Media fail: Reports of Jayantha Dhanapala’s submission to LLRC

Groundviews exclusively carried Jayantha Dhanapala’s response to erroneous and selective media reports of his submission to LLRC a few days ago, in which he promised an authoritative transcript of his presentation and of the question and answer session from the LLRC. A covering note to the media from Mr. Dhanapala and the official transcripts were published on Groundviews a few days ago. Download it here.

Interestingly, Shamindra Ferdinando, the News Editor of the Island newspaper mentioned on two occasions that he and his newspaper stand by the initial story on Mr. Dhanapala’s submission to the LLRC (see here, and a more detailed explanation of sorts here). Shamindra’s article in the Island, Ex-UN Under Secy General tells LLRC: Intl. laws shouldn’t apply to conflicts between States and terrorist groups published on 25 August, had Mr. Dhanapala ostensibly saying that,

“International Humanitarian Law (IHL) should not be applied to Sri Lanka’s war against LTTE terrorism and the time is opportune for the country to push for new guidelines. The former head of the Peace Secretariat says a conventional army cannot be bound by international laws in fighting a terrorist organisation, which deploys suicide cadres, child soldiers and human shields.”

The Ministry of Defence website, featuring an article from the Presidential Media Unit of Mr. Dhanapala’s testimony, noted that he had seemingly said “Armed forces should not be charged with war crimes when they launch offensives against terrorists”.

Shamindra notes on Groundviews that “Our report was based on what Ambassador Dhanapala told the LLRC.” However, reading through the official transcript, one finds no mention of what Shamindra, the Presidential Media Unit or the Ministry of Defence attribute to Mr. Dhanapala in their respective news reports.

As far as I know, Groundviews is the only media site in Sri Lanka that has flagged the inability and unwillingness of mainstream media to robustly cover and interrogate the LLRC process, and the submissions by key interlocutors. As many have pointed out, the flip side of media freedom is responsibility and professionalism. Much of mainstream media in Sri Lanka features little of either, and worse, go on defend the worst practices in journalism. As Malathy Knight commented on the Facebook fan page of Groundviews,

One would expect that it is the obligation/”duty” of the Fourth Estate to investigate, verify and amend the erroneous reporting on their part. The onus does not rest on JD – a responsible media needs to look upon their duties as seriously as they do their rights.

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