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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2398

Misinformed New York Times and Sri Lanka’s failed overseas public diplomacy

Daya Gamage – US Bureau Asian Tribune Political Analysis

Washington, D.C. 01 May (Asiantribune.com): Unlike the hardly read in print and internet editions of the conservative” Washington Times” which carry no political clout or weight among the liberals and center-left liberals who are running the Obama administration the widely read and influential “The New York Times” advocated in its April 30 (2009) editorial that “other western nations should join the effort of the United States to delay Sri Lanka from getting a desperately needed $1.9 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund until all civilians are allowed to leave the war zone and aid workers have full access to refugee camps.”

Those who are Sri Lanka’s public diplomacy exercise have obviously not convinced the NYT how the Tamil Tigers are using the human shield to save the skin of their leader Pirapaharan and the top braze from capturing alive or dead.

Political observers here in the U.S. capital are aware that The New York Times set half of the liberal agenda for the Obama administration and its diplomatic arm Hillary Clinton-headed State Department.

The New York Times believes that all minority Tamils in Sri Lanka are terrorists “who pioneered suicide bombing as a weapon of war” a notion one wonders from where this newspaper got depicting how misinformed this media outlet is.

Describing the battle between the Sri Lanka government and the rebel Tamil Tigers NYT says there are no good guys in this fight, the editorial says “the government must do all that it can to avoid harming civilians in a war zone.”

Then the editorial passes this judgment: “You know officials have something to hide when they bar aid groups and journalists from the war zone, as Sri Lanka has done since last year.”

When NYT editorially says that “Sri Lanka has callously ignored calls for a humanitarian cease-fire” obviously it has not got the correct picture of the ground situation. Or the correct scenario has not been presented this most influential liberal newspaper in the United States.

The newspaper echoes the LTTE U.S. lobby legal counsel Bruce Fein’s call to prosecute Sri Lanka’s leaders for war crimes. It adds the Tamil rebels to the list knowing that they are not signatories to covenants of the United Nations to which Sri Lanka as a state is a signatory and bound by them.

The editorial says: “Sri Lanka’s leaders and the rebels must be warned that they could face prosecution for war crimes.”

As much as the recent editorial in Washington Times “Tigers at Bay” wanted the international community to back off allowing Sri Lanka government to totally defeat the Tamil Tigers and stop interfering in the affairs of Sri Lanka was welcomed by the Sri Lankan Diaspora here in the United States and worldwide who want the rebel group eliminated the Times has a limited appeal to shape opinion in Washington when one considers its political shade, circulation figures and internet access to its web site.

In contrast, The New York Times has a remarkable access to mould the mindset of the liberal and center-left liberals who are at the helm of the Obama administration because of its extremely wide readership and even wider patronage it gets in the internet.

Is NYT out of reach to Sri Lanka’s diplomats?

The opinions of NYT are taken seriously even by conservative commentators, political analysts and conservative Republican Party operatives as much as it influences the liberal mind and a larger spectrum of political thinkers, analysts and commentators who influence policymakers.

The U.S. Audit Bureau of Circulations issued Monday April 27 the circulation figures of major newspapers, and it awarded USA Today the No. 1 position with a circulation of 2,113,725.

The rabid conservative The Wall Street Journal, the second-largest newspaper, a daily circulation of 2,082,189 and The New York Times daily circulation at 1,039,031. The Los Angeles Times daily circulation of 723,181.

The Audit Bureau of Circulation put The Washington Times' circulation to 83,511.

The Boston Globe (Owned by NYT Co) which frequently expresses pro-LTTE sentiments has a daily circulation of 350,000.

The widely respected media and entertainment rating company Nielsen gives the following figures of daily public access to newspaper websites:

NYTimes.com -- 20,118,000

USATODAY.com -- 9,961,000

Washingtonpost.com -- 9,367,000

Wall Street Journal Online -- 9,192,000

LA Times -- 8,643,000

The Washington Times -- 1,753,000

It is in this context one could conclude that Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry and its overseas diplomatic corps have failed to reach the media outlets that have wider appeal among the general public and policymakers in particular.

