25 November 2013

The free-n-frank that Cameron did not tell the press

Prime Minister of the United Kingdom David Cameron was more of a presence on the sidelines of the recently concluded Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) held in Colombo. Indeed he tried to upstage the main event with his visit to Jaffna, on-field spin-on-spin with former Test Cricketer Muttiah Muralidharan and a cleverly stage-managed ‘meet the press’ event following discussions with President Mahinda Rajapaksa.  Much of this was of course anticipated after Cameron pledged ‘tough talk’ with President Rajapaksa weeks before he actually arrived in Colombo. 

Cameron certainly talked tough.  He thereafter detailed the tough-talk in his ‘From the Comfort Zone’ engagement with the media where he only fielded questions from his hand-picked entourage of journalists, leading to many complaints of unfair treatment from the Sri Lankan press.  He said that there was a ‘free and frank exchange of views’.  Unfortunately Cameron only told his part of the exchange, carefully leaving out the ‘free and frank’ that came from the other side. 

In the interest of offering ‘whole picture’ to a world where media outfits such as the BBC and Channel 4 are signature by slant and selectivity, we detail with relevant comment the free-n-frank that Cameron was silent on.

Cameron had to talk about human rights, accountability and closure.  He had to concede and applaud the post-conflict reconstruction and development efforts of the Government. He had to say that the LTTE was a despicable terrorist outfit and express satisfaction that it was no more. He did this.  He framed it well, conceding all that but insisting that the excellent opportunity can only be exploited to the full if there is reconciliation, which of course, according to him, has to be preceded by ‘independent investigation’ into alleged atrocities so that ‘justice is done’. 

Nothing was said about reconciliation being a two-way matter, that the representatives of the Tamil community has to come clean about their complicity in the crimes of the LTTE (proven, not ‘alleged’) and that glorifying the terrorist organization does nothing to dispel suspicions about their (rarely) stated ‘need to reconcile’. 

He had to talk about demilitarization. He trotted out some numbers and earned a rebuke for sloth from Secretary Ministry of Defence and Urban Development Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, who corrected misconceptions about military presence and the process of demilitarization.  

Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in the United Kingdon Dr Chris Nonis, according to sources, however, put things in context, reminding Cameron that his country had invaded (illegally, according Cameron’s deputy, Nick Clegg) Iraq 10 years before and that the Chilcot Report is still to see the light of day, whereas the LLRC Report was published a couple of years after the LTTE was militarily defeated and is being implemented. 

The Prime Minister did not refer to Field Marshall Charles Guthrie’s damning revelations about that invasion.  Guthrie, the professional head of the British Army between 1994 and 1997 and Chief of Defence Staff from 1997 to 2001 admits that Saddam Hussein did not possess weapons of mass destruction and that Tony Blair was selective about intelligence reports, preferring those that told him what he already believed.  Or pretended to believe, we might add. 

Cameron said, ‘it will be out in six months’.  Six months?  What is he going to do in those six months?  Is he going to ‘delete and dilute’?  Is he under pressure from Washington to clear Dubya Bush?  In the end we have Cameron sitting on a report of a war launched more than a decade ago and requesting six month’s grace, even as he insists that Sri Lanka implements recommendations of an unedited report compiled just a couple of years after terrorism was defeated.  Those recommendations are being implemented; Cameron knows and demands that Sri Lanka stick to his, Cameron’s time-table.  The arrogance could be excused if not for the hypocrisy!  

It was also pointed out to Cameron that the Sunday Times of London had reported a few weeks before that the Police Service of Northern Ireland was to launch an investigation into ‘Bloody Sunday’, aka ‘Bogside Massacre’, where 26 unarmed civil rights protesters and bystanders were short by British soldiers.  This is not an allegation based on flimsy evidence compromised by clever editing (and editing out) and unreliability of sources but fact.  The massacre took place in January 1972.  But Britain, which has twiddled investigative thumbs and felt no moral compulsion to obtain justice and deliver closure to loved ones of victims and the community they belonged to in the interest of reconciliation, thinks fit to read riot act to and set deadline for Sri Lanka! 

That’s patronizing. That’s the height of arrogance.  But Cameron, to his credit, was good on his feet.  ‘We don’t want you to make our mistakes!’ he had responded.   Then again we are talking of four years to Britain’s forty, fact versus fiddling, no-contest versus obfuscation.  If 40,000 civilians had been killed, the US/UK cameras hovering in the skies would have captured the whole scene. Those who demand justice for the 40,000 could give the names of those they grieve over.  The truth is that Cameron cannot lecture but could listen to lecture.  Looks like that was what happened, although he didn’t talk about the listening part when he met the full-toss tossing journalists after the free-n’-frank session with President Rajapaksa.

And yes, this champion of rights and freedoms had to offer his two-cents on the media.  Now there’s been a lot of media-talk before, during and after CHOGM.  There’s been Channel 4’s Jonathan Miller doing a Cameron-like ‘talk-down’ to Sri Lankan journalists.  Channel 4’s media ethics was also evidenced in that much-quoted outfit whittling down a 45 minute interview with Muttiah Muralidharn to a 3 minute clip, clearly another of their ‘de-contexting’ maneuver s.  And then of course   Cameron’s own ‘my script, my journalists’ behavior. 

He was asked, ‘Prime Minister, look at the outcome of the Leveson Inquiry’.  That, folks, is the judicial public inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the British press following the News International phone-hacking scandal.  It was not only about phone-tapping and deleting text messages.  It led to inquiries about the government, the police and press; the nexus, that is.  

Cameron might have been made to squirm had he been queried about his role in bringing in new regulations to curtail press freedom.  Perhaps this is why, he interjected the face-saving ‘I will deal with your mischievous High Commissioner in London’, raising a laugh. 

Through it all, William Hague remained quiet.  He did pass a note to his Prime Minister.  Did he advise, ‘let’s cut this now’?

So, ladies and gentlemen, let’s get this straight.  David Cameron is not a bad guy. He has electoral pressures to deal with.  He has to bat for his funders.  He had a script to read.  In order to read that script to the media and the world, he had to first read it out to President Rajapaksa.  He did that.  He could now go back to London and say ‘I read the script’. 

It works for him, no doubt.  He could spare the lectures, though.  



gilbert Abeygoonaratne said...

I should say That "David had turned to Goliath in Sri Lanka and met his David here !" Further he will remember it was here in Sri Lanka he tried to be a pompous Napoleon not realizing this was going to be his "Waterloo" ! Time will tell.

Malinda this is a brilliant write & an eye opener to many !!

John said...

Sri Lanka has to realise that the Tamil diaspora will vote for labour at elections which has more virulent Sri Lanka haters. Cameron should have been made a friend and helped to defeat labour pointing out all the shady deals and links to terrorist supports by labour members. This has to be exposed to the UK public.