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Why Sri Lanka is losing propaganda war?

"When the LTTEstruck in Buttala, there was no mention of the geographical location of that township. The international audience was not make aware of the ethnicity of the victims. Contrast this with the effective news reporting by the LTTE. If one bothers to read the Eelam literature or websites, one will see how each and every action is ‘ethnicized’. Thus they consistently and repeatedly write about the ‘Sinhala Army’ and the ‘Sinhala Government murdering innocent Tamil civilians in the traditional Tamil homeland’. "
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by Dr. Sarath Jayasekera

(February 04 , Colombo, Sri Lana Guardian) Terrorists recently struck in Buttala targeting innocent rural villagers. They compounded their deadly act by shooting at the escaping and wounded people. Such was their cowardice and cruelty. Dozens died and scores were injured as a result.

Despite these macabre events and a virtual war for more than two decades, the pathetic response by the Sri Lankan electronic media (and politicians) was demonstrated once again. I must hasten to add that the print media has shown remarkable maturity on this score. They seem to cater only to their local audience to the neglect of the international community.

Watch the replays of TV news reels about terrorist events in Sri Lanka and their lapses will show. First came the visuals of the killings and ambulances. Then came the chaotic scenes in the hospitals, followed by clips of politicians making their ritualistic visits to see the injured. After a few hours, two or three spokesmen made this situation more confusing (including two ministers) by giving garbled messages about the event.

How can the electronic media improve on its news broadcasts and gain the attention of the international viewer and community? Why do they repeatedly fail to expose the cruelty of terrorists? An objective look at how the electronic media and the government spokesmen have behaved over the years shows us why Sri Lanka has failed vis-a-vis LTTE propaganda.

The people of this country know who the terrorists are. They find resonance with visuals showing crest fallen politicians mingling in hospitals and pledges by the government to release funds to the families of the dead and injured. What about the international community viewing the local TV channels? From their point of view, the media response to the Buttala incident (and other terrorist acts in Sri Lanka) are pathetic.

The local news media did not highlight the basic facts, for example, the perpetrators of this massacre. Thus, the foreign audiences were left with no clear idea as to who the perpetrators were. The UNP statement to the electronic media made by Kabir Hashim blurred the identity of the perpetrators further. He indirectly blamed the government for the blood bath with scant mention of the LTTE and who set the bomb off! That was a treacherous manipulation of the news to gain political advantage.

Another observation is that there is an inordinate delay for an authoritative person to clearly the situation. We have many spokesmen giving different versions of the same incident, often contradicting one another.

Some spokesmen don’t bother to speak ‘live’ on TV and others read out their scripts like amateurs. Foreigners do not ‘believe’ a military spokesmen. A master at this form of TV communication was former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. He would appear on TV immediately after any terrorist act and make a statement consisting of two or three sentences, purely for the consumption of the international media.

Of course, he knew his script well. He had a few catch phrases woven cleverly into his message that made it attractive to any audience. Thus, he would sell his version of the event to the world easily.

The need of the hour is to have a highly placed person (but not a politician who has little credibility in the eyes of the international audience) who is dedicated to the job and would come within minutes of any terror related event, look straight into the camera and give a succinct and accurate account of the happening. Since it is an international audience he faces, the mastery of English is essential.

The third point is that the international audience must be reminded repeatedly of the message the government intends to convey.

When the LTTEstruck in Buttala, there was no mention of the geographical location of that township. The international audience was not make aware of the ethnicity of the victims. Contrast this with the effective news reporting by the LTTE. If one bothers to read the Eelam literature or websites, one will see how each and every action is ‘ethnicized’. Thus they consistently and repeatedly write about the ‘Sinhala Army’ and the ‘Sinhala Government murdering innocent Tamil civilians in the traditional Tamil homeland’.

The government doesn’t have to go the extent of lying but short of that it can give its version of terror attacks very effectively and counter the LTTE propaganda.

Finally, the media must use the correct jargon to find resonance with the international community. The deaths in Buttala were civilians, and included innocent children going to school. The terrorists were barbaric enough to shoot at the fleeing passengers and brutal enough to lob grenades at the injured inside the bus. The attack was another example of the genocidal intent of the LTTE. These ‘facts’ must be reported.

The recent bomb attack in Slave Island near a church with a large number of people praying inside killed civilians, among whom children. The bomb was a few yards from a private hospital and several schools. Instead of educating the international community on those aspects of the incident, the government and the media concentrated on the damaged hotel and the bus.

Contrast this with what happened when the government illegally began to arrest Tamil people living in lodges and sending them back to their native places in the North and the East.

The catchphrase, the separatists coined was ‘ethnic cleansing’. That went a long way where the LTTE’s propaganda war is concerned.

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