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Of those propaganda hit men

A few days ago the army monitored a conversation between the LTTE's arms procurer turned spokesman KP and a senior Tiger leader trapped in the Vanni via a satellite phone. KP asked his beleaguered colleague to do whatever possible and hold out as he and his foreign allies were doing their best to save them. Less than two days later, a story was floated that a large number of civilians had been killed in an army artillery barrage. It was sourced to a person calling himself a government doctor in the LTTE-held 'no fire zone'. The Health Ministry has denied the presence of any ‘government doctor’ in that area! (The real source was the LTTE’s web arm TamilNet.)

Obviously, LTTE spin doctors were trying to prepare the ground for Sri Lanka's humanitarian situation to be taken up by the UN Security Council.

British and French Foreign Ministers David Miliband and Bernard Kouchner––who look Thomson and Thomson in Tintin comics because of their well coordinated yet inane actions––made, true to form, another abortive attempt to move the UN Security Council against Sri Lanka the other day. Their thundering pratfall signifies the solidarity of the civilised world with Sri Lanka. Their ignominious failure is also a pointer that the western powers are fast losing their grip on the rest of the world and their neo colonial strategies aimed at global domination have failed to yield the intended results. The US and its allies are losing ground not only to the donkey-riding primitive Taliban savages but also to a collective of sovereign states determined to defeat terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. The angry reaction of the Obama administration to the Rajapaksa government’s refusal to let go of terrorists has been to block an IMF loan to Sri Lanka.

At the forefront of the Save the Tigers campaign is a section of the western media, either directly or indirectly controlled and/or influenced by their respective governments in spite of their claims of impartiality and independence.

Their recent coverage of the humanitarian situation in the Vanni is a testimony to the fact that they are far from independent and impartial and that they are ready to let ethics fall by the wayside if that suits their agenda. How a BBC story based on a single source that an intelligence dossier on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was 'sexed up' by the Blair government to make a case for invading Iraq finally drove weapons expert and inspector Dr. David Kelly to suicide in 2003 is also a case in point. The attendant scandal shook the BBC to its foundation.

BBC, it may be recalled, blacked out Sinn Fein leaders until the IRA agreed to eschew violence, though its journalists are under strict instructions not to use the term 'terrorists' to describe even the blood thirsty terrorists in other parts of the world. A former BBC correspondent, Pill Rees, boasts in his much publicised yet mediocre book, Dining with Terrorists, that during twenty years of his reporting conflicts, he never used the word 'terrorists' to describe 'armed militants'! What an achievement!

Intriguingly, nothing prevents BBC from producing programmes that lionise terrorists like the one on LTTE suicide cadres, which the LTTE made the best use of for fund raising and indoctrination purposes. It looks as if BBC needed a set of separate guidelines to prevent its personnel from currying favour with and sanitising terrorists to have access to conflict zones and get exclusive stories.

CNN is no better. A few years ago one of its glorified yet naïve correspondents had the temerity to tell the world from Colombo itself that both the LTTE and the Sri Lankan army used child soldiers! That was how he sought to 'balance' his story! There is a misconception among some people in this part of the world that the western media are run by super humans not capable of wrongdoing. And some Sri Lanka watchers have gone to the extent of arguing that the western media should be given unrestricted access to the Vanni so that they could see the situation there for themselves and tell the world the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

We don't approve of the government's decision to keep the welfare centres out of bounds for the media but it is only wishful thinking that the western media will report the true situation, even if they are granted access. Here is an example:

Eason Jordan, chief news executive of the cable network, confessed in an article on The New York Times op-ed page on April 11, 2003 that CNN had for years suppressed important news about the Iraqi dictatorship, as it thought reporting the truth would jeopardise the network's Iraqi employees. He said he thought such reportage, might also have got CNN kicked out of the country, too, and that apparently was a price CNN was not willing to pay. The Herald Sun, which filed a report on the NYT article described what CNN had done thus: "They chose to shill for Saddam rather than be shown the border." So much for CNN's independence, impartiality and professionalism! One is reminded of how the Swedish media sided with Hitler during WW II to save their skin and in the process had themselves practising the oldest profession in the world!

David A. Schlesinger, Reuters' global managing editor taking exception to the insertion of the word 'terrorist/s" into his agency's dispatches by some newspapers had this to say in justification of soft-pedalling the issue of terrorism: "My goal is to protect our reporters and protect our editorial integrity." It was a lapsus linguae: Reuters won't call a spade a spade for fear of reprisal. What?

An editorial in the Ottawa Citizen, eloquently countered Schlesinger's argument:

"Terrorism is a technical term. It describes a modus operandi, a tactic. We side with security professionals who define terrorism as the deliberate targeting of civilians in pursuit of a political goal. Those who bombed the nightclub in Bali were terrorists. Suicide bombers who strap explosives to their bodies and blow up people eating in a pizza parlour are terrorists. The men and women who took a school full of hostages in Beslan, Russia, and shot some of the children in the back as they tried to flee to safety were terrorists. We as journalists do not violate our impartiality by describing them as such. Ironically, it is supposedly neutral terms like 'militant' that betray a bias, insofar as they have a sanitising effect. Activists for various political causes can be 'militant,' but they don't take children hostage."

Scott Anderson, editor-in-chief of CanWest Publications said that Reuters' policy 'undermined journalistic principles,' and asked: 'If you're couching language to protect people, are you telling the truth?' We find ourselves on all fours with him!

Thus, it should be clear that the western media are not infallible and they rarely hesitate to compromise principles for expedience. It was not for nothing that CNN was once dubbed the 'Clinton News Network'. In fact, they are evidently doing so, where Sri Lanka's war is concerned. Most of them have lent themselves to their governments and INGOs as propaganda hit men.

So, it is not surprising that some international media outfits are collaborating with Miliband and Kouchner, who are all out to save Prabhakaran and perpetuate Sri Lanka's conflict so that the western powers could keep on feeling India's soft belly from this side of the Palk Strait until time is ripe to sink the dagger.

It is not being argued that the Vanni welfare centres for the war displaced are nice and cosy. There are, of course, problems, most of which seem to be teething in nature. And the government is doing its utmost either altruistically or under pressure to improve those unfortunate people's lot. But, there is no humanitarian catastrophe contrary to unsubstantiated claims by the western media to that effect. The living conditions of the war displaced are certainly far better than those of the marginalized Black Americans in ghettos, the homeless in big American cities who are reduced to frozen cadavers in their numbers every winter night, and the poor languishing in Mumbai slums notorious for Delhi belly or foraging in dustbins and feasting on garbage in Bihar or Tamil Nadu.

It is one thing to keep the government on its toes in handling the victims of war-––that needs to be done––but it is quite another to blow the humanitarian situation out of proportion and propagate diabolical lies about the war displaced in a bid to vilify this country and save the terrorists awaiting decapitation.

What the western media must do is not to exploit human suffering to gain mileage or support their governments and terrorists but to do factual reporting so as to help ameliorate the plight of those hapless victims of war with international assistance.

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