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Ethics in reporting and Sri Lankan media bias


It is incumbent on the media to enlighten their Western counterpart that there is a huge divide of cutures they should assimilate if they are to be seen as accommodating indigenous culture.

by Pearl Thevanayagam

(October 29, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) While the media in the UK reported the murder of a 63 year old transvestite by a 34 year old Sri Lankan on Monday at King’s Cross tube station in Central London, Sri Lankan media highlighted her ethnicity as being a Tamil.

What is the Sri Lankan media trying to pinpoint? That Tamils are the only ones who are capable of committing crimes or that all Tamils are criminals. Racism is thriving well and truly in the West but there is a vibrant opposition to cite one’s ethnicity in crimes in the media and due to pressure from the multi-ethnic media’s campaigning the media is carefully monitored by the PCC (Press Complaints’ Commission).

Way back in 2003, the tabloid Daily Star reported that East European asylum seekers were killing the Queen’s swans (the queen owns all the swans in UK’s waterways) since swan is a delicacy in their countries. News of the World, another tabloid which thrives on gossip and sensationalism, followed up the story a few days later that Somalian asylum seekers were barbequeing donkeys which give ride to children. Both stories were a figment of imagination on the part of tabloid journalists as EJN (Exiled Journalists Network), a group founded by exiled journalists from 40 countries based in the UK, was able to investigate and prove there was absolutely no truth in either stories. The newspapers were compelled to carry a retraction and an apology following PCC’s directive.

The tabloid journalists play on the emotions of the public towards children and the allegiance to the queen to sensationalise and vilify asylum seekers who they perceive as spongers on the taxpayers’ money and unwelcome immigrants.

Incidentally unlike in Sri Lanka the tabloid journalists are better paid than those who write for broadsheets such as The Guardian and Telegraph.

Media ethics is alien to Sri Lankan journalism and there is no functioning governing body to bring violations in media ethics to book. While the state media only welcomes sunshine stories from its journalists who prostitute themselves for state perks and privileges the others are guided by business interests of the owners. Those newspapers such as the Independent Newspapers Group, now defunct, The Sunday Leader, Ravaya and several more impoverished newspapers which veer towards a semblance of independent reporting are closed down, intimidated or charged with media violations when they do not toe the line of the government or business interests.

This kind of reporting is the genre of a biased media. Whether the accused is a Tamil or Sinhalese the media should concentrate on the crime and what led to the woman committing this dastardly act.

In this context one should look at the broader picture of the Sri Lankan diaspora and their isolation in a foreign country where due to lack of community support they fall prey to unsocial elements and due to alienation from their own friends and families seek company among strangers.

It is so easy to be estranged from fellow Sri Lankans in a city as large and diversified as London and once you are out of reach of the mainstream Sri Lankan diaspora who tend to keep themselves to their own little enclave of family and friends the single females in particular seek the company of those from other communities.

The trial of this murder is being taken up today at the High Court and it is presumptuous to judge why this woman committed this crime.

I have attended far too many court cases as interpreter involving Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese; from divorces to domestic violence and suicide deaths. But since I have to take the oath of confidentiality I am not at liberty to discuss anything outside the courtroom, Council, solicitors, hospital or police stations.

One thing that strikes me as urgently needed is the Diaspora’s engagement with Sri Lankans to meet and air their grievances. It is not easy for the recently repatriated Sri Lankans to survive in the West which tends to live in isolation and which looks upon camaraderie as alien to Western culture.

London particularly is a very isolated place with its majority of 20 million population hailing from foreign countries.

Apart from seeking refuge in the West when their own nations let them down the asylum seekers are thrown into a wilderness of being in an alien country with alien cultures. The West has yet to come to terms with arranged marriages, dowries and fidelity to their spouses notwithstanding domestic violence.

It is incumbent on the media to enlighten their Western counterpart that there is a huge divide of cutures they should assimilate if they are to be seen as accommodating indigenous culture.

It is also imperative that Sri Lankan media looks kindly upon their temporarily displaced diaspora and not fuel dissension by resorting to prejudice and classify them as deviants from the norm by ethnicity whereas they are in fact hapless victims of circumstances and misplaced culture.

Is it not part of the Sri Lankan High Commission to take cognizance of the fact that Sri Lankans abroad need the support of their own community instead of the ritualistic celebrations of the New Year and silence for the rest of the year.

After all the Sri Lankan diaspora in the West are not here by choice. They are here due to circumstances beyond their control and they long to be home in Mother Lanka. Tell a Friend

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