Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Hysterical Hudson?

The Story

Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) News Director Raja Katugampola is in hospital. He says Chairman of the SLBC Hudson Samarasinghe and two security personnel assualted him.

The Background

Raja Katugampola is the same News Director who got into trouble over the SLBC report about LTTE leader Prabhakaran's death in the Tsunami. The SLBC ran the story on an anonymous tip, without waiting for any confirmation. It turned out to be a very big mistake. He was fired for that and replaced but he managed to save his ass, and get his job back, because he was in Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse's good books.

A few days ago there was a story online that said the Chairman of the SLBC, Hudson Samarasinghe was again firing News Director Katugampola. Apparently Samarasinghe was not happy with the way SLBC News was being handled. As had been expected, since the Presidential elections were announced, the political players inside all the state media had been manipulating thier news to make it favourable to the UPFA candidate Mahinda Rajapakse.

News Director Katugampola is a known Mahinda supporter and had been seen as following a openly pro-Mahinda and anti-Ranil agenda in his work in the past month or so. LankaPage reported Samarasinghe as having said 'I don’t need pro-Mahinda director here at SLBC'. It seemed Samarasinghe was no longer willing to toe the UPFA line and make a heavy pull for Mahinda in their newscasts.

But people at SLBC stated that this story was completely wrong, and that though Samarasinghe had warned Katugampola about his conduct, but had not removed him from his post or threatened to do so.

A few days ago SLBC News ran a story about a fight between UNP candidate Ranil Wickramasinghe and Ceylon Workers Congress leader Thondaman. The SLBC was criticized because the story had no substance and no backing and was seen simply as an attempt to discredit the UNP CWC alliance.

When Chairman Samarasinghe questioned Katugampola about why he ran this story, Katugampola refused to take the Chairman's calls and avoided him in the SLBC building. Sources within SLBC also alledge that Katugampola had been missing a lot of his work and neglecting his duties for reasons unknown, and that Samarasinghe had been quite annoyed about how things were being run in general.

The Fight

All we know for sure is that there was a SLBC Directors meeting this morning. Chairman Samarasinghe called this meeting to discuss a letter sent to him from the Commissioner of Elections regarding 38 specific occasions in which the SLBC had behaved in violation of election regulations during their broadcasts. Someone who was present at the meeting states that Samarasinghe was not happy about this, and wanted to question Katugampola. The News Director was the only person who was absent at the meeting.

Samarasinghe then discovered that Katugampola was in the building and sent a peon to search for him, and to get him to attend the meeting. Sources at SLBC say that when the peon found Katugampola the News Director asked the peon to inform Samarasinghe that he was not in the building. After the meeting Samarasinghe personally went to the News Division to look for Katugampola, who had made himself scarce by then.

Later in the day Katugampola had finally gone into the Chairman's office. He just couldn't dodge the Chairman anymore.

This is where things get interesting, and murky. We have 4 versions.

Katugampola's Story:
The News Director says that when he went into the Chairman's office Samarasinghe began shouting at him without any explanation. Responding to allegations of neglect the News Director then defended himself saying his wife was ill and that his father was in hospital, and yet he had not neglected his duties. Katugampola says that then the Chairman stood up and assualted him, and called for the security personnel outside to also assault him. According to a interview given to Sirasa TV the News Director says the security personnell held him from behind and he was not sure who assaulted him as his spectacles were smashed and his vision was blurred. He also claims one of the security personnel picked him up and threw him against the wall twice.

Hudson's Story:
The Chairman says that he was displeased with the way the News Director had been acting with regard to the upcoming Presidential elections. He says he had sent several messages to the News Director asking him to explain himself, and that Katugampola had just avoided them without reply. Samarasinghe says that today when Katugampola came into his office there were heated words exchanged, and that Katugampola got into a fight with his security personnel upon exiting the Chairman's office. He says he did not witness the incident. But has taken action to suspend the duties of the security personnel.

