the most viewed presentations.

@groundviews received a large number of tweets over the thrust of the presentation. These and all other tweets with the official hashtag for WEF, #editors13, are now archived via a fully searchable database here.

In addition to highlighting significant challenges around the near complete erosion of the Rule of Law, human rights, resettlement, human security, media freedom, democratic governance, corruption and graft, Sri Lanka’s debt servicing, serious and persistent allegations of war crimes, ground truths in the Vanni around the end of the war that make mockery of continuing Government claims that no civilians were killed in the last phase of the war, the fate of mass graves in the region and the rapid rise of State sponsored Islamophobia, I also talked about the unprofessionalism of mainstream print media. Using the example of a leading daily running a putrid interview with one of the President’s son’s not even a day after he was reported to have brutally assaulted a referee in a rugby match he was playing in, I noted that mainstream media in Sri Lanka was both unwilling and unable to ask hard questions from government representatives, the President’s churlish brother who is the Secretary of Defence, the President’s sons, who are all now in their own right in public life, and the President himself.

Throughout WEF, dozens of media curation platforms, apps, tools and techniques to engage audiences were flagged and their relative merits debated. One of the slides dealt with just a few of the platforms Groundviews has employed since its inception. When renowned American journalist, professor, public speaker and former television critic Jeff Jarvis, for example, spoke about and championed the use of Repost, I tweeted,

Yet I ended noting that stories of those marginalised were more important than technocratic debates. I asked those present in the large hall and sharing the stage with me – some of the biggest names from the global media – to just ask why, the fundamental basis of independent journalism. Flagging Sri Lanka’s hosting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) later this year, I asked them to ask the Rajapaksa regime why governance, the Rule of Law and human rights were still so demonstrably bad. Why Sri Lanka languishes at the bottom of media freedom rankings. Why the Sri Lankan Army can take away lands from Tamil communities at this scale, and no one gives a damn. And to ask of themselves as well, why they have left Sri Lankan behind, with the only sporadic reporting projecting Sri Lanka as a tourist haven with pristine beaches, instead of equal, hard and sustained scrutiny of its democratic timbre.

  • James Chance

    Good work – let’s hope someone in the global media world is listening – and will start paying more attention. Or at least start reading Groundviews regularly! Long may it prosper.

  • georgethebushpig

    Dear Sanjana,

    A comprehensive overview of the state of the nation! Nicely done.

    Cheers
    GTBP

    • http://www.groundviews.org Groundviews

      Thank you.