This is unedited speech delivered national conference reconciliation conducted by The Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies.
(24th November 2011)
When things go wrong in society, not only politicians but media too has to accept its share of blame. They are both interconnected and dependent on each other for survival. This makes them equally responsible for what happens in society. And as we look forward to reconciliation there is no doubt that media has to play the constructive role in the post-2009 period.
For us to go forward it is imperative that we must look back and for me, as a Tamil journalist and as an activist in serving the welfare of the Tamils trapped in a war, there isn’t a better place to start than the Tamil media. Media was a key instrument used by both sides to promote their military and political agendas. My concern, however, is with the Tamil media and the role it played and could have played in saving the lives of the Tamil people who were biggest victims of the futile war.
The Tamil media that influenced the Tamil psyche can be divided into five categories:
1.media based in Jaffna;
2. media based in Colombo ( i.e. Virakesari etc.,) ;
3. media based In Tamil Nadu;
4. media based in Western democracies where there are large concentrations of Tamil expatriates.
5) the English media in Colombo and abroad ( e.g. Tamil Net operating from Norway).
The pattern emerging from even a superficial survey of the Tamil media is obvious: it was one-dimensional and did not provide space for opposing points of view. The English media in Colombo, however, maintained a pluralism which argued for both sides though it was predominantly against the Tamil Tigers, Tamil separatism and Tamil violence.
The other self-destructive trait of the Tamil media is the hysteria they whipped up against the other communities, mainly the Sinhalese. In one instance, a Tamil editor boasted that Tamil Eelam is achievable only when half the Tamil population is sacrificed. Another Editor in Colombo wrote that the LTTE were gathering their cadres in Killinochci like a scorpion to finish the Sri Lankan Army. In Melbourne one Tamil radio station announced that the LTTE was waiting to eat alive the Army if they come into Killinochchi.
Of course, it must be recognized that the Tamil media and the Tamil media personnel have faced immense pressures and threats during the 3 decades of civil war. Many journalist and writers have been eliminated just for holding and promoting an idea or an opinion. As the Editor of the UTHAYAM, a Melbourne-based community newspaper, I too experienced for at first hand for 13 years the kind of pressures arising from holding a point of view that did not please one particular political group. But that has not dissuaded me from standing up for the right of journalists to hold and express their convictions, opinions and beliefs.
But what seriously worries me is the negative behavior of the Tamil media, which could have played a constructive role in serving the Tamil people in the worst crisis of their lives. From the word go the Tamils were heading towards a destructive end and there wasn’t a single responsible voice to lead or guide them towards realistic and attainable political goals in which they could find dignity, peace, security, and prosperity. The Tamil media, by and large, were as militant and aggressive as the Tamil Tigers whose fascism denied the fundamental freedoms to our people. The Tamil media justified the violence of the LTTE against their own people, the Muslims, the Indians and the Sinhalese misreading the ground realities. In the end they reaped nothing. They were only able to write the obituary of a group of violent leaders who “killed more Tamils than all the other put together”, as stated by V. Anandasangaree and S. Chandrahasan. Is this the proud record of the Tamil media?
The Tamil media consistently denied space for the alternative point of views within the Tamil community. The need of the hour was to find the mistakes and re-position our strategies for compromises and peaceful solutions. But any criticism was denounced as betrayal by the Tamil traitors.
We Tamils in the end paid for the failure to face up to the criticism which could have not only saved lives but taken us to a position of political strength, security and economic growth rather than ending up in ignominious defeat. Denying media freedom was a fundamental mistake that encouraged our misguided leaders to take our community into death and destruction. We became a community of grave diggers of not only our youth but also of our intellectuals and upright men and women who were forced to sacrifice their lives not for the building of a better future but for the protection and survival of an oppressive fascist leadership.
A critical media could have restrained the Tamil leadership and directed them into realistic goals and strategies. The Tamil media that paid pooja to the Tamil leadership uncritically failed the Tamil people. It is the Tamil people who were misled and made to pay for the failure of Tamil journalists who followed the dictates of a political leadership that had no respect for human lives or even for their own children, women and the elderly. The obedient media accepted the prevailing orthodoxy without questioning their theories, ideologies and misguided politics. Their role questions their ethics. What should the role of journalists be in times of a war that was going nowhere?
Why did they fail to see the reality of the Tamil people caught in the futile war? How come they saw the violations of the human rights of the other side and not theirs? Were they blind or did they act out of fear of repercussions from the LTTE? Or did they act out of a conviction that they alone had the right to propagate only their point of view and black out all other opinions? When they knew that Eelam was nowhere in sight – not with India opposed to it — why did they believe that the violence of the LTTE could deliver unattainable illusions?
During the last stages of war, when the LTTE was on the run unable to face the military might of the advancing Sri Lankan forces, why did the Tamil media, both in Sri Lanka and abroad, promote the myth that the LTTE will hit back at the right time? The Tamil media should seriously analyze extensively their responsibilities and their guilt in misleading the Tamil community as a guide to the future.
It is rather disheartening to note that there has been no critical post-mortem to find the way to a better future. I do not see this internal questioning process taking place in the Tamil media. Still the suppression of the other opinions continues to dominate the Tamil media. Still the Tamil media is going down the same old path of accusing others to cover up their failures. This short-sighted policy is not going to promote a free Tamil media or build a better future with peace and security to the Tamil community. We have blamed the others from the time we entered politics. When are we going to look inward to examine the mistakes we made? Can we go forward without critically analyzing our mistakes?
Let me outline a few key examples where the Tamil media should have questioned the validity of Tamil politics and Tamil strategies:
Ø Eliminating dissidents that led to assassinate hundreds of the
opinion-makers from the Tamil community
Ø Eliminating all other Tamil Militant Groups.