SLBC Source 1's Story:
When Katugampola did not arrive for the morning meeting and dodged the Chairman during the day Samarasinghe gave orders to have the News Director removed from his post and from the premises of the SLBC. The source says Samarasinghe is known to say things like 'Get this guy out of the building' (Dapan Okawa Eliyata). He generally expects his orders to be followed. According to the source Katugampola came into Hudson's office to find out why he was being thrown out and then he kicked one of the security personnel. At this point the two security personnel assaulted him.

SLBC Source 2's Story:
Inside the Chairman's office Samarasinghe criticized Katugampola both for his political agenda being reflected in their newscasts and for his neglection of duties. When Katugampola said that his wife was ill Samarasinghe had said that Katugampola's problems with his wife were of no concern to the SLBC. At this point Katugampola has stated that his wife is important to him while Samarasinghe has many women, and is not concerned about his wife. The source says that at this point the Chairman assaulted Katugampola.

So, those are four of the stories that I have heard so far, including the two official statements made by Samarasinghe and Katugampola. The News Director (ex?) is now in the Colombo General Hospital, but the doctors say he was never in any danger and was not seriously hurt at all.

We don't how political or personal this fight was, but it's just ugly.


Thursday, October 20, 2005

Flase alarm or scary trend?

So who's heard the gossip about the LTTE issuing a dress code for the people of Jaffna? Here's about all I've been able to gather:
The growth of beard and long hair have been forbidden for young men.

For girls, close-fitting shirts and skirts have been banned along with the wearing of trousers. Instead girls have been asked to wear the Tamil costume of Shalwar Kameez.
This came out in the Dawn, the Pakistani newspaper on the 18th. The online edition just says 'from our correspondent'. It doesn't give the correspondent's name so we could call them and check them for the authenticity of the story. Apparently 'sources in Jaffna' told the correspondent that the LTTE had imposed these restrictions. Even the Dawn correspondent didn't have direct confirmation of this story. He heard it from someone else.

The story ends with:
The dress directive was preceded by posters asking Tamils not to interact with members of the Sri Lankan military.
I don't know about you guys, but I didn't hear about this in Colombo. Is this true? Wouldn't a story like this hit the front pages in Colombo? Even if no one was interested in the story wouldn't at least a rag like 'The Island' pick it up and bash the LTTE with it? Online, wouldn't our friend Indi snap it up and do on another LTTE bashing spree with it? But the funny thing is, no one heard about these things. There would have to be some serious breakdown in communication between Jaffna and the rest of the country for something like this to have happened without Colombo buzzing about it.

So far the only source that I have been able to find online for this story is Dawn's report on the 18th. No Sri Lankan media outlet has covered this story at all. And even the online ones have just ripped the story from Dawn without bothering to authenticate it. The Lanka Academic, LankaPage.com, LankaWeb, Infolanka and Go2Lanka all run this story based on what the Dawn says. They don't bother to check for authenticity either. Don't they know any people in Jaffna that they can call and check something like this with? I guess they don't.


I wouldn't find it hard to believe that this story is true considering how the LTTE have behaved with regard to such things in the past. They tried and failed to impose similar restrictions in Batticaloa last year. There it was mainly to do with the way the women dressed.

They also stopped the transmission of (Maharaja Broadcasting Corporation's) Shakti FM in Jaffna because they didn't agree to the music that Shakti was playing. The said it was too loud and too fast and not appropriate. By this time they had appointed themselves the judges of Tamil culture. They had asked Shakti to discontinue broadcasts and when the station didn't back down their transmission was bombed. Of course the LTTE did not claim responsibility for this but there is little doubt that they were behind it.

They also banned the Tamil film 'Boys' in the region saying it was against Tamil culture. The movie which proved to be a semi-hit in South India is a story about five Tamil boys and their dreams and aspirations.


This last story about the dress code in Jaffna could be true, but it's annoying that all the people who're shouting about it don't seem to realise that the only source we have is a Pakistani newspaper. However respected the Dawn may be in Pakistan, it's not a Sri Lankan newspaper, and when they cover a story that a lot of Sri Lankan's haven't even heard of we have to be a little suspicious, and try to confirm the story for ourselves before we put it on our sites.

