steel thyself with facts first
Somewhere in the second half of the 1980s, if my memory serves me
correct, quite a well-known British journalist wrote some harsh
things about Sri Lanka and the government of the day.
journalist - no need to mention names - stayed at the Galle Face
Hotel during his days in Colombo. After the publication of his critical
articles in which prejudices replaced facts, discreet inquiries
were made about the man and his mission. It came as little surprise
when the news on the grapevine was that the LTTE had financed the
of course, such clandestine hatched jobs are not always necessary.
More than 70 years ago, Humbert Wolfe made this acid remark about
British journalists in "Over the Fire."
to bribe or twist,
thank God! the
But, seeing what
the man will do
no occasion to."
observations, no doubt, apply to women journalists as well.
Readers might remember Marie Colvin of The Sunday Times, London,
who was wounded by grenade shrapnel when she secretly tried to cross
from LTTE-controlled territory in the Wanni to government lines.
articles written after briefings by the LTTE, with whom she spent
several days, contained not only factual inaccuracies and innuendo
but was also totally one-sided.
times she was funny too. In one article she said she spent one week
with the LTTE and in another she claimed she stayed two weeks. If
her journalism was bad her arithmetic (or was it her memory?) was
Sunday Times of London refused to publish my letter pointing out
the errors of her journalistic ways.
But subsequently, the London Sunday Times was forced to eat humble
pie when I took the newspaper to the UK Press Complaints Commission
which eventually held with me that the newspaper violated two provisions
of the newspaper code of conduct.
was a little over three years ago.
Now there is trouble with another of Britain's 'quality' newspapers,
this time The Guardian. Once more I have written a letter protesting
at the inaccuracies and misleading comments in an article by Jonathan
Steele datedlined Kilinochchi that appeared on December 17.
by the ideological stance of The Sunday Times of London, most would
say The Guardian is a liberal newspaper. But rightwing or liberal
when British journalism is under pressure or criticism from "outsiders",
particularly former colonial societies, the shutters come down,
the barricades go up.
the medium, print or electronic, the colonial arrogance manifests
itself. How dare the 'natives' point their fingers at those who
taught them journalism to begin with.
If "The Guardian" is the liberal newspaper some believe
it is, it will publish my letter on Jonathan Steel's comment piece.
I rather doubt it. British journalism does not brook criticism from
outside its charmed circle. Moreover, journalistic standards and
The Guardian's liberal approach have been slipping over the years
as I mentioned to Peter Preston, a former editor of the paper, at
the last Commonwealth Press Union conference in Sri Lanka.
have noticed this as a writer for The Guardian from Colombo myself
in the late 1960s and 70s. In fact when the 27 April 1973 issue
of The Guardian led page 3 with my article on Mrs Gandhi, other
by-lines that appeared on the next page included such respected
journalists as David Hurst, Eric Silver, Paul Webster and Norman
me give one example not only of falling standards but also of The
Guardian's inability to accept criticism.
On 7 July 1983, The Guardian carried the second instalment of a
critical piece on Sri Lanka by an Oxford don, whose name escapes
me for the moment.
article was illustrated with a photograph showing armed soldiers
with two captured youth whose hands were tied behind them. The caption
said that these were Sri Lankan Tamils caught in the latest round
up by the army.
remembered seeing this photograph somewhere. After a two-day search
I discovered where. It was a photograph used with one of my own
articles in The Guardian on 12 August 1971, almost 12 years earlier.
is unpardonable is that it had nothing to do with Tamils, as the
newspaper claimed, but Sinhala JVP suspects. The Guardian changed
the original caption that read "An armed guard for 'Guevarist'
insurgents" into "Tamils". This journalistic sleight
of hand would have gone unnoticed had I not remembered the photograph.
was a flood of protests to The Guardian by Sri Lankans in the UK
after the Sunday Observer in Colombo and television news on Saturday
evening exposed the journalistic fraud.
than one month after the original publication The Guardian carried
a 'correction' on page 4 or 6 admitting the mistake but quickly
covering itself, saying the error was spotted and corrected in a
it was done or not I had no way of checking then. But the fact is
The Guardian was caught out. Even then it was reluctant to admit
Jonathan Steele is certainly entitled to his views. But there is
no justification for his one-sided piece that is factually incorrect,
misleading and inaccurate.
me deal with just a few points.
He claims that the Tigers were put on the international lists of
"terrorist organisations" because it "pioneered the
use of suicide bombing" that killed scores of civilians.
that is not why the US, UK, Australia, Malaysia and India banned
the LTTE. Except in the case of India, other countries including
Canada cracked down because LTTE front organisations operating out
of those countries were collecting funds, laundering money, smuggling
drugs and were involved in other crimes to fund the purchase of
sophisticated arms that were then smuggled to Sri Lanka.
London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies lists
the World Tamil Movement and the World Tamil Association as front
organisations of the LTTE.
UK Charity Commissioner did not raid the offices of the Tamil Rehabilitation
Organisation (whose offices in the Northeast were opened by the
British High Commissioner Stephen Evans) because the Tiger suicide
bombers were killing civilians in Sri Lanka.
is wrong when he says the LTTE "pioneered" suicide bombing.
As researchers at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies point
out Hezbollah's suicide attacks in Beirut against the Iraqi Embassy
(Dec 81) and the US Embassy and Marine Headquarters (April and Oct
'83) pre-date LTTE's first suicide bombing (5 July '87) against
an army camp by 'Captain' Miller, imitating Beirut.
attacks go much further back in history, a fact that Steele could
easily have checked instead of romanticising the Tigers.
Steele also tries to make out the peace talks collapsed because
of disagreements between the Tigers and the Sri Lanka Government.
we know better. It was the LTTE that pulled out of the talks in
pique when the US did not invite them for the donor meeting in Washington
in spring last year. They then boycotted the Tokyo donor meeting.
also tries to blame the political parties in the South for the stalled
negotiations. But he makes no mention of the vigorously contested
ISGA and the Tiger pre-conditions for the resumption of talks.
A pity that this Steele is not made of sterner journalistic mettle.