Indi and Dinidu are two examples of bloggers who transition easily, and arguably effectively, between new and mainstream print media. Indi’s just taken up a column in the Sunday Leader (as I have, more anon) and Dinidu was formerly with the Daily Mirror, helping them inter alia to set up a Twitter feed. Both write regularly on their blogs, treating blogs not as another chore but an integral part of their self-expression and work.
The three of us are perhaps the only bloggers in Sri Lanka that engage regularly with mainstream media (though authors such as David Blacker write the occasional piece). I have an on-going English TV talk show, write to Montage and Spectrum monthly, have just accepted to write a column in the Sunday Leader, blog here, edit and manage Groundviews, occasionally give input into Vikalpa, Vikalpa’s YouTube channel, archive websites at risk of being blocked or just dissapearing and am part of a many other web initiatives that seek to promote progressive, civil dialogue aimed at securing dissent and democracy in a violent context.
Indi’s Sri Lanka’s most read blogger by far, has appeared in airline magazines, mainstream print media and TV programmes. Dinidu’s part of Beyond Borders, is a journalist by profession and is well known in the blogosphere for his pithy posts and resulting comments, both on his site and on others.
All three of us are targets of trolls, spite, bile and uneducated, irrational, senile commentary. Perhaps more so of late because the mainstream media freedom movement is so discredited today, with not a single leading activist in Sri Lanka for fear of their lives and, for some as importantly, avoiding the public scrutiny that arises from alleged financial mismanagement, dishonesty and simply unethical behaviour. This is why I’ve identified Indi and Dinidu as important emerging voices in supporting and strengthening the freedom of expression in Sri Lanka.
Yet the two are very markedly different identities on the web. Indi’s blog and writing is more laissez faire, with the carefully placed expletive, deliberate mis-spelling, word play, pun, wit and acerbic humour. It is a signature style, with comments on his blog indicative of how appealing his writing is even to those who love to hate him or disagree.
Dinidu’s writing is shorter, more episodic. Enfilades of insights into the processes and events that shape the news agenda. His blog is stricly moderated, which is why you find more bloggers who disagree with him protesting on their own blogs, referring back to the content that’s ‘offensive’.
Both of them have an excellent command of English, which helps if you intend to blog or write in the language. Many of their interlocutors, mirroring my own, can’t comprehend English which is one reason why they can’t then engage with arguments and reason, or express themselves in civil disagreement. In this though, bloggers have it worse than mainstream journalists – in having to diurnally face comments that are vituperative.
Then again, though it is convenient for some to put it all down to mercenary misdemeanours, the old guard of media freedom activists left Sri Lanka because their lives were at risk – more so than at any time in their living memory. Lasantha’s killing on 8th January was a wake up call for many of them that vicious elements in the Rajapakse regime had taken a page out of the LTTE’s guidebook to media freedom. Which is to say that one needed to quell dissent, permanently.
This of course is not helpful in securing democracy. But if we understand it to be a plethora of competing voices, the blogosphere today is writ large more engaging than any single print or electronic media channel or publication. The debates of late on Groundviews on a humanitarian ceasefire for example are unmatched anywhere in print media. The Editor of the Island called up to ask permission to reprint Michael Roberts’ article, and I am aware that other web and print media outlets have plagiarised the content from the site. The debates amongst a younger but no less informed constituency on the web are alive on Indi’s and Dinidu’s sites. Clearly, debates unable to be featured in print and on TV are transitioning to the web, even as bloggers are moving into mainstream media.
This healthy cross fertilisation I believe will benefit both media spheres. We all will reach more people through a single column than our respective websites will in around a month. While the debates we thus encourages will invariably spill over on to the web, both on our sites as well as on other sites, the fact that we are in print is a sign that (some) print media in Sri Lanka has learnt from an ignoble past of blatant plagiarism to respect voices of bloggers as those that demand a wider audience. This will bring to the fore once again the need to revisit the ancient and ill-used ethics of journalism in Sri Lanka to embrace new media content.
As I wrote in response to a Pissu Poona note on Facebook recently,
I am called a traitor, a terrorist, a peacenik, homophobic, pussy, LTTE lover, NGO crow, censor, dictator and a number of other choice phrases – and not just by bloggers. I am equally suspicious of patriots and traitors. In expression and through action, both can undermine democracy. Labeling is lazy, easy. Rigorous questioning is difficult, dangerous, thankless. But necessary. Which is why the blogosphere today is a damn sight more engaging to read than traditional media.
It is in this light that I encourage everyone who reads this post to read Indi and Dinidu. They really are the voices of a new generation – one that even I am far too old to call my own, who perhaps through their writing and activism on the web can inform new thinking that brings us closer to real peace.