It's very easy to copy and paste a story from another source and call it news simply because the people you got it from calls it news. We saw something similar like this happen about 6 months ago when a journalist from the Times of India picked up a story from spoof.com and published it on the Times site as news. So it's a little silly to not really think about where you're getting your story from.

Maybe it's news. Maybe the Dawn correspondent is being duped. Maybe someone maliciously planted the story to create anti-LTTE sentiment. Whatever the authenticity of the story it's just plain stupid and unprofessional on the the part of the news-editors on these sited to republish this information without any confirmation.

Right now, the only thing that these online news sites (even the pseudointellectual Lanka Academic) are doing is spreading unverified rumors. Exactly the opposite of what they're supposed to be doing.

Sometimes dogs bark because other dogs are barking.

Note: I've just been on the phone with someone in Jaffna who didn't notice anything like this. He's out right now checking to see if anyone there's heard about this. Updates will come as soon as I have the information.


Saturday, October 15, 2005

The Missing Manifesto

It's Saturday. The release of the UPFA/Mahinda Rajapakse manifesto for the Presidential Election of 2005 was supposed to come out tomorrow (Sunday). This is already after one delay from last week. But now it seems they have pushed it back another two days to Tuesday. The news on the State Broadcasters has been dodging this fact and making it sound like it's the most normal thing for a candidate to not have put forward a manifesto this far out from nominations.

But this makes some people question, is a manifesto important to the Mahinda for President Campaign? And do they even have one?

Do they have a manifesto?

Everyone is starting to say, and they're probably right, that the UPFA and Mahinda Rajapakse do not have a manifesto! If that were to be true, and if they're in the process of cooking one up in a hurry, then it's not going to have much committment behind it. It's going to be a mere vote-getting, promise-making document that's going to be forgotten about soon after the election. (Not that the UNP manifesto is much more than that itself).

It seems the problem is that Mahinda's manifesto was written mainly by the JVP and it didn't contain any committment to a federal solution to the ethnic conflict. So it seems CBK wasn't very happy with it. We may see her as a crazy woman now, but she has had a genuine desire to resolve the conflict, and she has very clearly displayed this through her actions in the past and I don't think she's going to let go of that now.

If she gets her way then the JVP aren't going to be very happy with the manifesto. Mahinda's going to have to pick very very soon which way he's going to swing. Mahinda's never had a solid stand on what he thinks should be the solution to the conflict. He hasn't really shown a committment to a political settlement and his pacts with the JVP and JHU have made a lot of people wonder if he really wants to settle the problem the way CBK has wanted to for the past decade.

The fact that they haven't yet decided on anything is indicative of the big struggle going on within the UPFA government right now. Is there going to be a split before the election? That's where things look like they're going. What is that going to do to Mahinda? Hmmm.

Do they need a manifesto?

Quite a few people I know seem to think that the Mahinda camp doesn't need a manifesto because people are going to vote him in not because they like him, but because they want to defeat Ranil and the UNP. Personally I think that's a pathetic way to become the President (if he wins).

This is probably why the fact that they have not yet put forward their manifesto has not become an issue. The JVP and JHU crowd who're going to vote for Mahinda are going to do it because their party is backing him. They're not really concerned about what Mahinda is going to do if he becomes President. All they know is that if he does become President, their party is going to have a lot more of a say in what goes on, and that's good. They're not in this to make a President who can lead the country, but to make a puppet for their leaders to control.

The fact that Mahinda might actually become President without having to tell the country what he stands for, and what he plans to do for the country, is really really sad.


Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Tugging on the Rug

Is Chadrika going to screw Mahinda? Is she going to do something to pull the rug out from under him at the last moment? Is she willing to sink Mahinda, and deny the SFLP power for six years simply to keep the Bandaranaike family at the helm of the SLFP?

That seems to be what much of Colombo is contemplating right now.

But she can't really do much to him after he has handed in his nomination as their candidate for the Presidential Election. Is she crazy enough to pull some wild stunt just pre-election that can destabilize Mahinda's platform? Isn't Anura already doing that? With all the statements he's been making on public platforms stating that it was Mahinda himself who brought the P-TOMS to the Parliament, even though he is now saying he will abolish it if he becomes the President, and statements expressing disgust at the JVPs approach to the peace process, Anura has already been slowly tugging at the rug beneath Mahinda. Is he just setting things up for his sister to step in and take the final KO punch?

