The Rajpal Abeynayake Column                     By Rajpal Abeynayake  

In a new kind of media culture, they have sides
A novel argument is being adduced in some quarters to justify the impending American invasion of Iraq. I will not tell you which newspaper it is, but a columnist in a South East Asian country's popular English daily said that the Iraqi people are sad people because they are awaiting an American incursion in their country.

"Which country wants war, or to be invaded - but the Iraqi people want that," he says. This is to take the sovereignty versus human rights conundrum to its hilarious extreme.

But these days such arguments are being adduced, because the global media is being built up into a one large 'we are together in this' monolith. There are arguments appearing in Australian newspapers (reproduced elsewhere in this newspaper), which say for instance that the latest global threat to the world is 'Islamic-fascism'

In South East Asia and Australia, it is perhaps not necessary to 'buy' journalists to manufacture such viewpoints. I remember reading somewhere recently about a person who thought that capitalism is not an 'ism' at all, that it is not an ideology, but that it is present in human interaction, the way water flows wherever there is human habitation.

In Australia and South East Asia, pro American sentiment need not be manufactured. It is there, and is natural the way the writer quoted above says capitalism is not an 'ism' but a truism.

But the danger is the stridency with which the rest of the world media is slowly being built into a monolith that favours the prevailing currents of opinion in places such as Australia and South East Asia.

There is tremendous pressure on the media to conform, and this disease of conformism is catching on in this country for instance, even though journalists are not necessarily interested in any direct way, in what happens in Iraq.

Journalists who go against the prevailing neo-liberal orthodoxy (basically the orthodoxy of markets markets, more markets and globalization) will find themselves being increasingly marginalized from the mainstream. Those who have the guts and the gumption will march on.

But others will find it difficult to fight the orthodoxy, which says for instance that if you are not a 'peace' journalist, you are not a journalist at all.

You are asked to humanize the other side - the enemy or the opposition.

(This is from the media diversity checklist from one of the organizations that want to build a certain monolithic media culture in this country.)

As far as I am concerned for instance, I did not think of an enemy in the first place to attempt to humanize him. Enemies are for armies; enemies are not for newspaper people. This is elemental. But it escapes the thought processes of those who would want to see the media in black and white, just like their television programs, which are also in black and white - and do not reflect any logic except linear one dimensional logic.

The media orthodoxy that is being built up, does not believe in the maverick. Basically, it wants to make all journalists clones of Reuter journalists, who rarely if ever have an opinion.

But it is not just opinion that the media orthodoxy seeks to stifle. It is also initiative.
I have an initiative to tell the truth. But the media orthodoxy that the others want to build for me says 'hang the truth - - but humanize the enemy'

But, I have never had an enemy, certainly not in the Tamil community, certainly not in the Muslim community and certainly not anywhere in Sri Lanka. But often the enemy of the modern day media monolith, is the truth.

For instance those who say that America should invade Iraq because the Iraqi people want it, ignore the truth that no intervention or incursion is possible unless it has the approval of the international community of nations.

But when you are building media orthodoxies, it is a little bit like playing god. God according to all texts built man in his own image. The media orthodoxy wants everybody in the media to be in their own image.

And they want all their readers to be in their own image too. Apart from the fact that this is boring conformism, this goes against all the fundamentals of good journalism which demands a curiosity spirit. As another South African journalist said at seminar in Sri Lanka many years back ( when the peace media orthodoxy had still not been built up) all journalists need to be mischievous to be good journalists."

But the only mischief that a journalist in the current orthodoxy can get to is to go for a peace seminar and blow his nose - if that too is not considered rude. This is the new kind of journalism in which if you are built in the image of the current political orthodoxy - you are a good journalist. God help you if you are not built in that image. Journalists who concoct a thesis to say that there is Islamic fascism building up, are not in fact peddling opinion, but they are demonizing the CORRECT enemy of the day.

Always, demonizing an enemy is allright, if that enemy happens to be the enemy of those who call the shots in the global orthodoxy of thought.

In other words, it is allright to have an enemy if that enemy is the enemy of the orthodoxy. It is allright to see the world in terms of 'your side' and 'our side' as long as you get the consequent equation right. Which is that if the other side is Iraqi, you can demonize the other side. You will even perhaps win awards for doing so.

But, if the other side is Tamil, or Eastern province Muslim, you need to 'humanize' the enemy.

For your information, to all those who subscribe to this orthodoxy, I say loud and clear, that there is no 'enemy' in the kind of mischievous journalism that I practice for instance.

When you don't have an enemy you don't need to make that weighty decision on whether to humanize or demonize him. You don't need to go to seminars and make checklists. You do not have to go through that whole circus at all.

Pity that now they tell us after all these years that we need to 'humanize' the other side. We are a little more primitive than all these enlightened people who want to build a colour-blind and odourless media culture.In our journalism, we never had 'another side.' Instead of that, we just liked to have the truth on our side

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