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Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Tamilnation > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Conflict Resolution - Tamil Eelam - Sri Lanka > Norwegian Peace Initiative > Ceasefire Agreement & Lifting of Ban on LTTE > On Pirabaharan�s News Conference - Sachi Sri Kantha , 21 April 2002

Norwegian Peace Initiative

On Pirabaharan�s News Conference
Sachi Sri Kantha , 21 April 2002

It is an undeniable fact that the 19th century India produced hundreds of thousands of illiterate coolies, who settled in far-flung then colonial nations to work as indentured laborers. It is also a naked fact that the 20th century India produced thousands of literate (at least in passable English!) coolies, who settled in affluent countries to work for millionaire masters. I think that, when Bertrand Russell wrote his column on the �The Advantages of Cowardice� 70 years ago, that �in journalism wage slaves have to use their brains to give expression to the opinions of millionaires�, he should have anticipated these journalist coolies from India as well.

Here are some names, I collected who belong to this tribe; Rajiv Chandrasekharan for the Washington Post, Somini Sengupta for the New York Times, Meenakshi Ganguly for the Time magazine. Then there is another lot of journalist coolies who work for their own native masters, such as Nirupama Subramanian for The Hindu, Peter Popham for The Independent (UK) and Alex Perry for the Time magazine.

I don�t like to be nasty on journalists, who perform an essential service to humankind; that of chasing the devil of ignorance. Journalists have the license to roam the lands, deserts, forests, seas and air. The journalist tags permit them to have even audience with achievers who provide them access. But, what comes out from their brain after such access depends on their level of intelligence (as well as ignorance and bias of various kinds). How the perceptions of the same event, seen at the same time by different journalists can generate two variant observations is illustrated below:

�The LTTE leader seemed ill-prepared for many questions and not all at ease before the media�. [Nirupama Subramanian, The Hindu]

��he spoke in generalities, seeming nervous and ill at ease� [Somini Sengupta, New York Times]

�He smiled. He laughed. He replied slowly, softly, firmly, but never lost his cool despite the uncomfortable questions.� [Ganesh Nadar, Rediff on the Net]

�Contrary to expectations that he would duck sensitive questions or limit the briefing to a few questions, Prabhakaran�s news conference ran on for two hours.� [Feizal Samath, Interpress Service]

I follow the footsteps of Bertrand Russell, a scientist who practiced itinerant journalism. Before I received my Bachelor�s degree in science in 1976, I obtained two diplomas in journalism in Colombo (1971 and 1973), and my tutors in Colombo were Andrew G. de Silva and Kirthie Abeyesekera. Thirty years ago, both of them taught me that a news feature is incomplete, if it doesn�t answer the six questions (What, When, Where, Who, Why and How). Journalists who are in a hurry to see their by-line, easily answer the first four questions (What, When, Where and Who) in their coverage, but leave out the two difficult questions (Why and How).

Majority of the journalist coolies who covered Pirabhakaran on April 10th were no different either. Many in their hastily prepared reports had written, about Pirabhakaran being the �master of terror� and the �foremost expert on suicide bombers�. But, for reasons of ignorance and/or convenience, they omitted the answer for the vital �Why� question. Alex Perry had written, �Prabhakaran insisted last week that the LTTE were no longer recruiting child soldiers, but TIME has seen internal LTTE documents, which record the names of at least six �recently recruited� fighters under age 15� [Time Asian edition, April 22, 2002, pp.20-21] Neither Perry nor his collaborator Meenakshi Ganguly could mention �how� the TIME saw these �internal LTTE documents�.

My two Sinhalese tutors also taught me that common sense and curiosity are the two essential tools needed for a good journalist. But quite a number of those journalist coolies who landed in Kilinochchi last week seem to have been devoid of these two tools. Rather, they seem to have an abundance of two dubious tools, namely contempt and cryptoracism. Examples are as follows:

�He [Pirabhakaran] emerged from hiding last week dressed in a suit that could only be described as North Korean chic, flanked by a trio mustachioed goons in sunglasses and a host of cameramen whose apparent task was to record the faces and questions of every reporter.� [Alex Perry, Time magazine, ibid]

�He [Pirabhakaran] the iron shed of the Tigers� Political Academy, outside the war-ravaged town of Kilinochchi, minus combat fatigues, minus Kalashnikov rifle, minus moustache; if a cyanide capsule still hangs round his neck it was out of sight. A short, plump, youthful figure of 47 with a squeaky voice, wearing a high-buttoned bush jacket, he climbed to the podium flanked by muscular young men in sunglasses, who glowered out at the mob of journalists. We had all been meticulously searched, including ears, mouths and socks, but the Tigers supreme was taking no chances. So the imagery was mixed: goons, guns, high paranoia; but a conscious effort to look mild, civil, open, to show willingness to take even impertinent questions.� [Peter Popham, The Independent, April 14, 2002]

I�m sure those journalists who attend the White House, and also Kremlin, press conferences undergo such vigilant searches. Few years ago during Clinton presidency, I remember a cartoon republished in the Newsweek magazine about tax-paying White House visitors in line for a body-cavity search, and one man in the line howling that next year they would better go to Florida than visit the White House. So, what is good for the security of the American President should be appropriate for Pirabhakaran as well. But what the journalist coolies, by their above descriptions, did was to expose their cryptoracism.

