Peace and Conflict

Sloppy Journalism?

Reuters reports that Mr Fernandopulle was “the second minister to be killed since January”, citing Minister for nation building, D.M. Dassanayake, as the first.

I seem to recall the killing of the UNP’s T. Maheshwaran on January 1 2008, and the TNA’s K. Siwaneshan on March 6. I may be wrong, but it is my understanding that both these politicians were members of parliament.

However, whether Reuters got it right or wrong isn’t the issue. (Though if Reuters did get it wrong, then its local bureau chief needs to take his job a little bit more seriously)

The issue is that international media coverage on Sri Lanka is, generally, relatively poor. The Reuters story is already spreading through the wires and getting published in newspapers around the world.

My point here isn’t about Reuters forgetting to mention the killings of politicians who were in opposition parties. Rather, I am constantly surprised by the inability of the big media to explain the complexity of Sri Lanka’s condition in more detail.

This lack of detail leaves room for sensationalists from all sides – the Government, the civil society in Sri Lanka, international human rights organisations, the LTTE, etc from having their perspectives accepted without interrogation or critique.

I guess there is no need to be too surprised at the lack of depth. Its the media operating in its classic form – reporting violence (or trivia) and simplifying and sensationalising stories is good for business. Detail gets messy, and according to the ratings gurus, people turn off.

Ultimately, Sri Lanka’s conflict is a dirty war, though there’s no such thing as a clean war. The LTTE are killing off politicians. The Government is killing off the LTTE. Innocent people are caught in the middle.

I’d like the media tell me what the fight is all about. Is it about the Tigers wanting a separate homeland, and the Government wanting to maintain a unitary state? What do the people want? Today, I spoke to someone who said they were saddened by the deaths of the innocent people, but more than pleased that another politician was taken out. Why are people responding like that? What does the public thing about its political leaders? What are their thoughts on the LTTE’s claims? And do they believe the NGOs that constantly seem to attack the Government’s human rights records?

It’d be wonderful if the international media services like Reuters get down and dirty in Sri Lanka. That would be a starting point for those living outside of this country (and for those living inside also) to understand this country in terms greater than suicide attacks and terrorism. I guess there’s the cricket that gets reported – but surely…

But of course, Reuters could never report anything in a deep or controversial way. They are simply here in Sri Lanka, like AP and the BBC to convey the big stories in a soft way, or the soft stories in a big way, for consumption by other media outlets that subscribe to their services.

Ultimately, all that media is just stuff to fill the space between the advertisements. And all this media (ie. what you are reading) is just commentary that has taken up my time and yours.

I am going for a walk.