She really has little to lose. She can sink Mahinda now with no risk to herself. Even if the punch does backfire and the SLFP as a whole does go with Mahinda disregarding the Bandaranaikes I don't think she's going to be too worried.

But what if she releases S B? According to little bits of gossip going around the UNP camp she's trying to make a deal with S B. She'll release him and let him do whatever the UNP wants him to do for this election, if he gives her the book he's been writing and promises never to write it again. Now now, don't we all want to know what's in the bloody book if she wants it so badly. This is all just unverified gossip but I wouldn't be too surprised if it was true.

Has S B really put down on paper all the dirty little secrets about their Government? Will she release him? And even if she does, when impact, if any, is that going to have on the election?


Sunday, October 09, 2005


Is the UNP 'blog' a private space and are they free to moderate (edit and delete) comments as they please? Indi, who runs the UNP 'blog' seems to think so. Several people who left comments to the earlier post on censorship at unpsrilanka.org also thought that they can keep or delete what they want.

But let's see why I think they're all missing the point...

Is it a blog?

First of all whether the UNP 'blog' is a blog is a big question. A post on the site calls it the 'Official website for Ranil for President Campaign'.

The same post goes on to say
[the] facility to interact with anyone visiting the site is known as a web log, or blog.
The person who wrote this has no idea of what a blog is, or what blogging is all about. He or she also has a serious problem with their command of the English language.

Wikipedia has this to say about a blog.
Many weblogs enable visitors to leave public comments, which can lead to a community of readers centered around the blog; others are non-interactive.
We also know there are many sites where people can leave comments which are not blogs. So the ability to interact with anyone visiting the site does not make unpsrilanka.org a blog.

The homepage does not call it a blog. It is the party's official website for the Ranil for President campaign. Does the UNP have another another 'offical website' for the party? No it does not. Indi, who designed it might think of it as a blog, but I don't see why the rest of the world should do so. If you want it to be considered a blog then say so somewhere on the site. If not, don't act like a official website and then demand all the freedom of a blog.

So, as the UNP's primary presence online, unpsrilanka.org is the de facto official website of the UNP. And as the primary website of one of the people who seek to be the president of Sri Lanka, I would assume it to indicative of his attitude towards all kinds of issues.


unpsrilanka.org does not have a disclaimer anywhere saying it is going to only keep comments favaourable to the UNP and Ranil Wickramasinghe. Instead it says
For the first time in election campaigns in Sri Lanka, www.unpsrilanka.org will provide an opportunity for the public to make comments, offer suggestions or ask questions in keeping with Ranil Wickremesinghe’s strong belief of inclusion.
The post about abusive language which I quoted in the previous post on Nittewa also says
As you know the UNP is the first and still the only party to have an interactive website to invite peoples views on current issues.

Personal Space

If it were the Ranil's Official website then it would be a personal website, and he would have been able to delete whatever comments he wanted to.

But it's the UNP's blog. Individual bloggers have the right to moderate their comments, and that shows us what kinds of people they are. Even group blogs sometimes do this. What they leave on, and what they delete are indicative of their bias and their agenda. Indi for one, has no problem deleting comments which show his weaknesses (as he done to several of my comments), and here at Nittewa we delete nothing (with that one single exception where the reasons were made very clear and comments belonging to everyone, including me, were deleted).

unpsrilanka.org is the website of the UNP. The webmasters cannot make decisions about what the UNP wants to keep or delete on their site, unless they have been given that right by the UNP's leadership/governing body. Does the UNP allow guys with foreign degrees and accents to moderate it's primary presence online and decide what the UNP should look like to the online community? If the governing council, politbureau or whatever of the UNP has givena chosen few this right then that is an indication of what kind of people the UNP top rankers trust.

And if they have been asked to only keep comments favourable to the UNP and to delete comments which are even slightly critical of the UNP, then that tells us about the attitude of the UNP's leadership with regard to the issue of free speech. The fact that they are willing to let a bunch of intolerant nerds run their website is scary, but expected, given the party's history of brutally crushing the free media.

