Taking on Aggressive Journalism of Channel 4: Look up to the Royal Family for Inspiration
If those who have been watching the video clips aired by Channel 4, the British TV channel, for the past two years come to the conclusion that the channel seems to be having an axe to grind, the size of the sharp object in the phrase must be enhanced in proportion to the exaggeration of the atrocities attributed to one side of the prolonged conflict, that the Channel has been telecasting since the day a few of its journalists were deported from Sri Lanka at the height of the war.
When the programme makers of the Channel can go to such a level to show petty-mindedness, then it inevitably casts an extended shadow over the integrity of even the good journalists who are working for the Channel. Even fair-minded British people now ask as to why Channel 4 is taking this issue on a regular basis with no sign of abating, while knowing very well the inevitable facets of a war.
By giving its latest programme the title, ‘Sri Lanka’s killing fields’, the television channel has gone far beyond the normal boundaries of fairness; Channel 4 proved that it can not only be petty-minded, but also be pretty vindictive, if it doesn’t get its way or a governments crosses its path.
Of course, the death of civilians is heart-breaking for both loved ones and any citizen of the refined world. There were Tamil civilians who chose to live in the North and East, even if they had a chance to migrate to the West, because they simply wanted to live a dignified life in their homeland rather than living the life of a refugee in a foreign land. Then, there were Tamils who wanted to make a move but couldn’t, due to lack of ‘contacts’ and resources. In addition, there were thousands of people who were not allowed to move around even within boundaries of the two provinces, as the LTTE had a big hidden agenda involving them.
We have no idea about the composition of the ‘victims’ in terms of these three groups in the hour-long programme that showed the alleged atrocities. Nor do the programme makers extend their incisive intellect in analysing the clips to that extent for obvious reasons. However, the time of telecast – 11.30 at night – clearly shows that Channel 4 had been a bit nervous about its own production: perhaps, it may have felt that the audience it was going to attract would not justify the cost and would backfire on its reputation - or lack of it; if that was not the case, the intended audience may not have been the British, as very few British people would wake up that late to watch a programme on atrocities of a war – and on a weekday.
We are kidding ourselves if we assume that Channel 4 is going to give up on the issue of human rights violations during the last phase of war – easily. They will stop at nothing – even if some of them are allowed back in to Sri Lanka to cover what they wanted. As this is the case, the government of Sri Lanka has to brace itself for more of those in the coming months or even years.
However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, if the Sri Lankan government wants to breathe a sigh of relief: the remedial measures do not necessarily stem from rocket science; a few observations across the British political spectrum do shed ample light on a strategy that will work in the long run, indeed – and pretty effectively too.
The inspiration can be drawn from a unique source – the British Royal Family. The Royals know how to get on with their lives – while performing their duties – in the presence of aggressive journalists who fan the potential republican sentiments. The members of the Royal family simply ignore them and the mischievous journalists have to beg of them for answers which often draw blank. The failure of the TV channels to get a full-length interview with Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, on his 90th birthday was a case in point.
There were occasions in the past when Prince Philip returned the aggression in kind. For instance, when someone, going by the text book, asked him the obvious - whether he was well; “Why, do I look ill?” quipped the no-non-sense Prince, while leaving the journalist in question in a prolonged period of embarrassment. Princes Charles, Andrew and Edward always ignore the journalists when the former feel that the latter have their own agenda to show them in bad light.
The government of Sri Lanka can do the same by refusing to deal with Channel 4 in any manner until they show a programme, highlighting one single positive aspect of our beautiful nation; this must be the condition attached, if Channel 4 needs any response of them, in the event of an inquiry, for a programme or otherwise. It is unfair to let the diplomats in the High Commission to carry the can, every time this particular channel airs some disturbing video clips; the diplomats in the mission, led by Mr Amza, the acting High Commissioner, have already been at considerable pains to counter the smear campaigns launched by some elements of the Tamil Diaspora.
On the other hand, there are hardcore elements who are determined to be cynical even if we tell the absolute truth about the last phase of the war – within and beyond the Diaspora – who have an agenda. So, there is no point in launching a diplomatic or charm offensive to counter propaganda of this nature: first of all, we are not good at those things - whenever a video clip is out, our regular knee-jerk reactions speak for themselves; secondly, we haven’t got a robust government spokesman who is well-versed in the current global political developments, in order to take on our regular mischief-makers without fear; diplomats can’t do that as, by definition, a diplomat is someone who has to mediate between the issues surrounding two governments concerned in a cordial manner, not a fighter to take on aggressively-biased televisions stations.
Mr Milinda Moragoda, who was recently appointed as a presidential advisor could play a more constructive role in assisting government spokesmen when the need arises; Mr Moragoda, time and again, has proved that he is someone who has an in-depth knowledge about global political developments. We are not going to win any fans over by going into the mode of denial, whenever something unpleasant surfaces. Only by a robust barrage of facts, based on logic rather than emotions, are we going to excel at our presentation to the world about our side of the story.
The irony is that Channel 4 branded Sri Lanka as a killing field at a time when the British tourists are queuing up to book flights for their favourite holiday destination. The pleasant experiences that they share with friends and relatives blow the reporting of Channel 4 in the face of programme makers: they are not views expressed by a few; on the contrary, they are the views of thousands of holiday makers. The British know the warmth and hospitality are not the traits of the inhabitants of a killing field.
Therefore, it is important that hot-headed Sri Lankan politicians distinguish between the British people and a dangerous group of journalists at Channel 4, who are hell-bent on tarnishing the image of the country. The British government wants an investigation into what was reported on Channel 4 and the British High Commission in Colombo has conveyed that message to their Sri Lankan counterparts. This small development does not warrant a mass demonstration in front of the British High Commission in Colombo; it is just a very feeble form of playing to the gallery – and we have already had enough of them, but to no avail.
- Asian Tribune -