Of facing propaganda wars

Is Sri Lanka winning the war on the ground, but losing the war over the airwaves and the print media?
This is a question we must ask ourselves, as the military completes its annihilation of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), in the face of ever mounting protests from a growing number of international voices, the latest of which is probably the most significant: a United Nations Security Council statement that diplomatically censures the government in Colombo.

The protests against the Lankan military thrust originated as street demonstrations in cities as diverse as Sydney, Toronto, Oslo and Chennai - their common denominator being large numbers of Tamils of Sri Lankan origin resident in these regions.
From the manner in which these protests were conducted, it was obvious that they were not spontaneous outpourings of genuine concern; they were exercises that were cleverly coordinated by the Tiger propaganda machine, which, though debilitated, continues to work overtime to propagate the terrorists’ cause to whoever is willing to listen.

If the protests were aimed at arousing international attention at what was going on in the battlefields of the North, the strategy seems to have worked. Soon, there was a queue of diplomatic tourists disembarking at Katunayake, to have a word with President Mahinda Rajapaksa, in their attempts to convince him to call off the war. If reports we hear are to be believed, all they got was a very frank piece of the President’s mind.

Despite the unwavering commitment to ensure that the Tigers are crippled forever, and despite the obvious gains on the battlefield, we seem to be coming down a notch or two on the propaganda war front, and this is largely due to gross misreporting and misrepresentation by the international media and other agencies which feed on them.

To quote just one example, the self-righteous British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), originating from the same country which gave us the incomparable David Miliband, quotes as gospel truth, the statistics attributed to a ‘doctor’ purportedly working in the Tiger controlled areas, who claims that, several hundred civilians were killed by government shelling in a single day. For the record, the Ministry of Health states that this doctor has not been on their payroll of late.

Surely, even the airheads at BBC should realise that such figures, originating from someone who is a captive in Tiger held territory, cannot be accurate. But, to the BBC and other agencies, which quote these figures with glee, such dilemmas are of no concern; all they want is a sensational story, and they will run it.

If one were to take a different perspective on it, then the BBC and other news agencies of its kind should also give equal play to the horror stories related by Daya Master, the former Tigers spokesman, now in government custody. But of course, such ‘fair’ coverage has never been a luxury that Sri Lanka has enjoyed in this propaganda war.

It is not sufficient to heap blame on the international media alone, because it is also a fact that, the Foreign Office mandarins in Colombo have been caught flat footed, while Fleet Street went to town, when the final phase of the war began in earnest. The strident voice of Lakshman Kadiragamar is sorely missed, and it is no wonder that, the LTTE went to extraordinary lengths to eliminate him.

The latest blow to hit Sri Lanka, as a result of all the negative publicity that has accumulated in recent weeks, was the decision by the United Nations Security Council, to formally discuss the Lankan situation. This itself will be worrying for Colombo.
The bottom line is that, Sri Lanka is certain of winning the war on the ground. But the big question that must now inevitably follow is whether it is equally certain of losing the propaganda war.
If that is not to be the case, then the think tanks in government must go into damage control mode, and do so as soon as possible.
Ranil ruins his political future

Recently, at a ceremony in the Southern Province, a Buddhist monk was to publicly tell Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe that although he was a clever leader, he was not blessed with the attributes of a good politician - he was not corrupt, he found it difficult to lie and he didn’t make false promises.

To this list, we dare to add one quality that Wickremesinghe possesses in abundance: a genius for acting in the most inappropriate manner, at the most inappropriate time.
This week, Wickremasinghe was on a European tour meeting - yes, you guessed it - Eric Solheim, the man who ‘facilitated’ a discussion between United Nations’ Humanitarian Affairs Chief John Holmes and the LTTE’s ‘international coordinator’ Kumaran Pathmanathan.

Solheim, with all his public utterances with a bias towards the LTTE, is not on the Sri Lankan public’s most adored list right now, and Wickremesinghe could only have done himself a favour by shunning his company at this critical juncture. By rubbing shoulders with Solheim, Wickremesinghe is only lending credence to claims that he is a Tiger by proxy.

And, while we do not expect the Leader of the Opposition to wholeheartedly support the government, we do expect him to act in a responsible manner, at a time when Sri Lanka is attracting critical comments from around the globe, while being on the verge of eliminating the most ruthless terrorist organisation in the world.

To be fair by Wickremesinghe, no one doubted his bona fides, when he entered into a ceasefire agreement with the LTTE. But hindsight has convincingly demonstrated that, Wickremesinghe and those who believed in his strategy were taken for a ride by Velupillai Prabhakaran.

What Wickremesinghe must do now - if he values his political future at all - is come clean, admit that, he made an error in judgment and extend his support, not to the government, but towards its effort to strangle the Tiger.
But then, that wouldn’t be quite Wickremesinghe’s style, would it?