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You have been accusing my soldiers of raping civilians?
May 11, 2009 6:49 AM   Subscribe

"Is this Channel 4? You have been accusing my soldiers of raping civilians? Your visa is cancelled, you will be deported. You can report what you like about this country, but from your own country, not from here." -- Nick Paton Walsh tells the story of how he was ordered to leave Sri Lanka by Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
posted by chunking express (32 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
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posted by schyler523 at 6:59 AM on May 11, 2009


Ok, so Sri Lanka is not a beacon of open journalism. This is hardly a surprise. What the story seems to miss out on is an interesting opportunity to discuss the very real problem of conformity vrs. access in journalism. This is an issue whether you are covering the White House or ... trouble ... in Sri Lanka. How should it be approached? Which approach offers the best, and most honest, coverage? To me, that is an interesting discussion.
posted by Bovine Love at 7:01 AM on May 11, 2009


What the story seems to miss out on is an interesting opportunity to discuss the very real problem of conformity vrs. access in journalism.

I think he just wants to shed some light on the situation in Sri Lanka, not make some kind of discombobulated meta-critique on journalism as a whole. It is ok to just report on a particular situation without trying to extend the argument in all directions to manufacture generalities.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:13 AM on May 11, 2009 [8 favorites]


Over the last three years, dozens of journalists—mostly Iraqis—have been detained by U.S. troops... While most have been released after short periods, in at least eight cases... Iraqi journalists have been held by U.S. forces for weeks or months without charge or conviction. - Committee to Protect Journalists (via Glenn Greenwald) [emphasis added]
posted by Joe Beese at 7:22 AM on May 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hey, at least he wasn't thrown in gitmo.
posted by delmoi at 7:23 AM on May 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


True. And at least he wasn't executed.
posted by chunking express at 7:24 AM on May 11, 2009


Reading the comments on some of the videos - there seem to be two main lines of argument.

(1) The situation presented is not the actual situation on the ground. The interviews are fake, made to discredit the Sri Lankan government, and LTTE (Tamil Tiger) propaganda. The government is therefore justified in deporting Nick Walsh. Some accuse Walsh of 'supporting terrorism'.

(2) The situation presented is true, the interviews are of real people with real experiences, and the Sri Lankan government is covering something up; deporting Nick Walsh is part of this cover-up, as the government does not want media coverage of this situation. They hail Walsh for pursuing what they perceive as the truth.

I'm reminded of the aphorism: "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." It's hard to say, what with the near-complete lack of information on what is really going on inside the camps, but I would suspect that, in this particular conflict (i.e. the civil war, not Walsh vs. the Sri Lankan government), nobody is coming out well, and the big losers are the Tamil civilians.

I wonder if the camps are really a good idea? The rationale is that the three years given as an expected timeframe will be enough to root out Tiger sympathizers and prevent the civil war from starting up again (sounds rather optimistic to me), and the Taliban in Afghanistan are given as an example of what might happen if the civilians are released. OTOH, it's being compared to the Holocaust in terms of internment camps and poor conditions (albeit without organised, systematic genocide - if genocide is happening at all, it's more of a genocide-by-neglect).

Thanks for the heads up, chunking.
posted by WalterMitty at 7:25 AM on May 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's interesting to see what shutting down freedom of the press can do. Basically, people pick between situation (1) or (2) based on their own opinions of things, because it's hard to form a reliable view of what's happening on the ground. Over the weekend Doctors without Borders reports 100s or 1000s of people were killed. Again, the numbers vary depending on your source, and you can't get reliable numbers because there isn't anywhere there to get them. The government has set up a situation where the whole view of the war can be skewed by either side, since there isn't any proper way to verify anything anyone is saying.

Also, genocide-by-neglect probably still sucks.
posted by chunking express at 7:35 AM on May 11, 2009


Hmm. While on the subject of dead journalists (not least the unfortunate Lasantha Wickrematunge), here's some interestingish statistics:

1. 41 journalists were confirmed to have died on the job in 2008. (This does not include "disappeared" journos.)
2. Of these 41, 11 died in Iraq alone.
3. Pakistan was next with 5.