Ø Waging a war against Indian army
Ø Killing Rajiv Gandhi on Indian soil
Ø Promoting the fascist regime that established concentration
camps for dissident Tamils
Ø Ethnic cleansing of Muslims from North and unleashing brutality
in the east
Ø Failure to grab the opportunities opened up by Indo Lanka pact,
Chandrika’s Proposals and the Ceasefire Agreement of 2002.
Ø Failure to resolve differences with Karuna faction and the Eastern wing
While the LTTE was committing all the above blunders the Tamil media collectively rationalized and justified their policies, actions and destruction either directly or indirectly. And they went further to censor opinion that did not support the fascist regime. All those who opposed the fascist regime were branded as “traitors”. Those who opposed them faced death. In the end the servile Tamil media served neither the fascist regime nor the Tamil people and their future.
For the sake of argument let us consider the hypothetical position of LTTE winning and establishing Eelam with the help of the Tamil media.
What would have been the plight of the Tamil people under the fascist regime? What are the chances of the Tamil businessmen or journalists producing a Daily Mirror, Sunday Leader or a Ravaya in Eelam? We were obsessed with the pride of producing the biggest killer in Tamil history that we forgot to believe the greater values of humanity. We believed in our own lies that what we needed were killers of those who opposed the fascist regime and not intellectuals. Some of the best of our intellectuals were either eliminated or driven out. Unarmed Dr.Rajani Thiranagama was shot dead for exposing the Tamil Tigers. Dr.Rajan Hoole the first professor of mathematics had to go into hiding in the south for being her intellectual partner. His brother, Ratnajeevan Hoole, who was appointed as Vice-Chancellor of the Jaffna University, was not even allowed to step into the campus. The list is endless.
Our media brainwashed us to believe in lies and not in the reality facing us. This is the common pattern in all fascist dictatorships.
Intellectuals, freedom and truth become the first victims of any dictatorship. No one stopped to ask what we could do in Eelam without intellectuals and freedom. Free media, intellectuals and peace constitute three fundamental pillars which can hold up any progressive society. But the LTTE regime never gave space to these three pillars.
They directed their energies only on building a brutal military machine. They beat the war drums and as a Tamil I am ashamed to say that the Tamil media danced to their drum beat. Did they ever protest or question why our under aged children were sacrificed for the glory of one-man rule? Why did our media mislead our people and the world by propagating the fiction that the people who were held hostage were volunteers marching with the LTTE?
There was no difference between the war-mongering LTTE and the Tamil media. When the Chandrika – Neelan Tiruchelvam proposals failed the Tamil media echoed the LTTE line saying: “The Sinhalese will never give us what we want. We can win only by waging a war. We must fight. And we can fight only with the guns of Prabhakaran.”
After 1983 the world opinion was with us. BBC, Tamil Osai, Veritas Radio and various other Tamil Nadu media became the voice of the Tamils. But we lost all that. Why? Why did we lose everything that came our way? We lost because we put all out eggs in the one basket of brutal violence. We refused to believe that there are other ways – more humane ways to resolve differences. Yes, we did get something through violence but we lost even those gains because we refused intransigently to believe in human values. The world dumped us because we were seen as terrorists in the post-9/11 period when terrorism was a bad word in the political vocabulary. Tamils were seen only as terrorists and not as human beings.
We abandoned our moral values and embraced the gun as our god. When that god failed we had no morals to stand on and hold our heads up as human beings. One of the fundamental causes for our failure was in the loss of a moral base which upheld humane values. We even lost all our credible leaders to the gun. The media headlines echoed the sound of the guns and not moral values. In the moral vacuum the sounds of death and destruction were hailed as victories. The media photographed and displayed the mounting pile of bodies and the grim graveyards as great achievements of our political culture. Giving the last supper to a suicide bomber and sending him/her to kill was projected as a great heroic act of the Tamil culture. The media never asked why somebody else’s son – not that of the Tamil leaders — was sent to kill a father, mother, brother or sister of another community. To this day they have never asked what was achieved by distributing the cyanide pill? Or why those leaders who ordered the Tamil youth to take the cyanide pill never took it themselves? Why did they carry white flags instead of taking the cyanide pills? These are legitimate questions for the Tamils to find out the truth. If they want justice the media they must ask why their leaders adopted double standards. But they never dared to ask the correct questions. Those who asked questions were branded as traitors and their lives were threatened.
The lives of those who asked questions were shortened by the killers of the Tamil fascist culture. They did it to Kethese Loganathan, they did it to Laksman Kathirkamar when he rejected Tamil illusions and stood for communal harmony, they did it when Neelan Thiruchelvam was engaged with Chandrika Kumaratunga to work out a solution, they did it when Rajani Thiranagama was questioning the killing of Tamils by Tamils, and they did it when entire to leadership of TULF was eliminated. I can go on and on and on.
Tamil media was silent when he best of our Tamils were eliminated.
They covered up our crimes under their terminology which was familiar to every Tamil. They said “unidentified gun men killed so and so” in the news page. They didn’t fool anybody. In the end they only fooled themselves.
The question that is haunting us now is: who should be held responsible for the failure of the Tamil media to guide our people?
Should we blame the businessmen running the media? Should we blame the journalists who fell in line with the LTTE? Or should we blame the Tamil community for swallowing the lies sold by these two groups?
Our task now is the find a way out of the failed past. I see no signs of the Tamil media even now waking up to the new realities. They have no intention of revisiting the past and examining where they went wrong. They are more concerned about circulation and pandering to the defeated forces. Who will be asked to pay with their lives if we are misled once again to repeat the mistakes of brutal past?