Skip to Content

Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2674

Why does Sri Lanka’s Propaganda Machine against Tamil Tigers Malfunction?

Daya Gamage – News Analysis for Asian Tribune

Washington, D.C. 12 May ( Sri Lanka’s ambassador in the United States Bernard Goonetilleke, according to “The Washington Times” report on May 11, expressed his displeasure over the manner in which the global media treated his government’s targeted attacks on Sri Lanka’s separatist Tamil Tiger positions in the aftermath of the rebel group’s attempt to assassinate the army commander giving rebel version of the military response.

He expressed his frustration over the Tiger-biased media coverage of the event over a luncheon meeting with “The Washington Times” editorial staff reiterating that his country’s armed forces “definitely targeted military positions and offices” of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE or separatist Tamil rebels) and dismissed that civilians were targeted.

Ambassador Goonetilleke continued to say “their well-oiled propaganda machine went into effect. The rebels even used the word genocide.”

The rebel Tamil Tigers skillfully manipulated reporters into blaming the government for the latest violation of a shaky four-year-old cease-fire, said ambassador.

Liberation Tiger’s propaganda machine was not “well-oiled” recently, and their use of terms such as ‘genocide’, ‘Sinhalese dominated government’, ‘Tamil grievances and aspirations’, ‘discrimination against the Tamil minority’ etc. were used since early 80s to condition the mindset of the Western diplomats, especially American and British, posted to Colombo, Sri Lanka and through them to their foreign offices in Western capitals.

Western media which started maintaining close working contacts with their overseas diplomatic posts during these early years were conditioned to have a mindset that accepted the emerging ‘propaganda machinery’ of the separatist Tamil Tigers.

Ambassador Bernard Goonetilleke’s frustration about the existence of a “well-oiled (Tiger) propaganda machine” and his indirect reference to Sri Lankan authority’s total failure in combating the Tiger propaganda is understandable.

The continuous gains of the LTTE in its ‘public diplomacy’ and the Sri Lanka government’s regrettable failure in combating such distorted propaganda lies with a single issue:

The irreversible mind set of the global media and the Western diplomats that favor the Tamil Tigers and indifferent to the Sri Lanka government’s plight.

Why has the Sri Lanka ambassador in Washington has to make special attempts to tell the media that his government is not involved in genocide but protecting its democratic structure?

Ambassador Goonetilleke’s frustration is that Sri Lanka, over two decades, has failed to block the Tamil Tiger professionals’ endeavors to create a mind set in the global media and the Western countries, which include their diplomats who were serving in Colombo and their Capitals, that LTTE represents the ‘aspirations and grievances of the Tamil people oppressed by the Sinhalese dominated government.’

Obviously the ambassador had to tell The Washington Times these attacks were “definitely targeted military positions and offices” of the LTTE and that 10 to 12 persons were killed in the attack on the port city of Trincomalee, about the same number killed in the April 25 suicide bombing that targeted the Army Commander.

Irony is, media buys the LTTE story that government targeted civilian population that displaced thousands not the government version that it rightfully retaliated to the Tamil Tigers’ brutal attempt to assassinate the top army man in the heart of Sri Lanka’s Capital City Colombo. And, Western diplomats in Colombo, who are in the same mind set, undoubtedly feed the global media when they contact them to compare notes.

Ambassador Bernard Goonetilleke further told The Washington Times when asked whether he was frustrated, “frustrated, yes, but you have to have much patience dealing with this group”, adding that his government wants to avoid a return to full-scale civil war.

“We know the cost of going down that road again,” he told The Washington Times.

The above statement of Ambassador Goonetilleke which was given wide coverage by The Washington Times itself “oils the propaganda machine” of the Tamil Tiger rebels. This was exactly what the LTTE has been telling the media and Western diplomats that there is ‘civil war’ in Sri Lanka, a war between the legitimate aspirations and grievances of the Tamil people against the Sinhalese-dominated government that wants to run over the minority Tamils. The separatist Tiger rebels and the professionals who belong to the international Diaspora created the mind set of the global Fourth Estate and the Western diplomats that since 1983 Sri Lanka faced a ‘civil war’, and since then the successive governments failed to erase this notion from their mind..

To the global media and the Western nations, a ‘civil war situation’ is a situation between either two religious segments, similar to what’s progressing in Iraq though the Bush administration refutes, or between two ethnic groups.

Was the Government of Sri Lanka, since the separatist Tiger rebels launched its military offensive in 1983, engaged in a “full-scale civil war”, or a ‘rooting out terrorism campaign’?

At Sri Lanka’s National Security Council in 1987 chaired by then president Junius Richard Jayewardene, the National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali, who was then leading a military offensive against the LTTE, denounced the United States for blocking the purchase of certain military hardware from an American arms manufacturing company. The US Department of Defense advised the company not to sell that military hardware as those could be used by Sri Lanka Air force combat helicopters to attack Tiger positions that would have caused mass scale civilian deaths.

That was not a “full-scale civil war” but an offensive against Tiger terrorism, but the American mind set had already been settled that it was a “full-scale civil war.”

It is praiseworthy that Sri Lanka’s ambassador in the United States Bernard Goonetilleke endeavors, how ever it may be a futile effort for a single person to change the settled mind set of the global media and the Western nations, to erase misconceptions and misinterpretations about terrorism that is going on in his country. It is equally important for the Government of Mahinda Rajapakse to probe as to why the LTTE goes about assassinating and killing with impunity, the different approach of Western nations to three different levels of terrorism, Global, Regional and National and, what it means when the United States says in its it’s recently released Country Report on Terrorism that “LTTE terrorism not targeted against United States interests.”

One of the legal criteria for the United States to designate a foreign organization as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) under Section 219 of the US Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) is, “The organization’s terrorist activity or terrorism must threaten the security of the U.S. nationals or the national security, national defense, foreign relations, or the economic interests of the United States.”

- Asian Tribune -

Share this