18 November 2015

A thank-you note to the Ravaya

The Sinhala weekly, ‘Ravaya’, celebrated its 24th birthday this week.  It was the successor to a magazine by the same name, founded and edited by Victor Ivan, a colourful, evergreen and enduring presence in one way or another in the Sri Lankan political firmament. 

‘Ravaya’ was a pioneering magazine.  When it came out there were no political monthlies in Sinhala. It was followed by Vinivida, a counterpoint of sorts and as such leaning towards the JVP, whereas Ravaya was a more mainstream, ‘Old Leftish’ publication.  Sithijaya died with the end of the second unsuccessful JVP insurrection. 

We had, following the UNP-JVY bheeshanaya, another Leftish (I hesitate to call the magazines or the relevant scribes ‘leftist’ given histories and track records of allegiances) magazine, ‘Diyesa’, again handled by ex-JVPers (i.e. retirees of the ’71 insurrection) like Ivan, namely Wasantha Dissanayake (‘Podi Disa’ and by far the most honourable of the ‘Class of 1971’) and Patrick Fernando (good-hearted, ideologically confused and infected with the anti-Buddhist virus that has plagued most of the Marxists in this country, many of whom not coincidentally were either born to Christian families or were so Anglicized that they were not only alienated from the greater cultural traditions but in fact derided them as being inferior, archaic and regressive).  Publications such as ‘Kalaya’ (by the Jathika Chinthanaya group led by Dr. Nalin De Silva), ‘Mathota’ and ‘London’ (a Sinhala political monthly put together by the ‘X Group’), ‘Sithijaya’ (JVP-owned) by and large followed the Ravaya ‘model’ even though the ideological thrust was varied. 

Ravaya the Newspaper largely followed the line that Victor Ivan had chartered for the magazine: left-leaning, social democratic, strong advocates of negotiated settlement to the ‘ethnic’ conflict, federalist in thrust and, when occasion demanded, ready and willing to do its bit in affecting regime change.  In all this, Ravaya has been fairly consistent and more so than all other ‘mainstream’ newspapers, English or Sinhala. Other newspapers also pushed particular political lines. They too would entertain dissenting view but would make sure that the preferred politics gets the glory-spaces. 

I found the Ravaya’s preferences despicable at times.  The uncritical embrace of the Chelvanayagam Methodology of Splitting the Nation (Federalism as part of a ‘a little now, more later’ strategy), the unpardonable reluctance to call a terrorist a terrorist (the coverage of the Kebithigollewa massacre was an all-time low in journalistic ethics) and virulently anti-Buddhist posturing severely compromised its claim to aspire to high ethical standards, journalistic balance, champion of media freedom and such.

For years the Ravaya columnists argued that the LTTE could not be militarily defeated and did their best to demoralize troops and sabotage the efforts of the security forces.  For me, this is unpardonable.  It was, however, predictable.

This predictability has I am sure won the paper a considerable number of loyal readers, most of them leaning towards or at least interested in perspective that are roughly (I am using these words carefully) Marxist. 

The predictability had another function.  It attracted people who did not subscribe to the ideological bent of the newspaper.  Since the Ravaya gave space to ideologues and parties which, to my mind, were thick as thieves with the Eelam Project, it made perfect sense for those of opposing view to read the paper.  I, for one, was able to obtain very quickly the enemy’s preferred outcome, what it tried to hide, what it wanted to inflate, what it was terrified of etc etc., courtesy the Ravaya. 

One cannot talk of Ravaya without talking about Victor.  Victor gave the paper form and for many reasons has been the most consistent and in a strange kind of way the most honourable columnist/journalist in the outfit.  He is bold in a way that Lasantha Wickramatunga was not; consistent, not given to sensationalism and challenging himself to maintaining high standards in terms of substantiation-requirements.  The way he handled former Chief Justice Sarath N Silva was absolutely brilliant.  Relentless.  Silva was of course equal to the task and knew that doing an ‘SB’ on Victor would not help.  Victor slipped when he wrote ‘Chaura Regina’ (‘The Thieving Queen’, i.e. Chandrika), not so much on facts as on style. Cheap.  Still, he was consistent and relentless. 

Victor clearly runs things in a very liberal manner.  He does not push his view on the journalists working under him.  In fact sometimes the more assertive among them take positions opposed to what he believes, even if they fall into the same broad school of thought (for example the Eelam/Federalist Project). He is civil in debate, courteous and accommodating of dissenting view in a manner that is far more consistent than is evident in most other newspapers.  This is good. 

Twenty four years after the newspaper was launched, Ravaya’s poetry page remains streets ahead of those put out by rival newspapers, largely thanks to the traditions crafted and nurtured by Ratna Sri Wijesinha.  Its coverage of the arts has been comprehensive and serious, although ideological slant remains narrow and limiting. 

The Ravaya was and is anti-Buddhist in content-volume and ideological thrust.  It is good that people do their Buddha-bashing out in the open.  It is easier to deal with them.  The Ravaya has, in this sense, and in terms of shamelessly toeing the Eelam line, knowingly or not, willingly or otherwise, done the nation a huge service. 

The Ravaya is also a political space for those who inhabit the out-of-the-mainstream, a refuge of sorts and a half-way house for ideological refugees and even crooks (Sunanda Deshapriya comes to mind). Victor is kind.  The Ravaya is kind.  I like to be kind too.  I don’t subscribe to the Ravaya line, but I will most certainly defend its right to exist and even thrive.  Life would be boring otherwise. 

Jokes aside, folks, it takes courage to bat for 24 years.  Commitment.  Sacrifice.  All salute-worthy. 

First published in the 'Daily News', November 8, 2010.


Lakshan said...

As a loyal reader of Ravaya and a non Buddhist , I don't find Ravaya's line anti Buddhist or Buddha bashing - such labels are a gross distortion of truth and a straw man. Ravaya is not against the Dhamma as preached by the great Siddhartha Gautama, the greatest teacher of the greatest philosophy (or religion if you prefer) in this world, light years ahead of all other religions.
But it is consistently against the "Sinhala Buddhism" by , the outcome of the distortion of Buddhism by the fellow travelers of this blogger - like they did after the natural death of Soma Thero.

At least Ravaya would never become so low as to treat with kid gloves the King and the Court as some other "moderate" "ethical" journalists did some time ago for the perks like State funded trips to Geneva

Malinda Seneviratne said...

being wide-eyed about 'ravaya' is your right, lakshan. i remember how the kebithogollewa massacre was not deemed newsworthy by ravaya. i also know that ravaya frequently celebrates who easily conflate extremist 'buddhists' with buddhists in general. and how it played into the hands of separatists again and again. :)