25th November 2001

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Inaccurate reporting

PCC says Marie biased

Britain's Best Journalist of the Year Award winner Marie Colvin and the London-based The Sunday Times were criticised by the UK Press Complaints Commission for the inaccurate and one-sided articles published on Sri Lanka last April and July and ordered them to publish prominently the findings of the Commission.

Marie Colvin, the award-winning British journalist, for her coverage of the Sri Lankan insurgency who crossed over to the Wanni and interviewed Tamil Tiger leaders was wounded by a grenade shrapnel when she tried to crawl back into government-controlled territory along with her LTTE supporters. She wrote two articles immediately after her injury and a third while recuperating in New York and London. 

Neville de Silva, London Correspondent of The Sunday Times of Sri Lanka, lodged a very strong protest with the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) in London against the British newspaper when it refused to publish a letter by him pointing out the inaccuracies and the attempt to lay the blame on Sinhala community entirely for the anti-Tamil riots in July 1983 and the consequent rise of the LTTE.

Other letters complaining against Marie Colvin's articles were also ignored by the British newspaper while letters praising her for courageous and truthful journalism were published. Another Sri Lankan Bodipala Wijeyesinghe had also complained to the PCC when his letter too was ignored.

The PCC upheld both complaints and agreed with Neville de Silva that the newspaper had violated two articles of the Code of Practice of the British newspaper industry: clause 1 dealing with accuracy and clause 2 with the opportunity to reply.

While stating that Marie Colvin's reporting on the rise of the LTTE was "inaccurate" and the methods used by the LTTE had been "inaccurately and misleadingly reported", the PCC held with Neville de Silva that her reports "had apportioned the Sinhalese a role in the conflict that was not historically accurate and that the reporter's account of her surreptitious movements into government territory having spent time with a terrorist organisation were fundamentally biased."

The PCC is chaired by Lord Wakeham and consists of 14 others- eight members of the public and six senior journalists including editors of leading newspapers.

The Sunday Times, London delayed answering de Silva's detailed charges against Colvin and itself by saying that the injured journalist had to undergo surgery and recuperation and until her full recovery it was not in a position to respond to the allegations.

Mr. De Silva protested at what he called procrastination by the newspaper and argued that the newspaper's refusal to publish his letter of correction had nothing to do with Marie Colvin's unfortunate state of health and that it was a decision for the newspaper editors.

In upholding the argument the PCC in its adjudication issued last week said: "The Code requests that editors cooperate as switfly as possible in the resolution of complaints and while the Commission understood that the journalist had been injured, it did not see any reason why the circumstances prevented the newspaper from offering a fair opportunity to one of the complainants to set the record straight, given that substantive issues had been raised and given that the journalist had continued to publish articles during her recuperation".

The adjudication must now be published in full and prominently by the newspaper. However, it had not named the journalist concerned. Mr. De Silva is expected to write back to the PCC within seven days as allowed by the regulations, urging that Marie Colvin be mentioned by name, firstly it is unfair to other women journalists working in that paper and secondly because readers will not recall the events unless she is mentioned as the reporter concerned.

Economics of counting chickens

The Sunday Times economic analysis
By the Economist
When the performance of an economy is to be judged by the number of chickens hatched, the business of economic management cannot surely be well done. When the number of chickens so counted is also wrong, then the integrity, even more than the competence of the management, comes into question. 

We will of course not indulge in a debate about the number of chickens hatched, healthily living or hatched this year or in the past, to get an assessment of the country's economic performance, when far better statistics released by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka tell the story best. In a nutshell, agricultural and industrial production have declined, all categories of exports have decreased, the trade deficit is huge (although imports of all categories have decreased), the government revenue—expenditure gap has widened. 

It is well known that people are losing jobs and prices are rising. These are the revelations of the Central Bank statistics for the first eight months (January to September) of this year. And all these have happened before the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington that are blamed for nearly all evils, even our power shortage. Let us elaborate with a few summary statistics of this year's economic performance. Industrial production fell by 12 per cent and industrial exports declined by 7.3 per cent. 

The trade deficit was US$ 760 million at the end of August; government expenditure exceeded revenue collections by Rs. 84 billion, imports decreased by nearly 13 per cent.

Let's try to look at the brighter side and pull out some figures that the government might like to flaunt. The external reserves at the end of September are somewhat higher than it was at the end of last year and in the first few months of this year. External reserves rose by 6.7 per cent. The trade deficit though huge at US$ 760 million at the end of August this year, is lower than the massive deficit incurred in the first eight months of last year, US$1095 million. Beyond this it is difficult to find some statistics that appear to give a comforting picture of the economic performance. 

Even these figures tell a story of poor economic performance. The reserves are higher owing to a flow of external assistance and lower imports. Imports of all categories have declined. Why? Consumer imports have declined owing to a fall in income and sharp increases in prices. As to be expected raw material imports have declined by 9 per cent owing to the lower industrial production and lower prices of crude oil. Investment goods have shown the sharpest decrease of 23 per cent. What better evidence of an economic slow-down? 

The Central Bank has estimated a growth of 1 per cent for the first half of this year. It projects growth for the entire year to remain around this figure. The Chamber of Commerce projects a growth of only 0.6 per cent. We will not indulge in disputes about the decimals. 

Whether it is one or the other of the figures, it is clear evidence that the economy has not only had any real growth, but also in fact declined. The minimal growth statistic will be derived from increases in salaries of public servants. The real sectors of the economy, agriculture, industry and services, other than the public services are languishing.

The growth this year is in fact negative. Those who can still say, in the light of these statistics, that the economy is sound, must themselves be unsound.

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