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The Rajpal Abeynayake Column

First came the media, then came the war

Elilan's voice cut for Sirasa could have cured a person such as Margaret Thatcher of her Alziemer's disease. Alziemer's disease makes people forget - but, Sirasa did something last week to wake up memories that may have been trying hard not to forget.

Margaret Thatcher not only said that publicity is oxygen to terrorists, she made sure that her adversaries did not get any of it at all. Interviews, voice cuts, Editor's cuts, they were all banned from the British Broadcasting Corporation, and later, the ban was extended to all British media.

Last week, Sirasa almost broke that unspoken global compact of a broadcast blackout for terrorists, with an Elilan voice cut that sought to break this tradition almost on top of Margaret Thatcher's ageing head.

The voice cut was picked up by BBC, and disseminated in England perhaps within the earshot of Thatcher and Blair - the latter also being a bulwark against terror, in his own abject way no doubt.

The Sri Lankan tradition was therefore established last week. It goes pointedly in the opposite direction of the Thatcher's axiom. It is a dicta that says 'give the terrorists maximum publicity, in order that terrorism may defeat the government that is subversive of all that Sirasa stands for - cabal capitalism, and the pursuance of command economy governance.'' That was proved later when the Sirasa representatives asked for written guidelines to desist from broadcasting any more voice cuts of Elilan. This was like a man saying that he should be given a written instruction every morning that he would not go out and commit suicide.

Sirasa was being part of a mosaic of subversion, and its hardly likely that this man Elilan would have got a better reception in the entire Tamil diaspora media, which is far more powerful and networked in the cyber age than any media that represents the state's interests. All of the Tamil websites have crept into the primary Internet search engines of our time, which is in sharp contrast to the few Sri Lankan websites which are neither very searchable or very readable. Pico Iyer writing in this week's issue of Time magazine says that Sri Lanka has had the historical distinction of being the 'paradise, which was seen always in the process of being lost.' He says it's a pedant shape isle that was always being grabbed at.

What he doesn't say is that it's a country that has had a bizarre tradition of being sold down the river by its own abject and docile people, who identified with the aggression of the conquering but un-civilisable marauder, who came from across the seas.

The flush of happiness that's seen in a NGO woman who exults over the closure of the Mavil-aru anicut which throttles the water supply for over 35000 people, mirrors the history of a nation that was sold to the intruder for twenty pieces of gold - often in the form of names such as Soysa, and titles as outlandish as Mudliyar Today, the British for instance, enjoy a dissident tradition that of Nobel Prize winners (Pinter) and journalists (Pilger) who are sometimes too liberal for pugnacious British opinion makers. But, Pilger would not thrust a microphone in front of Al Quaeda leader for a voice cut, as he is also one of the fiercest critics of its methods. The Sri Lankan tradition is that there is no dissident. Anybody who is potentially a dissident, walks quickly over to the other side and closes ranks with it. From that vista, he sees the no evil.

Sirasa should learn that very minute since the blitzkrieg began over Lebanon, attacks have been aimed at the Hezbollah television station.

'Every night of this 25-day-old conflict, Israeli warplanes have tried to destroy Hezbollah's television station, al- Manar. Every night they have failed' writes a correspondent in a foreign newspaper.

That needs a compare and contrast with Sri Lanka, where every night the television stations have tried to simulcast Elilan angling to buckle the government's efforts at convincing people that the attacks on the LTTE are legitimate retaliation for obstructing a water supply to a community. The Sri Lankan government does not have to think about bombing the enemy's television channel as the enemy's television channel doesn't have to exist - there is free air time in Colombo for all comers.

Pico Iyer says in the latest issue of Time that the tsunami hit this 'paradise in the process of being lost', after which there was a brief glimmer of hope - - before the hardline government was elected.

This encapsulates the feeling that there is one war that certainly cannot be won, and that is the media war. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam sabotaged the elections in their areas, to ensure that they could give voice to this 'hardline' cry. Rajapaksa, close on the heels of the election, belied the hardline image by vigorously suing for peace.

But those antecedents of the situation are lost on Pico Iyer, who says, for the sake of a glib journalistic story that ''a hardline government was elected.'' Pico Iyer's piece is of a dark and brooding island of contradictions - a paradise, as he says, being lost. Makes one wonder how something perennially keeps getting lost. But consider, if that keeps happening, the country should have been lost and gone by now....? But that's Iyer spacey logic - much like the general media logic that confronts the Sri Lankan conflict.

This media logic has it that Sri Lanka is a country that cannot redeem itself - - but without mentioning that its the media, by and large, that does not allow the country to redeem itself. Iyer talks of Adam's peak and says with self satisfied smugness and cleverness that Adam's Peak is where someone began leaving Eden (...he says, note, its where Eden ends..) adding that the Buddha came to die at the Peak and that Adam was buried there. ('Note', he goes on to say, underlining, and underscoring....) It typifies the mythicisation of the Sri Lankan crisis. It says our conflict is first a media construct which then self fulfillingly becomes a 'war'.

Elilan must surely now be putting on the makup for Sirasa.

 

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