The Point Is?

The official Ranil for President website of the UNP tries very hard to say that in keeping with Ranil Wickramasinghe's strong belief of inclusion they have made this website so that all people online who are interested in visiting it can say what they want to (within certain limits of decency of course). It is trumpted as a democratic space.

But we know it is not a democratic space. All of the three comments I left in the past week have been messed with. Two have been deleted and one has been edited. None of them contained any foul language, or any personal attack on anyone. All three of them were slightly critical of the UNP's campaign. They were not even slightly anti-Ranil or anti-UNP. Only comments which call Ranil the great leader are allowed to stay on. Going by that, everyone who's ever visited the unpsrilanka.org and left a comment has been a die hard UNP supporter. A bit hard to believe isn't it?

Indi tries hard to say that it is a blog and that they can do what they want on it, but he's in denial about the fact that it's the only official UNP presence online, and that it is infact it's official website, as stated by Karu Jayasuriya himself! And as a political party in Sri Lanka which is trying to get their leader elected as the President of this country, unpsrilanka.org is the online mouthpeice of the UNP. It never was the UNP's private space to do what they want online, and it still isn't. It is the place where the UNP meets the online community.

They should realise that the cyberworld isn't just filled with geeks and nerds who think politics is a parrot who swollowed a watch, but also has many people who have some sense of the Sri Lankan political scene and expect the UNP to maintain their website with some level of responsibility.

Go ahead, delete what you want while calling yourselves inclusive and democratic. It's your site and you can put pictures of giant multicolored pigs with wings on it. You're just letting the online community know who you really are.

Old Tricks Don't Work

The other webmasters of the UNP do not seem have to realised that the online media is not like the broadcast or print media where they can fake inclusion and democratic practices easily. Anyone who's worked in the media for long enough, under both UNP and SLFP regimes knows how well these people bullshit about freedom of the media while they keep a tight leash on the state media and use it to trash their opponents each time election time comes around. Pulling the plug during an interview, putting some hiss on the tape when someone you don't like is speaking, pushing stories favourable to the oppositing to the back of the news bulletin or the back pages of the newspaper is something that has been done by both the UNP and the SLFP. Let's not even mention the times when there's been direct Government censorship of all news and broadcasts and publications. (At least the JVP media isn't fake. They don't even pretend to be inclusive!)

When Ranil became PM in 2001, while on a tour of the USA he spoke to the Washington Press Club about how he was the champion of the free media in Sri Lanka and how they were going to stick to established principles of free media and all that. Meanwhile, back home, his party was busy consolidating their control of the state media by firing people friendly to the SLFP/PA, and by strengthening their relationships with the private media by offering them big fat carrots. For the first time in Sri Lankan history, one party controlled both the state media and a huge chunk of the private media. All this while Ranil was harping about media freedom.

They maybe able to hide their lies in the print and broadcast media but unfortunately (for them), these tricks are not possible online. The sooner they realise this, the better it is. Trying to play these silly games online only exposes their intolerance and the fundamentally undemocratic nature.


Saturday, October 01, 2005

Clues to What's to Come?

I'm assuming all you lot have been to the UNP website (unpsrilanka.org), I heard that our ol' pal Indi's the one who set it up for them. I don't know if he does any admin work on it now, but I have some serious issues with the way it's being run.

This is taken from a post on the UNP site:
As you know the UNP is the first and still the only party to have an interactive website to invite peoples views on current issues. The response so far has been overwhelming! We are receiving hundreds of comments and emails daily, with views, comments and even specific recommendations. We have already sent the important ones to Mr Ranil Wickremesinghe’s senior aides for necessary action. So help us continue this good work in the spirit of fairness and decency.
Maybe if you count all the comments left for all the posts on the UNP site you'd make a hundred. Go to the site and check it out. Maybe they've hit 100 today, but they were on 90 something last night. So this statement is an outright lie. I don't like people who fudge their numbers and cook their books. If the UNP wants to play fair like they say their trying to do, then they should stop doing things like this.

