Colombo, Media and Communications, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance

News Flash: I was not visited by a pink elephant

Yesterday, the front pages of several English papers the Daily Mirror and the Daily News amongst them carried an intriguing news flash: “British will not de-ban LTTE”, and “British government will not revoke LTTE ban”. Readers all over Sri Lanka could be pardoned for scratching their heads, furrowing their brows, and saying “Eh?”

It is often joked that only strange stories get selected for news: “dog bites man, not news; man bites dog, news”. The principle behind the “dog bites man” phenomenon in journalism is that something is news only when it changes or challenges the status quo of facts, norms or prevailing beliefs. That grass grows on ministerial lawns is not news, but if a Minster was paid a visit by a pink Elephant, that would be news. Conversely it would not be news to say that a Minister was not paid a visit by a pink Elephant. Such a story would certainly have had the readers saying “Eh?”

Sri Lankan’s were expecting the British to do many things: criticise the Human Rights record of the government; complain about the diplomatic passport issued to “Karuna” the head of the Sri Lankan paramilitary that was funded and run by cruel and criminal means; ask the government to strengthen the political processes for resolving the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka; etc. etc. But the British revoking the ban on the LTTE? That was never in the radar of expectations; at least no more than a pink elephant was expected on anyone’s doorstep. Hence, the likelihood of generating a collective “Eh?”

On the eve of a national budget, which is in danger of being voted down, it is not surprising that the government is keen to concoct the appearance of achievements that would impress its main voter base. The current Foreign Minister also has a track record of having journalists present him in a light that is false positive (see this story for a classic example). Therefore, to see the Foreign Minister trying to bluff up false news, through his parliamentary speech, is as amusing as it is not surprising. Nor is it particularly surprising that the Daily News which frequently functions as a propaganda organ of the government should carry the story with the bluff headline.

But if there is news here, it is that the Foreign Minister in his parliamentary speech introduced a red-herring: announcing the resolution of a concern that did not exist. By failing to note this and repeating the same bluff headline as the Daily News, the Daily Mirror and other private media are letting down their readership and reducing the quality of political dialogue in the country.

Edited and republished with permission from