From CPJ.org.

734 journalists have died since 1st Jan, 1992 - probably more, since that statistic is accurate up to mid-April, and it's May now.

1994 and 2007 were particularly bad years, with 66 deaths each. Of course, not every journo was murdered; some were caught in crossfires while covering crime or war beats. Others definitely were murdered, though.

93% were male.

The most depressing statistics are that 88% of the killings were committed with complete impunity; only 5% got what CPJ calls "full justice", i.e. "when both the perpetrators and masterminds are convicted".
posted by WalterMitty at 7:39 AM on May 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


The situation presented is not the actual situation on the ground. The interviews are fake
posted by WalterMitty at 7:25 AM on May 11

eponysterical? (I know, not really)

posted by hippybear at 7:39 AM on May 11, 2009


BurhanistanI think he just wants to shed some light on the situation in Sri Lanka, not make some kind of discombobulated meta-critique on journalism as a whole. It is ok to just report on a particular situation without trying to extend the argument in all directions to manufacture generalities.

I'll agree it is ok, but in that case, he shouldn't make the report about him. What is the point? Is it supposed to add weight or credibility to the report? The introduction of journalistic issues (an inside baseball almost kind of thing) inherently introduces new issues. If a journalist wants to make the report about him, then he should discuss the issues inherent. The whole I'm-getting-deported-for-this actually detracts from the humanitarian issues and makes it about journalism.
posted by Bovine Love at 7:41 AM on May 11, 2009


When I say "died on the job", I mean they died because of their work, whether hit by a stray bullet from a crossfire or deliberately murdered by angry people who didn't like what the journos were writing.
posted by WalterMitty at 7:43 AM on May 11, 2009


I'd disagree. Channel 4 already has his story about the situation. This is more of a behind-the-scenes thing than anything else. It's an interesting footnote to the actual story. I suspect this is why it's on their blog, rather than their actual news site.
posted by chunking express at 7:43 AM on May 11, 2009


eponysterical? (I know, not really)
posted by hippybear at 3:39 PM on May 11


Eh. Eponysterical would be, "I wish I were deported for being an investigative journalist doing my job."
posted by WalterMitty at 7:45 AM on May 11, 2009


That is a fair observation, chunking express.
posted by Bovine Love at 7:47 AM on May 11, 2009


Also, see the BBC being accused of pro-Tamil bias and the usual ra-ra dittoheads on the UK right wing claiming that they have some special access to the truth that journalists on the ground couldn't possibly hope to compare to. See some of the back and forth and who is biased towards whom here, here, here and here and some more historical background here.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:48 AM on May 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh and in case Mefites want to play this game: it's like the Israel game - just pick a side and accuse the other one of dastardly acts of wanton government murdering/barbaric terrorist atrocities (delete as appropriate) and never, ever, give an inch. If in doubt, blame the media for ignoring your side or making shit up.

If you need more information on the rules of the game, read the comments to the third link in the OP.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:55 AM on May 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't think the game will be played here, if only because the Sri Lankan civil war has neither the cachet nor the following that the Israel game has. (Maybe because the Israel game has an actual lobby in the US while nobody with any significant media/ cultural influence in the West particularly cares about Sri Lanka the way they do about Israel?)

I for one would rather play Monopoly. By myself.
posted by WalterMitty at 8:29 AM on May 11, 2009


So in anyone's opinion, will the LTTE be destroyed in these final days or weeks?
Will the bloodbath end?
Will rebuilding begin?
Will the government be aware enough to realize that things need to change if they want to move forward?

Or will this turn into Palestine II?

