Photo credit FCO

[Editors note: Also listen to Interview with Alistair Burt on Sri Lanka]

On 5th February 2013, UK Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt hosted a live interview session via Twitter. Alistair Burt is Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs. At the time of the interview, the Minister had recently returned from an official visit to Sri Lanka.

Twitter interviews are not new. The first international diplomat to do so on Sri Lanka was US Assistant Secretary of State and former Ambassador to Sri Lanka Robert Blake, in April 2012. Sadly, save for Groundviews, no one else from Sri Lanka or interested in Sri Lanka posed questions to him.

The second Twitter interview of importance was with UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Baroness Valerie Amos in December 2012. Though not specifically anchored to Sri Lanka, the interview was an unmitigated disaster for OCHA, with vital questions around the UN’s possible complicity in human rights violations and other very serious matters arising out of the Petrie Report, repeatedly posed by Groundviews and others, going without even a simple acknowledgement, leave aside coherent answer.

Minister Burt’s session lasted 45 minutes precisely, and he responded to 2 questions of ours.



Other issues covered included the UK’s participation in the CHOGM meeting scheduled for later this year in Sri Lanka, the UK Government’s stance on changing the venue for the meeting, the nature of a political settlement in Sri Lanka, the Minister’s take on reconciliation and what he saw as progress in this regard, the impeachment of the Chief Justice, the independence on the judiciary, the nature of democracy in Sri Lanka and the future for liberal and Commonwealth values, issues related to war crimes accountability, impunity, human rights violations, the deterioration of the freedom of expression and the intimidation of journalists and activists.

In addition to engaging with the Minister and a number of other vital voices through @groundviews on Twitter in real-time as the interview progressed, Groundviews archived every single tweet with the hashtag #askFCO published during this period.

The top discussants, including Minister Burt, in this session were,

  1. arjunan 52
  2. Bav3 51
  3. groundviews 38
  4. AlistairBurtFCO 31
  5. francesharris0n 28
  6. UshaSris 27
  7. SLcampaign 19
  8. FCOHumanRights 19
  9. UKinSriLanka 14
  10. peacemother1 13
  11. SyadaDastagir 13
  12. foreignoffice 13
  13. GGPonnambalam 12
  14. sarojpathi 12
  15. TejshreeThapa 12
  16. GTFonline 12
  17. friendmoscow 11
  18. vakesan 11
  19. prabudeepan 10
  20. jayshreebajoria 10
  21. ChetcutiPauline 10

Not a single other media institution in Sri Lanka active on Twitter (Sunday Times, Daily Mirror, Ada Derana, Ceylon Today, Sunday Leader) engaged with the Minister over Twitter at this time with their official accounts, though a number of journalists did.

Revealingly, the interview and issues arising from it made it to the front page of two leading Tamil newspapers in Sri Lanka, but wasn’t mentioned in the front pages of any English or Sinhala media.

Sudar Oli  - Leade News - 06.02.2012 Thinakkural - Second Lead News - 06.02.2013

As we did during the UPR sessions on Sri Lanka in 2012, you can download all the 770 tweets published during this Twitter interview as an Excel spreadsheet here. These tweets are also available as an interactive data visualisation.

Screen Shot 2013-02-07 at 2.52.27 PM

See the data visualisation live here (requires powerful computer, and preferably, large screen).

Editors note: Our readers requested the tweets published by Alistair Burt. Here’s a list of them, excluding retweets by him during the interview (all of which are included in the archive).