Diplomats taking to Twitter and other social media platforms is part of public diplomacy in the modern world. This week, a series of Pakistan High Commission Twitter posts, couched in sarcasm, lamented over the low levels to which journalism had fallen and said the High Commissioner had no super power to be in two places [...]


Twitter diplomacy to the fore sees two birds being hit with one post


Diplomats taking to Twitter and other social media platforms is part of public diplomacy in the modern world.

This week, a series of Pakistan High Commission Twitter posts, couched in sarcasm, lamented over the low levels to which journalism had fallen and said the High Commissioner had no super power to be in two places at the same time.

They were referring to a news item in a northern datelined piece and compared it to an Indian journalist known for courting controversies with his pro-Hindutva, pro-Bharatiya Janata Party journalism. Thus, they made use of the opportunity to hit two birds with one post.

In a reaction to a Sept 23 story, the High Commission’s Press Attache had this to say in her tweet: “Appears reporters from (name of Sri Lankan newspaper withheld) hv same super intel sources, as (name of Indian journalist withheld) unearthing superpower of HC HE Maj Gen @SaadKhtk who can b present at 2 places at the same time. Last checked, u can’t b in Jaffna @ 8am & reach Colombo @ 9am on the same day @PakinSriLanka.

The controversial story headlined “Saththam indri Yaal deevakam sendra Pak thooduvar (Pak envoy in secret visit to Jaffna islet)” said: “It has been revealed that the High Commissioner of Pakistan to Sri Lanka, Major General (Retired) Mohammad Saad Khattak had visited the island of Neduntheevu, one of the islands in Jaffna. Accompanied by his family, the High Commissioner visited the island around 8 am on Tuesday (Sept 21). A northern parliamentarian has already accused Pakistan of trying to set up an international standard hotel in Neduntheevu. In this context, the High Commissioner’s visit has raised suspicion”, was the news item in dispute.

The High Commission waded in as well. In a separate Twitter post, it was not satisfied denying the story, it went on to say: “Level of journalism dropping day by day”. High Commissioner Saad Khattak also took toTwitter. “While I am at a loss to understand the panic at certain quarters even with our routine work I am amazed
at the quality and standard of certain journalists and their journalism”.

The diplomatic engagement between Twitter handles to debunk this fake news took a different turn when the Chinese Embassy in Sri Lanka intervened. Responding to Ambassador Khattak’s criticism, the official Twitter handle Chinese embassy said:

“What a pity they didn’t include Ambassador of China in the fake story. It could have been more thrilling.”

Diplomats resorting to social media to express their reaction to news items in the mainstream media is increasingly becoming routine. The twitterati are quite amazed at the speed with which some embassies move within the Twitter space. Almost all big power missions in Sri Lanka count a large number of social media followers.

Therefore, to deny a news item, it appears, most embassies take to social media. Rarely do they resort to the Right-of-Reply facility responsible newspapers offer.

Popular actor bows out of Kopi Kade on principle

Popular actor and presenter Thilak Kumara Rathnayake has left the famous teledrama “Kopi Kade” telecast on state-run Independent Television Network (ITN) in protest over a recent episode in the teledrama that mocked teachers who were protesting against their salary anomaly issue.

The actor played the role of “Somadasa” in Kopi Kade for 35 years and had become a household name due to his role in the drama series; known as South Asia’s longest running drama series. He had also acted as a scriptwriter for about 400 episodes of the popular drama.

In a video posted on social media, Mr Rathnayake said he was leaving the Kopi Kade as he could not stay on in the series after the episode that mocked the teachers, in which he did not act. He said he respected teachers and their right to protest, though he had never met any of the prominent trade unionists engaged in the struggle. “I cannot abide by the way an episode in the series was used as a method of character assassination of teachers and their struggle,” he stressed.


The strange case of an omission request

It is strange when a ministry requests an embassy to omit a name from a statement it had already sent.

On Thursday, a meeting took place between the Charge d’ Affaires of the Embassy of United Arab Emirates in Colombo, Humaid Altamimi, and the Minister of Public Security, Rear Admiral (Retired) Sarath Weerasekera at the Minister’s office in ‘Suhurupaya’, Battaramulla.

Joining the discussion were, Rohan Gunaratna, who goes as a Political Analyst and Expert on International Terrorism, Narada Samarasinghe, Senior Advisor at the Ministry of Public Security, S.M. Ansar Moulana, Coordinating Secretary to the Minister and Ashan Malalasekera, Advisor to the Minister on International Affairs. A statement was also followed from the UAE embassy. Later, the embassy was requested by the ministry not to include the name or photo of the controversial Rohan Gunaratna who took part in the meeting. One journalist asked a ministry official “When did you invite unofficial advisors to official meetings?”

There was no response from the other end. However, the photos of Gunaratna were still available on a tweet published by the embassy on its official Twitter handle.

Outgoing US envoy moved by the strains of Manike Mage Hithe

The outgoing US ambassador to Sri Lanka Alaina Teplitz was among those who enjoyed the violin version of the Sri Lankan song Manike Mage Hithe.