As a result of this deficiency in public diplomacy and strategic communication the policymakers in the Obama White House, officials in the Clinton State Department and U.S. Senators and House Members who can dictate policy to the administration are either misinformed or have the handicap of knowing the ground situation in Sri Lanka. The NYT largely contributes to maintaining the distorted mindset of U.S. policymakers.

The NYT grabbed a (mis) statement made by the Sri Lanka government saying “This week the government said the army would stop using heavy weapons against the rebels, but watchdog groups say that they have received reports that fierce shelling continues.”

In a April 27 report the NYT said “The Sri Lankan government said Monday that while it rejected calls for a cease-fire by Tamil Tiger rebels, it had instructed its military to stop using heavy weapons, artillery and air strikes in the combat zone, where tens of thousands of civilians are trapped.”

The NYT quoted the visiting UN human rights coordinator as saying “I hope the idea of not using heavy weapons will be genuinely respected this time.”

While the Tamil Tigers were accusing the Sri Lanka government of using heavy weapons that cause the deaths of hundreds of Tamil civilians trapped in the No Fire Zone the government seems to have got in to the Tamil Tiger trap in allowing some ‘statement drafter’ to refer to the secession of the use of heavy weapons, an exercise with the total lack of knowledge of public diplomacy and strategic communication.

The NYT editorial of April 30 is the latest example of Sri Lanka’s lack of understanding of the importance of overseas public diplomacy and strategic communication. Its foreign ministry has failed to identify the media outlets that have a larger appeal and greater influence over policymakers in the west especially in Washington. It has allowed the influential media outlets such as the NYT to disseminate falsehood, misinterpretations and half truths that are readily consumed by Washington policymakers. With the effective Tamil Tiger professional lobby in the United States, and in other western capitals, Sri Lanka’s domestic fight against a ruthless terrorist organization has been seriously misunderstood giving rise to policy decisions and pronouncements of principal players in the international community detriment to the interests of Sri Lanka.

An organization, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which has a micro effect in Sri Lanka proved by its near annihilation by the Sri Lanka forces continues to enjoy a macro effect internationally even after its demise as a result of the lack of global-reach public diplomacy and carefully mastered strategic communication. The New York Times editorial and recent Secretary of State Clinton statement are clear dozes for Sri Lanka to come out of the diplomatic slumber.

Following is the complete text ofThe New York Times editorial carried in its 30 April 2009 edition:

Editorial/ New York Times 30 April 2009
Sri Lanka’s Dirty War

Army troops in Sri Lanka are closing in on a dwindling band of Tamil Tiger separatists who are outgunned on an ever-narrowing battlefield. It would be a relief if this 25-year fight finally ends. In the meantime, tens of thousands of terrified civilians are trapped in the conflict zone — a strip of land about four miles long — and are running out of food and water. They must be allowed to leave.

Human rights groups have accused both the minority Tamils, who pioneered suicide bombing as a weapon of war and are widely classified as terrorists, and Sri Lanka’s government of gross violations. After several failed attempts at peace talks, the army began this latest offensive. In recent months, as authorities sensed potential victory, the attacks have gotten ever more fierce. The United Nations estimates that more than 6,000 people have been killed and nearly 14,000 wounded just since the end of January.

While there are no good guys in this fight, the government must do all that it can to avoid harming civilians in a war zone. You know officials have something to hide when they bar aid groups and journalists from the war zone, as Sri Lanka has done since last year.

Sri Lanka has callously ignored calls for a humanitarian cease-fire. This week the government said the army would stop using heavy weapons against the rebels, but watchdog groups say that they have received reports that fierce shelling continues.

American officials say privately that they will try to delay Sri Lanka from getting a desperately needed $1.9 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund until all civilians are allowed to leave the war zone and aid workers have full access to refugee camps. Other countries should join that effort. The European Union is warning that unless Sri Lanka quickly declares a cease-fire, it will have to rethink its aid and trade. Japan and India should use their even greater economic leverage.

Sri Lanka’s leaders and the rebels must be warned that they could face prosecution for war crimes. Once this fighting ends, the government and the Tamils must be persuaded to pursue a serious political settlement, or this long and brutal war would certainly reignite. (End Text)

- Asian Tribune -

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