Moving on to the bigger issue-

If you read some of the posts on the site, particularly this one, you'll be amazed by how all the people who leave comments are people who are very pro-UNP and call Ranil the great leader, and wish him luck and all sorts of such things.

Some golden lines:
I wish you a grand victory.

You are the only One, have a Vision about our Economy & the ethnic problem of Sri Lanka. Good Luck….

The country badly needs a honest, patriotic leader with a vision. You posses those qualities and hope after 17th November the golden era will be back in Sri Lanka.

You are the only honest leader, telling the truth and the reality to the people, with hiding nothing, proving the real meaning of the word “LEADER”.
I'll stop before I choke on my own puke...

Now let me be clear about one thing, I have nothing major against the UNP and/or Ranil Wickramasinghe. (Personally I guess I'd like to see him win, though I won't vote for him myself as I seem to be out of the voter list!). I do disagree with them on certain economic policies of theirs but I admire the party for taking the peace process forward (even if it was only to watch it stall) and or having the balls to bring about the ceasefire.

I do however have a big problem with curtailing the freedom of expression.

Seriously, if the UNP site allows space for people to comment, then it's bound to have a few resident trolls like our buddies dextr and astrocyte. Sometimes people like that (who seriously need to get away from their PCs and get a life) are mildly annoying, but they're quite entertaining. Allowing for anyone and everyone to say what they want, when they want to is what freedom of expression is all about. In standard practice hatespeech and such stuff is not tolerated but over here we've decided to let them be.

Getting to the point, I wanted to see why the UNP website didn't have any anti-UNP comments. The way I saw it, it could be one of several things.

1) Everyone online liked the UNP and thought Ranil was the great leader.
2) The site admin were deleting comments unfavourable to the UNP.

So I decided to test it. Using the name Morquendi, I made a comment on a post about not using abusive language in the comments made on the UNP site. The post has a rant about how the UNP does not engage in mudslinging. (I quoted that part at the start of this post).

This is how my comment went:
In my opinion it would be incorrect to say that the UNP does not engage in mudslinging. While they do resort to personal attacks much less than many of the other groups do, by giving stories like 'PM-CBK Heated Exchange at Cabinet Meeting'' undue prominence on this site the UNP too is resorting to a certain kind of subtle mudslinging. As far as the public is concerned giving prominence to stories that bring out the weaknesses of your opponents is equal to mudslinging.

Also when UNP members make statements like 'Mahinda Missed Opportunity to Clear Name', again they are resorting to subtle mudslinging. They are not accusing their opponent of anything, but they are insinuating it, and in terms of the impact this has on the audience, there's little difference.

This is why I believe the UNP's attempt to conduct themselves in a proper manner during this election campaign has failed so far, and needs to be a more genuine effort.
Many of you may believe that this is a lot milder than the stuff I normally write. But that was the point. I just wanted to see what level of criticism the UNP website's admin were prepared to tolerate. So I thought I'd start at the bottom by being mildly critical yet friendly.

When I was done writing, and had hit publish, I got a message saying 'Your comment is awaiting moderation'. So would the moderators make it vanish? Luckily I had made a notepad copy of it so I would know what I wrote (which is why I was able to reproduce it here DUH).

Today when I went online the comment was there on the post, almost. There was a slight hitch. A teeny weeny bit, but perhaps the most important bit, was missing. It had been edited out of the comment.

This was what was missing:
This is why I believe the UNP's attempt to conduct themselves in a proper manner during this election campaign has failed so far, and needs to be a more genuine effort.
The admin chose to remove this part. This is the level of critisism that the UNP website won't tolerate. What does this say about their attitude towards the freedom of expression? Does anyone here think they should have removed this? Was this offensive? Was this abuse? Was this hatespeech? If the UNP were to come to power would their media people treat the entire media like this? Would this kind of control expand to cover the print and electronic media as well? Would people who are critical of the UNP be 'deleted'?

The UNP just fell quite a few notches in my standing. What does the future hold for journalists and the free media if people such as those who run the UNP website were to manage the media in Sri Lanka?

Things do promise to get better if Ranil wins, but some things like the freedom enjoyed by the media, just might vanish.


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