08 April 2013

How to solve a ‘problem’ like ‘Uthayan’

The ‘Uthayan’ newspaper was attacked a few days ago.  It was not the first time.  Not the second. Not the third.  It was the thirty sixth time that ‘Uthayan’ was attacked.  That it still stands, still publishes and still defies testifies to admirable resilience.

Uthayan, over the years, has been a newspaper that has a clearly identifiable political position and one with clearly identifiable political loyalties. As is the case in such publications, political expedience overrides journalistic ethics. Truth is not important; political convenience is.  Balance is not important; required slant is. Informing is not important; misinforming is.  But wait, isn’t that also what the BBC does, what Al Jazeera does, what Channel 4 does, what people who are invested in political projects do all the time?   
What Uthayan does (or does not do) may be interpreted as attempts to wreck rather than facilitate post-conflict processes of rehabilitation, resettlement, reconstruction and reconciliation, but those who interpret thus need to understand that nothing comes easy.  They need to understand that there will be ‘spoilers’ real or imagined. They need to understand also that good and lasting solutions need to a) factor ‘spoiler’ into the process, and b) deal with spoiler within the larger framework of the law. 

It is not easy, of course.  If it was about money and guns in an earlier era, today its money, guns and media, working in concert of course.  So ‘Uthayan’ is part of that larger story, one could argue.  On the other hand, the moment Uthayan is attacked, the hack gets visibility and respectability, and what is patently slanted is legitimately taken as biblical truth. 
Even if none of this was true, any attack on any establishment or person is an affront to democracy as well as an indictment on the law and order situation in the country.  If any entity is attacked as many times as Uthayan has and no one has been apprehended then it implies that the law enforcement authorities are utterly incompetent or else complicit.  The state can and must do better than this. 

The best way to counter a lie is by confronting it with truth.  There’s a reason why the so-called human rights activists whose safety Navineethan Pillai was ‘concerned’ about can’t find friends outside their tiny circle of party-going, cocktail-sipping, dollar-hungry fellow-travelers: they have been effectively dealt with solid arguments. 
This is why, a couple of weeks ago, attending a session of Colomboscope 2013 devoted to alleged war crimes, where Prof Rajiva Wijesinghe and two spokespersons for the Sri Lankan security forces spoke, Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu didn’t utter a word.  No, not out of fear for everyone knows what his positions are and he walks around without looking over his shoulder.  He just doesn’t have the arguments; he’s been undressed enough with logic.

That’s how democracy works.  It doesn’t stop Saravanamuttu from lying through his teeth of course and it won’t stop those who are ready to accept lie as truth and reward with bucks the liar from continuing to harass Sri Lanka at every turn, true.  On the other hand, it stops outsiders from scripting anarchy in this country. 
In the case of the Uthayan, on the other hand, what we’ve seen is action and inaction that not only provide frill to the lie-manufacturing mill, but upsets those who value democratic processes and the democratic culture of engagement, including those who are wont to consider Uthayan as a propagandist rag. 

The same goes for attacks on political opponents, physical or otherwise.  It betrays a reluctance to fight word with word or indeed a certain impotency in debate.  Worse still, it raises the questions of arrogance and implies an inherent weakness when it comes to dealing with criticism. 
The two uniformed gentlemen at Colomboscope, it is reported, showed admirable composure, which only buttressed argument and moreover helped floor critics.  That’s maturity. 

When the Government will get its act together, no one can tell. For now, all that needs to be said is that just as it might be hard to stand with the Uthayan on the same political platform, standing for democracy necessitates an unambiguous condemnation in the strongest terms of the attack. 
We condemn. Unreservedly.

[The Nation 'Editorial', April 7, 2013]