checklist of good news
Good news is not news, which is probably why the coverage of two
funerals hogged the global news coverage. Somebody berated the Pope
not without some justification, stating that his advocacy against
condoms led to the death of millions in Africa. How can people practise
abstinence, he asked, when Catholic priests cannot contain their
sexual urges to prey on altar boys??
news and negative news in the past few weeks, gave more credence
to the theory that from an Editor's viewpoint good news is not news.
being the media culture, is it possible, particularly in a Sri Lankan
context, to have one day of the year dedicated to the purveying
of good news?? 'There was a bountiful harvest of Gherkins.' 'Ten
hospitals will be renovated at state expense?' That kind of thing.
nature of sunshine news is that it's a dead bore. There is no glamour
associated with an observable jump in the Gherkin crop.
But, good news can yet be purveyed aggressively.
is an attempt:
What are the good things about Sri Lanka, that can give the lie
to the common notion that the country is a mess, peppered with politicians
who talk first and think later.
the following numbered positive facets:
1. Sri Lankans do rise to the occasion, it's their attention spans
that are deficient. When the tsunami struck on December 26th, the
New Year was subdued, even in a city as far from a tsunami hit beach
such as Kandy. There was no Presidential request to refrain from
lighting crackers, but it can almost be said safely that nobody
lit a cracker in the entirety of Sri Lanka last December 31st.
It means this is a country where the people are leaders, and the
leaders are led by their noses. The people have to clean up after
the mess left by their political elites.
are glaring examples. The 1983 riots were engineered by a rump group
of the JRJ government. The people rose to the occasion by giving
refuge to Tamils who were set upon by organized goondas.
There isn't one major Sri Lankan crisis that cannot be traced back
to the buffoonery of self- serving partisan politicians.
But, the people have been magnanimous to this lot. They have voted,
in increasing numbers at every successive election, despite the
fact that those whom they elect continue to disappoint them. The
people alone have saved democracy in this country.
A positive aspect of Sri Lankan life is that there is a healthy
level of mistrust at least when its sorely needed. There is a healthy
level of mistrust for non-governmental organizations for instance,
to the extent that when the tsunami struck, somebody wrote that
the NGOs have been brought out for their 'ritual castration in the
this ritual has played a key role in keeping Sri Lankans from being
completely and irrevocably neo- colonized. There are varying shades
of opinion about the validity of NGO work, but even the media pockets
bought over by the NGOs have not been able to dispel the popular
skepticism towards the NGOs.
are newspapers, for example, which though not directly in the pay
of NGOs, employ functionaries -- reporters and freelancers -- who
are in their pay. Recently, some of these newspapers carried a campaign
of personal attacks against media men who have relentlessly exposed
are newspapers which expose other giants in public life, but they
seem to be unable to touch the NGOs with a feather. But the public
has outed more NGO charlatans than these newspapers. Public skepticism
alone has kept the non-governmental organizations from subverting
the national agenda. The issue of the privatization of water resources
is one valid example.
antipathy to this move has been channeled through the newspapers,
via letters and articles. There is no people power in Sri Lanka,
somebody wailed, whereas successive Phillipino strongmen were deposed
by text-messaging political mobs.
do we need mobs in a country that is more sophisticated than the
Philippines? We haven't yet had a first lady to match Imelda (Shoe)
Marcos. This country has not afforded an opportunity to a Ferdinand
Marcos. Military coups have not happened in Sri Lanka, whereas they
have been seasonal as the Mangosteens in countries such as Pakistan
and the Phillipines.
it's correct that we cannot compare ourselves with polities lesser
than ours. We cannot be heard to say, for instance, that we are
better off than sub-Saharan Africa for the simple reason that we
have on the other hand, fallen behind countries such as Singapore
and Malaysia, which were on a level of parity with us at the time
the colonizers were leaving.
we have sneaked ahead of, say, Pakistan, in terms of our record
as a democracy. In the Pakistani newspapers, the romanticism is
about an imagined day when the people shall elect their leaders.
on the other hand, romanticize the imagined day when Sri Lanka will
be an economic powerhouse such as Malaysia. At least the quality
of our dreams is better than those of our immediate sub continental
Small consolation, it can be said. There are Rule of Law problems,
a soaring crime rate, and a call to tighten our belts from every
government since independence.
eventual conclusion which has been trotted out by Editorialists
in many ways but never quite cogently summed-up, is that we have
in the final analysis been a long suffering people who are suffering
our political leaders. The resilience of our country comes from
the unwillingness of the people to allow the complete breakdown
of institutions. When there was a coup attempt, it was 'outed',
in a historically memorable manner, when one of the coup plotters
shared the information with his wife with his pillow talk.
have been thwarted. Insurrections have been forced back, even though
gruesomely repelled, for instance in 1989 and 71 when the system
was teetering on the brink. A more than 20-year-old armed conflict
has been repeatedly described by the foreign media as a civil war,
but the people have thumbed their noses at this misnomer. What's
the civil war here, when the Tamil people are not fighting the Sinhalese
and the Sinhala people are not fighting the Tamils - but instead
we have two armed entities fighting each other??
sum then, this is a resilient country, in which the people have
been its saving grace. But there is a riddle at the end of it. If
the people are the country's strength, how come its leaders are
so putrid - - because the leaders come from among the people…?
people however cannot wisely choose their leaders when they are
all bumbling clones of each other with no exceptions. It's like
the media. When standards of the English media started dropping
in the 70s, particularly with an embarrassing brand of keyhole political
gossip journalism being introduced, the newspaper world forgot what
it used to be. Standards went plummeting. Newspapers started giving
the people what they wanted -- the last resort of the pornographer.
will be years before this rot, which has consumed the media industry,
can be reversed. Similarly, the standards of leadership dropped
with the emergence of populist politics. It will be years before
that rot is reversed, but at least grant the people some credit
for preserving their institutions, with so much pressure from outside
and from within to tear these institutions, such as democracy and
ethnic solidarity apart. It is news that people can be given such
credit sometimes. Such good news IS news.