I�m of the opinion that quite a handful of those who carried the journalist badges to Kilinochci were not true journalists at all. They were �Intelligence operatives� working under cover as journalists. Some of the reports which emanated from the pens of these journalist coolies were pedestrian at best and gibberish at worst. If there were a bit of curiosity shown by the journalist coolies, it was in the descriptions of Pirabhakaran�s physical dimensions, mustache (or lack of), garb, language use and pauses for consulting with his advisor Balasingham.

Some of the questions posed to Pirabhakaran were preposterous, as if asking Einstein about slam-dunk or querying Michael Jordan about quantum mechanics. This is because the journalist coolies projected the attitude of meeting a gas-bag politician, rather than being in front a legendary military leader, in the mold of Yamamoto, Mao or Giap.

Traditional politicians are known all over the world for placing cart before the horse to lead their caravans. Pirabhakaran, in contrast, has done the correct thing by placing the horse before the cart. He established an authentic Tamil army. He stood up to bullying from many quarters for the past quarter century like the great Gandhi and Mandela, who stood up in South Africa to White Imperialistic goons. Those who say that Pirabhakaran did not face the white oppressors ignore the point that he had been facing the proxies of white oppressors and refused to dance to their tunes. Thus, the journalist coolies who work for the propaganda arm of White Establishment just have to denigrate him the pedestal he legitimately deserves, by calling names as �terrorist� (a tag Mandela carried), and as a deluded claimant for leadership (a tag Mahatma Gandhi carried). However, like Mahatma Gandhi and Mandela, it should not be forgotten that Pirabhakaran also has admirers among the Whites.

I mentioned that curiosity is one of the tools for a genuine chronicler. The journalist coolies could learn a few bits of wisdom from a giant chronicler of his generation, who was also a compassionate human for cultures different from his own. Fifty years ago, James Michener, authored a book entitled, �Return to Paradise�, about his travels in South Pacific. Sri Lanka has also been touted as an island paradise. Thus, what Michener described about his experience on South Pacific is valid to Eelam as well. Here is an excerpt, from the last chapter of this book, which Michener captioned as �What I Learned�:

��Here nature is so awesome that it compels attention. Other things being roughly equal, that man lives most keenly who lives in closest harmony with nature. To be wholly alive a man must know storms, he must feel the ocean as his home or the air as his habitation. He must smell the things of earth, hear the sounds of living things and taste the rich abundance of the soil and sea.�

The secret of how Pirabhakaran and his band of army survived for the past 15 years in the land of Eelam lies partially in the above observations Michener. The journalist coolies who gathered in Kilinochchi, not being in the caliber of Michener, never bothered to ask Pirabhakaran in-depth, about the secrets about his army�s survival capacity. Rather what they described in their hastily-written reports were about the inconvenience of the lack of air-conditioning, lack of �entertainment�, lack of �five-star hotel� facilities and what not.

In my review of reports, I would infer that if there is an award for the dummy journalist, it should go to Nirupama Subramanian of The Hindu. According to her, �a prominent Tamil leader [always unnamed, probably to protect the butts of the journalist and the establishment she represents!] could not help drawing a comparison between the suave non-militant Tamil leadership of the 1970s and the 1980s, and their ability to field any question from journalists, with Mr.Prabhakaran�s visible confusion before the media.� Coming from a land where the glib-talking gas-bags dominate the political theater, this reporter could only appreciate gibberish. This dummy journalist has forgotten that contemporary India�s paternal figure, Mahatma Gandhi, elevated the eloquence of silence to an art form by his �silence fasts� (Mouna viratha).

According to Conyers Herring [Physics Today, Sept.1968, pp.27-33], the value of published research papers in science can be categorized into five classes:

1. Classic

2. Of significant value and not available in better form elsewhere

3. Helpful but not especially important

4. Trivial or outdated

5. Wrong

I use the same categorization to the on-site reports of journalists, and I add one additional category, �not even wrong� [classic derision of physicist Pauli for nonsense], as number 6. Nirupama Subramanian�s report, �Where Prabhakaran didn�t do his homework� [The Hindu, April 13, 2002] falls into the �not even wrong� category.

Those authored by Peter Popham entitled, �Tigers� leader acts the pussycat but sidesteps his past� [The Independent, UK] and Alex Perry [�A rumor of peace�, Time Asia edition, April 22, 2002] fall into the �wrong� category.

That authored by Somini Sengupta, captioned as �Sri Lankan rebel voices hope for end to 18-year war� [New York Times, April 11, 2002] falls into the No.4 �trivial� category.

Some like those authored by Feizal Samath [�Straight from the Tiger�s mouth, Interpress Service- Asia Times Online, April 12, 2002], Ganesh Nadar [�Face-to-face with Prabhakaran�, Rediff on the Net, April 11, 2002] and unsigned journalist [�Meet the new democratic Tigers�, Economist magazine, April 13, 2002] falls in the No.3 �helpful� category. 

Among the analyses I read so far, �What next for Tamil Tiger leader?� by Priyath Liyanage [BBC Sri Lanka analyst, April 11, 2002] belongs to No.2 category, �of significant value�. Excerpts:

�In his approach and presentation to the press, Mr Prabhakaran looked more like a political leader than a military man. He seems to have wanted to be seen as a man who can handle the world�s media and a wider public arena in the role of the only leader representing the Tamil speaking minority in the country. He appears to have accomplished that without compromising his position politically.�

Liyanage�s piece was not decorated by the contempt and cryptoracism elements which peppered the analyses of journalist coolies who answer to the names of Nirupama Subramanian, Peter Popham and Alex Perry. Thus, I allow him to have the last word:

�Now the world will have to deal with Mr Prabhakaran the political tactician, not the ruthless rebel leader. He appears ready to face the challenge.�


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