“I enjoyed listening to @Karolina_Violin play the #SriLankan song #ManikeMageHithe on the streets of California! I hope you enjoy it too. Such a testament as to music as the universal language,” Ambassador Teplitz tweeted.

Manike Mage Hithe”, performed by Yohani and Satheeshan is currently in the top 10 of the global charts. On the popular social media site, YouTube, it was at number 7 this week after crossing 119 million views on the platform.

And the vicious cycle begins; accidents on rise as liquor begins to flow

Ever since the liquor shops were opened with the blessings of authorities last week, the number of accidents related to driving under the influence of alcohol, clashes between gangs and domestic violence incidents against women and children are on the rise as before.

In the North alone, at least nine persons have died so far due to accidents caused by driving under the influence of alcohol and other violent activities. Among them was a 24-year-old who collided with a road post and died on the spot while another 22-year-old died while ‘taking part in a drinking competition’ with his friends last week.

Tourism Ministry lost in translation

While the government is hell-bent on ending the ongoing travel restrictions by October 1 and revive the tourism industry, the Ministry responsible to oversee all tourism-related government initiatives has failed at one thing that is critical for communication. The Tamil version of the Tourism Ministry’s official website has so many errors to the extent that numbers are lost if one is to count them.

The translations are very poor with ‘broken grammar’ and even the profiles of Ministers and senior officials at the Ministry are misspelt and in some cases, words missing.

Apart from the local tourists, Indian tourists- particularly from South India make up a significant per cent of total tourist arrivals into the country. Therefore it is vital that these guidelines and necessary information should be in Tamil as well.

Critical questions virtually impossible

Since almost all press briefings and Cabinet briefings moved to virtual these days, journalists find it difficult to raise critical questions or follow up questions with government ministers and officials.

In some instances, journalists alleged they were cut short from raising follow up questions or not even allowed to raise questions at all if he/she is representing a media institution deemed hostile to the government.

The latest blow in this regard is government ministers and officials sending their media secretaries and speechwriters to these briefings in the guise of journalists with prepared questions in order to shift the focus on a particular subject.

Early this week, the newly declared Media Centre for National Development organised a press briefing with the Minister of Fisheries Douglas Devananda. During the Q&A, a former journalist turned official also raised two lengthy questions on a different subject while giving the minister some clues on the response.


Ambulance rushing to save lives locked in by lockdown traffic

If one is to step outside the house these days and go for a walk or access a nearby grocery store to buy supplies, he or she may wonder whether a ‘lockdown’ or ‘conditional travel restrictions’ is still effective in the country as government ministers claimed. It was business as usual, and even crowds lined up in front of
liquor stores.

It was evident how the travel restrictions are currently effective in the country when an ambulance was trying to navigate a traffic jam in one of the busy streets in Colombo this week. After slowing down and repeated horning to clear its way, the ambulance managed to continue its journey with a couple of motorists following behind.

Motorists seem deaf to the wailing sirens of these ambulances carrying patients to hospitals where every minute could be a matter of life and death. No wonder the 1990 ambulance authorities have appealed to the public to assist.

Upto to you readers; two versions of one event

The art of spin doctoring – getting people to interpret an event the way you want them to is practised at the highest offices of most countries. The phrase gathered speed when one Alastair Campbell was the Press Secretary to British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

It seems some of that spinning and doctoring has rubbed off on the Presidential Media Division – or was it on the UN Secretary General’s office. Readers can take the two versions put out by the UN Spokesman and the PMD on the same event – the meeting this week between President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

The UN SG’s office said in its release following the meeting, inter-alia; that Gueterres “reiterated the UN’s view on the importance of ensuring protection of minority rights and civic engagement”.

The PMD saw it differently. In its release it said; the UN “will provide its full support to Sri Lanka in moving forward to promote unity among different communities”.


Widlife protection state minister makes protecting the Rajapaksas his mission

State Minister of Wildlife Protection Wimalaweera Dissanayake is decidedly unimpressed by those who criticise the Rajapaksa family.

Speaking in Parliament on Wednesday, Mr Dissanayake mounted a passionate defence of the Rajapaksas, who he said were being unfairly blamed for all manner of ills affecting the country.

“If it weren’t for Gotabaya Rajapaksa, you’d all be dead,” he told Opposition lawmakers who criticised the government’s COVID strategy.

Mr Dissanayake also lashed out at Tamil Opposition MPs who are critical of the Rajapaksas. “It was the Rajapaksas who put pens into the hands of Tamil children in the north and east who were carrying guns. It was the Rajapaksas who replaced cyanide capsules around the necks of students with talismans. It was the Rajapaksas who carpeted the roads up to Kankesanthurai, repaired the rail tracks and restarted train journeys to the north,” he told the House.

The state minister concluded by saying that lightning should strike the mouths of those who criticise the Rajapaksas (hena hathama gahanna ona).

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