Serious question looking for serious answers - I don't know enough of the situation to make any insightful or intelligent comment.
posted by bitteroldman at 12:03 PM on May 11, 2009


the Sri Lankan civil war has neither the cachet nor the following that the Israel game has

Check this out. What started off as a few protests, turned into daily protests, then turned into blocking of the 401 in Toronto on Sunday for 6 hours.

And judging from the comments, they didn't win much support. Some of the comments are pretty pathetic too.

On the one hand, I can understand the frustration of the commenters - why are you making others suffer needlessly to protest? Why are you putting women and children on the front lines - just like the LTTE is doing back in Sri Lanka?

Besides, what can Canada do? You think Stephen Harper saying "Stop it guys" is going to make the SL govt and LTTE cower and tremble?

On the other hand, if my people were being killed either by the govt or by terrorists/freedom fighters, I would have to do something, wouldn't I?

- So I start with small polite protests. No action. More dead in SL
- Then I organize a rally on Parliament Hill and in front of the US, Indian, British, etc. embassy. No action. More blood.
- Then I organize demonstrations in the street. Nothing. Death.
- I am desparate for something. I need people to know. My mother is dying; my sister; my father, brother, friends, uncles, aunts. No one cares.
- So finally, months after I started with my vigils, I really decide to get your attention and I block the highway.

I do believe that these drastic actions do make us more aware of situations - I don't think people would be more sensitive in Canada to the plight of First Nations people if there weren't any hard core road or bridge blockade. More people remember Caledonia; more people remember Oka; more people remember the Mercier bridge - and if some people ask "Why is this happening" and this causes them to learn a bit more about the struggles of a community, perhaps it is well worth the anger by the majority of the privileged who couldn't give a rats ass about anyone anyway.
posted by bitteroldman at 12:21 PM on May 11, 2009


Oh and the putting women and children in the front?
That was just stupid
posted by bitteroldman at 12:33 PM on May 11, 2009


I could hold forth at great length about the history and current ins & outs of this whole mess but unfortunately don't have the time. However, I recently spoke to my cousin who has a place on the east coast and she thinks that there are going to be a lot more horror stories coming to light as more people escape the war zone. E.g. whole villages being wiped out. This is not going to end well.
posted by i_cola at 1:13 PM on May 11, 2009


Why are you putting women and children on the front lines - just like the LTTE is doing back in Sri Lanka?

Well, the LTTE is putting women and children on the front lines against a military bent on their destruction. Are you seriously suggesting that Tamil protesters in Canada should expect the same treatment from police when they protest peacefully?
posted by mightygodking at 1:14 PM on May 11, 2009


Toronto has the biggest Tamil population outside of Jaffna, so I don't think this proves anything about the wars cachet. The Sri Lankan conflict is no where near as popular -- that doesn't seem like the right word -- as the Israel/Palestine conflict. For starters, it's very rare that I find someone that isn't Tamil/Sinhalese who follows what's going on in Sri Lanka, which isn't the case for Israel and Palestine.

I'm guessing they put children up front because it makes for interesting photo-ops. It is a much different vibe than if you had a bunch of men up front with bandannas on. One thing to keep in mind is that all the protests, even the most disruptive ones, have been peaceful. The Toronto police haven't been rolling up and busting heads. Torontist's coverage of the protests is great. And yeah, as far as I can tell, there are way more crazy-xenophobes and people who really hate traffic than I thought in Toronto. I wrote about newspaper comments about the last set of protests on my web site.
posted by chunking express at 1:23 PM on May 11, 2009


If they're trying to get the U.S. to intervene in Sri Lanka, why are they disrupting traffic in Toronto? The Sri Lankan embassy in Washington is close; the Sri Lankan consulate in New York is closer.

The sad part is that the CBC's online coverage of the ongoing death in Sri Lanka was upstaged by their Canadian cousins.
posted by oaf at 1:24 PM on May 11, 2009


Are you seriously suggesting that Tamil protesters in Canada should expect the same treatment from police when they protest peacefully?

Not at all, but there is likely a reason why the kids are in the front - as chunking express said above, for the photo-op, and also because it likely will make the authorities reluctant to use force.

