One-time media critics of war against LTTE, ‘playing a different tune now’-Gota
Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa yesterday said that an influential section of print and electronic media which worked overtime against the ruling SLFP-led coalition as it battled the LTTE during the past three years, had now switched sides.
"They are playing a different tune now," he said, accusing them of being a critical element of the overall strategy directed against the state. Nothing could be as ridiculous as what they say now if one bothered to check their background, he said.
In an interview with The Sunday Island, the veteran soldier said that they had no option now but to play ball with the government following the defeat of the LTTE. They wouldn’t have quit what he called the LTTE’s macabre cause, had LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and his chief lieutenants survived the armed forces onslaught, he said.
Responding to our queries, he said that they propagated LTTE lies. "Just go through past issues of national newspapers, you’ll see their strategy," he said. He said that anti-government propagandists emphasised that the LTTE couldn’t be militarily defeated, the army couldn’t hold liberated areas, the government couldn’t withstand LTTE retaliation and the international community wouldn’t allow Sri Lanka to defeat the LTTE militarily.
Those who were on the payroll of embassies, INGOs and NGOs, painted a picture of death and devastation and a multitude of other issues affecting the displaced, he said. Recalling his much criticised decision to remove all INGOs, including UN agencies and NGOs out of the LTTE-held region by last September, the Defence Secretary said that the media hindered the government strategy. Now that the LTTE had been defeated, they are talking about war heroes, he said, emphasising that they wouldn’t be able to deceive people.
He said that as part of their strategy a section of the media always talked about the ‘deteriorating situation’ in the country. Those who praise war heroes called them killers, he said, urging the public not to be deceived by turncoats. Those who accused us of forcing civilians out of their villagers at the behest of their masters, both here and overseas, had all of a sudden come to the government’s defence, he said.
As long as the LTTE continued with its resistance, the media believed in terrorists’ strength to overwhelm the armed forces, he said. They remained confident even in the first part of last year, he said, adding that he felt embarrassed by the way one time traitors were now bending backwards to please the government.
He admitted that some time back even he found it extremely difficult to get an article published in support of the government’s battle against the LTTE. But they were coming behind us seeking interviews, he said, adding that those who took an unwavering stance on terrorism could be rightly proud of their contribution. He said that the websites run by the Defence Ministry (defence.lk) and the three services spearheaded by the army (army.lk), played a pivotal role in keeping the people informed of the progress.
He said that many of those who bat for the government now had been working against the then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa at the last presidential election held in November 2005. When full scale war erupted in August 2006 following a series of small skirmishes, the same crowd targeted the government, he said.
Commenting on recent criticism of government-sponsored housing projects for the benefit of security forces personnel, he said that a weekly newspaper funded by a political party had attacked a move to provide housing for servicemen. They had been critical of a decision to sell housing units at an affordable rate, very much less than what it had cost the government to servicemen, he said. In the guise of supporting the armed forces, they were now trying to cause another problem, the outspoken official said.
He said that the media had caused immense damage to the war effort by trying to appease their paymasters and various donors who provided a range of perks and privileges to undermine the war effort.
He also criticised efforts by a section of the media to cause trouble at various levels of the command and control structure.
The former Gajaba Regiment veteran said that thwarting attempts by media to derail the military campaign had been a daunting task. They cleverly exploited the situation in the country to paint a bleak picture here and overseas, thereby facilitating an international conspiracy to call Sri Lanka a failed state. They almost succeeded in throwing a lifeline to the LTTE, he said.
He said that those who fill pages with stories and pictures of battlefield victories did precious little when the LTTE remained strong. Even the state media hadn’t been fully focused on the war effort, he said.