Rajpal's Column6th May 2001
Plus| Business| Sports|
|Thursday was World Press Freedom
Day. It was also World Asthma Day. “Jagath Aduma Dinaya” as announced in
the Sinhalese press.
Since the word aduma is derived from “exaggerated breathing,’’ it’s worth noting that the word is synonymous with “pulling/dragging.’
“Aduma’’ thus became a good metaphor for World Press Freedom Day in Colombo. Some journalists did get Asthma Day confused with the Press Freedom Day. Ask them. Press Freedom equates to “pulling (aduma) for one side’’. Some do this pulling quite vociferously, as displayed by a certain Chairman of a state controlled journalistic organisation who was adinava for journalistic freedom with great heft at a seminar held on World Press Freedom Day.
What have we come to? The great Satan of journalism in this country is usually the Chairman of the state controlled press. He has to be, by virtue of (politically appointed office) the greatest stifler of press freedom. And he usually is. But these days, on world Press Freedom Day, he champions the cause of press freedom to 100 plus assembled journalists, thick hide glistening. (Jagath Aduma Dinaya, eh what?)
But, anyway, worldwide, journalism has for long been converted into a great propagandist/aduma/ “pulling exercise.’’ John Pilger, good journalist and iconoclast that he is, talks about this kind of journalism being increasingly practised in the West. Says he: “The source of most Americans’ information, mainstream television, has been reduced to a set of marketing images shot and edited to the rhythms of Coca-Cola commercials …. Rupert Murdoch’s Fox network is the model…. Non-American human beings are generally ignored, or treated with an anthropological curiosity reserved for wildlife documentaries.’’
Murdoch owns a slice of the press in England too, which is why his papers – and competitors too after a fashion, practise a kind of journalism in which “Non-American human beings’’ are meted out this same kind of anthropological treatment.
A good example of such journalism was of course recently witnessed when Marie Colvin, an American journalist (quite typically) got shot in Vavuniya Sri Lanka. She was (quite typically) a journalist working for the Sunday Times, London.
Percy Seneviratne, writing from Kuala Lampur no doubt does the best job in exposing some of the classic award winning journalistic statements made by Marie Colvin. Some parts from Percy Seneviratne’s letter to the Daily News are excerpted here for reader benefit, courtesy the Daily News ( ….the state owned newspaper which sometimes carries some good letters to the Editor, too, nevertheless….) Commenting on Marie Colvin’s article on her experiences in Vavuniya, Seneviratne writes:
“She ( Marie Colvin) finds herself at the heart of the war zone and complains that she had to walk ’30 miles a night through jungle and the knee-deep water and mud of marsh and rice paddies - only to end up sleeping on the same straw mat, on the same dirt floor, in the same mud hut.” “Even the bugs,” she laments, “were starting to look familiar.” Ms. Colvin get real!
What did you expect in a war? A Presidential Suite?…..
Suddenly, they come under fire. At that stage, Ms. Colvin is surprised that the Sri Lankan soldiers are determined to “come after us.” ……..It’s obvious, in Ms. Colvin’s mind, that soldiers at war are not supposed to use their guns: they just wait for the enemy to riddle them with real bullets. As gunfire erupts, Ms. Colvin is hit. ……. She is worried that her “white skin would reveal my hiding place.” Mind you, she has walked knee-deep through mud, is now buried in thick vegetation, and fears that her milky white skin would give her away. So, she cries out: “Journalist! Journalist! American USA.” She is shocked that nobody takes notice. Instead, a soldier responds to the sound and fires. Her explanation for the gun shot: “the army was not taking prisoners.”
The soldiers are not supposed to probe into the appearance of an American female in enemy territory. You know, the world’s only super power! The mightiest nation on this planet.. The surprises for Ms. Colvin continues. The soldiers ask her questions such as “Where did you get your training? How many people were with you? Where is your vehicle”. She recalls: “Things were calming down and my sense of ridiculousness returned. If I had a vehicle why would I be lying in a field on a dark night?” She’s right: Only Asians can be dumb enough to ask such stupid questions.
What made the soldiers think that she might have arrived at that location in a vehicle? Were the soldiers not aware that Americans were celestial beings? Yet another complaint of Ms. Colvin: “I was put in the back of a truck and driven, bouncing over potholes, hyperventilating because I could not seem to breathe”. Then Steve Holgate of the US embassy arrives. Don’t miss this: “It was like the moment in a classic Wild West movie when the quiet guy faces down the armed and dangerous gang.”’’ The letter, quite brilliantly encapsulates the spirit of journalism practised these days in the London Sunday Times.
Incidentally, John Pilger also writes recently that the Sunday Times magazine (London) published another kind of journalism, or anti-journalism. This was baseless character assassination of Martha Gellhom by a former fashion writer called Georgina Howell.
Gellhom was a well-known journalist, in whose honor a award is made, which , says Pilger goes usually to really independent journalists. ( Too many awards , he says, go to “top-of-the-head windbags’’ these days — Marie Colvin, despite going to the Wanni, probably being one of the stellar examples.) In a stinging citation, Pilger writes that the Martha Gellhom award went this year to Jeremy Harding, the author of a brilliant article in the London Review of Books, entitled “The Uninvited’’ who conducted a painstaking investigation into those vilified as a threat by sections of the (award-winning) media: refugees and asylum-seekers. He traced the refugees’ journey and he dismantled stereotypes.
That’s journalism. Says Pilger, in quintessence, in today’s award-winning journalism, the fact that “……the United States consumes a quarter of the world’s resources, controls the channels of world trade and the institutions of inequality, and squeezes whole nations, such as Iraq, to death, is simply not news.’’ Let’s leave such thoughts, however, for another aduma day.
Please send your comments and suggestions on this web site to