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
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
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.