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Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
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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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Home > Tamil National ForumSelected Writings - C Kumarabharathy > Media & the Tamil Diaspora

Selected Writings by C.Kumarabharathy

Media & the Tamil Diaspora

27 May 2000
[see also Media & the Struggle for Tamil Eelam]

There are streams of media news and feature articles about the current conflict in the island of Sri Lanka. They appear daily  in the international news media.

My article aims at finding a way of responding to, and adjusting to alleviate, the stress created by some of these news and views.

Tamil related news is often deliberately (and sometimes, perhaps, unintentionally) distorted to present an adverse view of the Tamil struggle. My observations and that of many other diaspora Tamils is that the Indian media, particularly the Hindu and Hindustan Times have been using  pro Sri Lanka Government filters, to propagate sometimes subtle, but mostly gross distortions of the truth. The background to any news on the conflict is interspersed with clich�s and images portraying the LTTE as an intransigent organisation that cannot be relied upon in a negotiation.

Most of these word-images are based on hypothetical presumptions, as to how the LTTE will behave in various future scenarios. These speculations are difficult to either prove or disprove.

The stock key words nurtured over years are used to add weight to these views. The desired impact on the reader is made by a process of filtering out the adverse behaviour of successive Sri Lankan governments (without exception), and repeated follow ups of LTTE doings.

Some of these key words like "intransigent" are mirrored by the Sri Lankan government and are also picked up by other new Indian media like Rediffusion. Thus a vocabulary with definitive anti-Tamil connotations has been built. These become a ready made currency to discredit the Tamils people's  real security problems. Additionally, phrases such as 'sources close to the PM', 'high level sources' etc are techniques employed to inject a highly speculative terror alternative as opposed to a negotiated settlement. Cleverly linking news items with feature articles, the Hindu attempted to edge India to help Sri Lanka militarily. Words like "negotiating from a position of strength", "weaken LTTE", "training SL Army" were recurring themes during the last fortnight.

The fact is that Tamil civilians are always suspected to be LTTE and treated as such by the Sri Lanka Government and its security forces. This is a widespread phenomenon,occurring in Jaffna, Batticaloa, Colombo and the Hill country. It is a terrorising prospect for young Tamils.

A well developed biceps, short crop, defiant look, or a nod from masked hoods (pro-government Tamil groups) in a line up is enough for them to be killed. Arbitrary like or dislike is a flip flop between life and death. To this day this condition prevails.

The Sri Lanka Air force has bombed civilian targets such as market places, churches and temples and even a school in sessions (Vadamaratchy). LTTE has retaliated in some such instances. While death of civilians is revolting to me,Tamils living in terrible conditions have some how absolved LTTE on this count. These acts are considered by them as a necessary evil to contain the  atrocities of the Sri Lankan armed forces.

Now my point is this: by filtering Government killings and by repeated assertions of some activities by LTTE, the body of news has effectively distilled these word-images into key words.

I was nearly killed in an incident in Jaffna. A Sri Lankan air force battalion going from Jaffna city to Pallali was shooting at people on the road and driving away unmindful of the death trail.This happened around 10.00 a.m. I just managed to escape. I had to find a way through railway track to avoid the highway. A second truck following behind after 15 minutes was indulging in a similar shooting spree. The 6'O clock news said that air force in Jaffna has killed 12 terrorists.On hearing this news a state of frenzy and helpless anger descended and blackened the mind.

This kind of frenzy replays in the mind of Tamils when one reads the news items for example: Hindu (recently) reported that LTTE has shelled the home for the aged at Kaithady killing 15 residents.

In this context the only news paper - the one page Tamil daily from Jaffna has been closed by the government under censorship regulations. This paper is the only media that gives vital information to Jaffna people on life and death matters such as curfews, movement of essential goods, operation of health services, disappearances and of course obituaries.This obituary column was the thorn in the flesh of the government.The closure coincided with the Kaithady bombing. Uthayan does not have enough pages to indulge in the luxury of lengthy anti government articles. The reason given for the closure is said to be due to a news clipping that the President had cried in front of the Indian Air Chief. It is this kind of information that the world should know.

In a nutshell the Tamil problem is a basic security issue. It is inconceivable that the axis of Army-Politicians-Religious Hierarchy power structure can ever provide security for the Tamils. The adjustment required to give this assurance will not be forthcoming. Just look at the recent events in Colombo. When I think of the security forces and the police, that which prowls in my consciousness is medieval torture chambers and gothic horrors. Tamils cannot get over this in a generation. Has this core question been dealt in any feature articles by the Indian media? The economic well being, jobs now assumes secondary importance.

Sri Lankan media's credibility internationally and within Sinhalese people is at the lowest. To put any view or fact into acceptable form is now not possible to do so within Sri Lanka. The government appears to be using the Hindu as its far side spring board to get news in circulation - as a mirror of the Sri Lanka state controlled Colombo Daily News.

While lamenting the killing of dissidents by the LTTE may be appear to be a reasonable point of view;  the number of government inspired political killings in the last decade among Sinhala moderate and Sinhala rebels runs into 60,000. There have been extra judicial killings by the Government in thousands among Tamils. The number of well known Sinhalese leaders assassinated by pro government gunmen out numbers the LTTE list by many times. LTTE is a convenient coat stand to hang many acts by other groups and militia. Not that I am exonerating LTTE. This fact requires some reflection so as to fit the LTTE in the political milieu of Sri Lanka. So, the kind of portrayal by the Indian media is a valid concern for us, as it may affect the solution.

The conduct of LTTE in a negotiation cannot be forecast by the Indian media. The world is witnessing the unfolding of issues associated with the Norwegian initiative. This is the first time a serious attempt is being made to provide a political settlement to the Tamil national question. The so called talks about "package to Tamils" "devolution of powers" has been going on for past five years and no agreed consensus has emerged. This in itself tells the tale. Even after facing major debacles,economic ruination and criminalisation of society, the government ,opposition and clergy has not reached a consensus. Indian media should feature articles giving the "intransigence" of Sinhalese parties as well. If PA gives something and UNP overturns it under fundamentalist pressure. Where do we stand?

There seems no sense in wasting our resources on diatribes against erring media. They know what they are doing and why they are doing it. Ofcourse, this 'why' may not be a simple question and may require some investigation if we are to find the true underlying reasons. Again, it is easy to overate the importance of media reporting in the context of the decision making process. Decision makers may not be naive.The media may have some influence but it is difficult to quantify this aspect.The quest for a solution to our security problems has caused a ground shift - a shift in paradigm beyond the reach of media.

On this note of assurance, we must act. Instead of being taunted, Tamils have to find alternative, meaningful ways of responding. Chauvinistic responses and diatribe will be counter productive. We must devise other ways of informing the world of our precarious existence. Most of the western media gives a synopsis of the history of the conflict. I have noted summaries such as "Tamils claim they are discriminated by majority Sinhalese governments but Government denies this" We should for example try to get this idea of security of Tamils being a central issue.

There is another point which has to come out in the open. Whether truth hurts or helps, the Tamil diaspora should come out in the open and be prepared to own up past mistakes and in this courageous act is our redemption. For one thing the question of Muslim and Sinhalese minorities living in predominantly Tamil areas needs the attention of LTTE. The diaspora must start dialogues and obtain assurances. Forums could be used for some productive discussions such as a few outlined above.


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