Wednesday, 22 January 2014

On Rajapaksa Practice: If You Cannot Win Them Over, Buy Them!


Tariq A. Al-Maeena
Tariq A. Al-Maeena
It has been industry practice in many countries for authorities to curry favors from news personalities.  Such a practice becomes more evident when their institutions are under fire and they need all the good press they can cultivate.  But a few independent news publications and individuals do stand out and do not fall for the financial windfalls doled out in exchange for good print.
One such publication is the Sri Lankan Colombo Telegraph whose motto says, “In journalism truth is a process.”  The news website which getsblocked from time to time for its critical and hard-hitting expose of corruption in the Sri Lankan government now highlights how Sri Lankan PresidentMahinda Rajapaksa is currying favors through a novel scheme of providing key media players and personalities with interest free loans.
Leaked files in possession of the Colombo Telegraph “show that the Rajapaksa regime has granted 547 journalists and media workers a Rupees 1,200,000 ($9,200) of interest free government loans from a state bank to purchase car or van, where the interest will be paid by the Treasury using taxpayer money.”
The Colombo Telegraph charges that “journalists from virtually every mainstream media in the country with the exception of the Sunday Times newspaper have accepted laptops and car loans or both from the Rajapaksa regime.”
Among the news persons were BBC journalists assigned to its Sinhala section.  The Colombo Telegraph’s exposures about “the serious conflict of interest issues and violations of standard journalistic ethics” compelled the BBC World Service to rule that “some of its Sinhala Section journalists have breached journalistic ethics and violated the BBC’s code of conduct by applying for interest free vehicle loans offered by the Sri Lankan Government.” The BBC has also stated that the staff in breach of the code would be sent for retraining.
But the BBC journalists who were pulled up apparently did not get the correct message from London headquarters.  Those who were granted the loan never withdrew their applications, according to the Colombo Telegraph. “They can go to the recommended bank and get the loan anytime” secretary to the Media Ministry Charitha Herath told the news site.
The news has not gone down well with many Sri Lankans alarmed at the course their current President is charting for their country.  Besides charges of systematic genocide that the Tamils have suffered or claim that they continue to suffer, a terrorist group of Buddhists calling themselves the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) have been focusing their crosshairs on the other minorities in the country including Christians and Muslims.
From the burning and pillaging of churches and mosques to an obvious lack of government determination to stamp out the terrorist BBS group, Sri Lankans today face an uncertain future as the country brims below the surface and could explode at any time.
Rosie Dimanno of the Toronto Star speaks of such assaults on places of worship and businesses of minorities. Such attacks are “incited in large measure by xenophobic rhetoric from Sinhala Buddhist extremists aligned with two fringe groups – Sinhala Ravaya (Sinhalese Roar) and Bodu Bala Sena (Buddhist Power Force).” A few Buddhist monks were arrested at the time of the attack but released not long after. “Others saw it …as more evidence of how bigoted clerics operate with impunity from law enforcement and a government that values the endorsement of politicized monks.”
Rajapaksa’s modus operandi of buying favors from those who decline to report on such atrocities is not missed by the few credible and honest journalists who refuse to be bought.  And even citizens are not so forgiving.  As one commented, “Every month the government shamelessly takes close to 30 percent of my pay as taxes and a further percent in the name of EPF. Yet all I get is higher electricity bills and ever increasing CoL and the middle finger! These scribes get laptops and loans for free. Truly the wonder of Asia.”
The president’s generosity toward the news media to color over news events has not swayed foreign agencies from demanding the truth about the charges of genocide and war crimes committed by Rajapaksa’s government.  The Tamil Guardian reports that “Britain’s Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Hugo Swire once again reiterated that unless allegations of war crimes have ‘credible, transparent and independent investigations’ taking place by March, then Britain will push for an international investigation to begin.”
The Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF) has also demanded a UNHRC resolution against Sri Lanka asking for an independent international investigation into the genocide perpetrated against the Tamil nation, starting from Sri Lanka’s independence to the present day, and investigation into missing people.  They also demanded an interim administration in the Tamil homeland to ensure protection and compensation for all victims and witnesses, a recognition of the Tamil nation’s right to self-determination and complete demilitarization of their provinces.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa is resorting to a practice that has served many leaders well over the decades.  But there are always the few honest exceptions who are not swayed by the glitter of gold and bring home the truth to their readers.  The Colombo Telegraph has demonstrated time and again that it belongs to this exclusive club of truthful and unbiased news reporting.
Now shouldn’t the New York Times and the BBC follow suit?
The author can be reached at talmaeena@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena - This article appeared in the Saudi Gazette on January 21, 2014