Considering that a lot of the news coverage regarding the LTTE is about how they are using women and children in their continued war, people are automatically going to make the comparison between protesters in Toronto here and the fighters there.

Putting kids in the front lines might be an interesting idea, tactically, but is dumb, dumb, dumb from the standpoint of public relations. You are already pissing people off because you are blocking the highway. Justified? Perhaps.

But you are losing all credibility when you bring kids into the picture. Especially in a country like Canada where people are among the freest in the world, and you don't need to worry about getting your head bashed in, even for a daring act of protest like blocking a major highway.
posted by bitteroldman at 1:51 PM on May 11, 2009


Considering that a lot of the news coverage regarding the LTTE is about how they are using women and children in their continued war...

To be fair, I don't think anyone is forcing the protesters to arranges themselves the way they chose to. It's really not the same situation at all. Children and women have been coming to all the protests.
posted by chunking express at 2:03 PM on May 11, 2009


Just to clarify something, is the government planning on keeping Tamil civilians in those camps for three years to ensure they can weed out any tiger sympathiser? Seriously?
posted by liquorice at 4:45 PM on May 11, 2009


No it's not the same situation at all, I completely agree.
And I don't think that children and women were forced to be in the front, but I doubt they happened to just find themselves there either.

I think it makes a statement to do something like this - telling the police "I dare you to come try to get us now - you'd have to go through our children and women to get to the ones you want" - and you know, most of the time this strategy works - but I really think it backfired in this case because 1) there was no reason to dare the police, 2) they blocked traffic for 6 hours and 3) the tragedy as horrible as it is, isn't close enough to home for the public to tolerate such a dramatic act of protest.

And yes, it was peaceful, and if they seriously wanted to make life miserable for people, they would have done this on a weekday.

But I think when you are going to do something like this, and when you are a minority, you need to be prepared for a backlash, so you need to be extra vigilant. Check out the comments at the end of the article I posted previously. It's amazing how many bigots and idiots know how to use a computer. And most of the comments were probably a seized opportunity by the trash of society to make their voices heard.

I wonder if a full page ad offering an "apology of sorts" - not so much an admission of wrongdoing, but more a "sorry we had to do what we did, but here's why we did it..." - would restore some good will.

Meh, but that's just me - I'm such a pushover. I would totally suck at protesting.

Finally, I don't want to give the impression that I don't care about the situation or the people involved, here or in Sri Lanka. And in honesty, I am somewhat supportive of the actions of the protesters - it will get people talking and hopefully more educated. But I fear it will come with some negative repercussions as well unless the organizers learn from their mistakes.
posted by bitteroldman at 5:14 PM on May 11, 2009


Liquorice - here's an article about the internment camps, or as the Sri Lankan spin doctors call them, "welfare villages". Another one (UK's Daily Mail). And the Christian Science Monitor.

Note that it's compulsory, people are generally not allowed to leave, and that the Sri Lankan army will be running (and guarding) the camps. And, yes, three years was the originally proposed holding period.

Uncomfortable parallels with concentration camps? Perhaps.
posted by WalterMitty at 7:57 PM on May 11, 2009


while those with relatives inside will be allowed to come and go after initial screening, young and/or single people will not be allowed to leave, it says.

I wonder when you change from 'a child with relatives inside' to 'a young person', or if children aren't ever allowed out?
posted by jacalata at 11:46 PM on May 11, 2009


Thanks for that information, WalterMitty. At least it appears that they have bowed somewhat to international pressure and are going to release 80% of the Tamils before the end of the year. It's still shocking. They've committed no crime, except being trapped within a warzone that they had no choice to live in.

I really hope the worldwide protests raise some awareness, considering there is such a spread of Sri Lankan Tamils across the globe. If it weren't for that, I fear this would have been yet another silent genocide.
posted by liquorice at 8:00 AM on May 12, 2009


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