The humanitarian catastrophe in Menik Camp and media coverage

On Friday, 14th August, Groundviews was the first in Sri Lanka to go public with the story that torrential rain in Vavuniya was severely affecting thousands of IDPs interned in Menik Camp.

Menik Camp
The first images of the extent of flooding in Menik Camp

We followed up our breaking news report with the first images from the flood affected Menik Camp.

Today, Groundviews followed up with more photos and situation updates.

The New York Times, in a story published today on the dire conditions in IDP camps, points to the first photos of ground conditions published on Groundviews.

Tellingly, traditional broadcast and print media in Sri Lanka, esp. the Sinhala media, do not see this humanitarian tragedy as an issue worth covering. As noted by Groundviews today, 48 hours after the flooding and the double-tragedy of displacement within displacement, few leading Sunday newspapers choose to cover this outrage in a manner it demands. Even progressive SMS news services like JNW and Daily Mirror have gone silent. It’s as if the trauma in Menik Camp is a non-issue.

A contributor to Groundviews, Vidura, is giving one perspective of the ground situation in these camps through Twitter. The first shots of the camps after the rains were from a mobile camera, digitally up-scaled to a higher resolution and posted to Groundviews.

These are vital images and eye-witness reports. They ridicule puerile assertions by the Sri Lankan government that the State can and will care for these IDPs. As I note on Groundviews,

The denial of access to cover the humanitarian conditions in IDPs camps by government is, sadly, an excuse for leading traditional media to completely erase a growing humanitarian tragedy from their news coverage. A public ignorant of how bad conditions are in these camps for infants, children, women and men will continue to believe in the outrageous braggadocio of the President and his government, claiming to look after these IDPs without the help of any NGO but unable to even agree when, and in what numbers, they will be released.

Even to help government look after these IDPs, we have a right to know what the conditions on the ground are. Simply covering up this humanitarian tragedy is not a viable response. A State that sees fit to keep hundreds of thousands of civilians in these conditions and is blind to the resulting inhumanity, indignity and violence, is not one capable of peace or reconciliation.

My contention has always been that new media – Twitter, the web and Internet, mobiles, SMS and blogs etc – help us bear witness to events and processes that would otherwise be hidden, under-reported or not covered at all. In our context, new media opens up inconvenient truths to public contestation, exposes propaganda for what it is and hold traditional media accountable for its silence.

Groundviews may not change State policies overnight. But the images and reports published on the site, including those at the height of war, serve as a historical record of abuse, inhumanity and violence that far from the foundation of peace, is the bed-rock of more communal strife and violence in years to come.

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