22nd April 2001
Front Page
Plus| Business| Sports|
Mirror Magazine
The Sunday Times on the Web

No. 8, Hunupitiya Cross Road, Colombo 2. 
P.O. Box: 1136, Colombo.
E-Mail:  editor@suntimes.is.lk
Telex: 21266 Lakexpo CE
EDITORIAL OFFICE Tel: 326247,328889, 433272-3
Fax: 423258, 423922
ADVERTISING OFFICE Tel: 328074, 438037
CIRCULATION DEPARTMENT 10, Hunupitiya Cross Road, 
Colombo 2. 
Tel: 459725, 448322, 074 714252
Fax: 435454


Marie Colvin's Wanni story

Journalists are supposed to be known by their by-lines, and not by having their names in the headlines. But, Marie Colvin, an American journalist representing The Sunday Times of London was one of those exceptions. 

She seems to have been driven to stand out, to break away from the pack of fellow reporters and commentators. Her Wanni jungle tryst with the LTTE leadership in Sri Lanka appeared to have been a trademark risk that could be easily identified with a journalist of her sort. The tryst took on a twist though, that even the likes of her who want to live dangerously, would not have quite envisaged.

Colvin reaped the consequences of her indiscretion, if it can be called that, in the mildest terms. She crossed to LTTE controlled territory without making sure that her Sri Lankan visa continued to be valid. Equally, she had not obtained permission for her adventure in the LTTE controlled area, and was therefore justifiably or not, like it or not, in violation of the prevailing Sri Lankan law.

Her credentials as a journalist are her main claim to an exemption from the normal rules. But, the question is, is she entitled to break the law in search of a scoop, merely because she is a journalist?

It's a difficult question, at least for us journalists. Any newspaperman (or woman) worth their salt would say "yes,'' at least as far as censorship and the stipulation regarding crossing over to Tiger controlled territory is concerned. But, as far as the matter of the visa goes, journalists would agree that "adventuring'' while on an expired visa is not on, even by the irreverent standards of journalists in search of a good scoop. 

When the soldiers lobbed grenades at the posse of persons that included Marie and her Tiger escorts, she is reported to have screamed "journalist, journalist, American.'' In panic the truth surfaces easier. She expected the fact that she was a journalist, and an American, to be a ticket to safe passage.

Sri Lankan's who were involved in the whole episode at its inception deserve a good word for the way they handled an unusual situation. The soldiers who identified her and secured medical attention for her, and the doctors who treated her thereafter, had done well to save her life.

But, Stage II of the operation was a familiar story of mishandling and clumsiness. The propaganda czars of the PA government bungled the post-incident phase by trotting out the conspiracy theory which held out that Marie was "pursuing a hidden agenda of the Tigers.''

It was as absurd as the US Ambassador's remark that the "Foreign Office treat with maturity" the case of the kid caught with her hand in the cookie jar.

But, the incident in its wake gives rise to questions of media policy. When is the government going to liberalize its stand on war information? When can the truth be known?

By putting the lid on news emanating from the North East, the government is losing in terms of not having independent sources reporting military successes. Sans reporting in situ, the Tamilnet website can also go to town on its misinformation. Besides, the fact that local journalists and foreign correspondents here are kept on a tight leash, allows various fly-by-night pen-wielders, the 'Running Johns' - or in this case a Running Jane' - who know little of the situation here to moonlight as war reporters.

But, the government seems to like moonlighting scribes. The apology to Marie Colvin was telling. It showed the mentality of Sri Lankan political and bureaucratic types, who fawn on foreigners while treating local as pariahs.

The President too decided to send flowers and a get-well-card to someone her own media advisor had labelled as "a person having a secret agenda with the LTTE.'' There were no get-well cards nor flowers for local photo journalists covering a UNP demonstration in 1999, who were pummelled by baton wielding state sponsored mobs. When will the cry "Journalist, journalist Sri Lankan' gather bouquets rather than brickbats?

Index Page
Front Page
Mirrror Magazine

The Political Column

Editorial/ Opinion Contents


Editorial Archives

Front Page| News/Comment| Editorial/Opinion| Plus| Business| Sports| Mirror Magazine

Please send your comments and suggestions on this web site to 

The Sunday Times or to Information Laboratories (Pvt.) Ltd.

Presented on the World Wide Web by Infomation Laboratories (Pvt.) Ltd.
Hosted By LAcNet