New media sets the bar for journalism in Sri Lanka post-war


Freedom in Solidarity: Media Working for Peace in South Asia, published on behalf of the South Asia Media Solidarity Network (SAMSN) by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) Asia-Pacific recognises compelling content on Groundviews published post-war, in the face of, as it notes, the ‘indifference of mainstream media’ over vital issues such as human security, displacement and resettlement. The report states (Pgs. 40 − 41),

“The citizen journalism website Groundviews (www. did some of the most telling early reporting on the conditions within the IDP camps, alerting national and international opinion to the growing conditions of squalor and distress following heavy rains in August and then October 2009. The website’s reporting was accompanied by a poignant commentary on the level of concern of the mainstream media in the situation in the camps.

Reporting on the IDPs issue was clearly an area of silence for much of the mainstream media. Following the opening of the camps in November and the return of several of the displaced to their home villages, the indifference of the mainstream media persisted. As the silence grew, Groundviews did another report, tracking certain of the individuals who had been released from the IDP camps as they went back to their villages to begin the arduous process of reconstructing their lives. Again deprecating the mainstream media for its silence on issues of concern to these victims of war, the citizen journalism website reported: ‘With many families not having their able men and women who have been either killed during the war (or before), or been forcibly taken and detained, return for these IDPs is not as pleasant as one would want to see, or usually believe. We also witnessed many families reduced to women, very young children and old people. Without any basic facilities (proper shelter, hospitals, transport, schools, drinking water, electricity and access to any form of livelihood activities) and basic right to freedom of movement, one has to wonder what it means to these IDPs to come back home.’”

I set up Groundviews to bear witness to vital issues and processes, as well as key narratives mainstream media shunned, sometimes because of Government coercion and fear, yet oftentimes because of its own outrageous bias, unprofessionalism and disinterest. Today, the site is more than a collection of diverse voices – it is an idea, one that demonstrates by example the power of new media to bear witness even when mainstream media cannot, or will not.

The site’s coverage of the first commemoration of the end of war in Sri Lanka is acclaimed as a definitive collection of multi-media content analysing a vital historical moment, resulting in the publication of a seminal book as well. Coverage of the 18th Amendment to the constitution was sui generis – content featured on Groundviews was completely absent from the Sinhala mainstream media, and only briefly touched upon in most English mainstream media. Only Groundviews looked at the real cost and symbolic violence of celebrations welcoming the President’s second term in office. Only Groundviews provided true and accurate accounts of testimony to the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) by key witnesses. Particularly violent testimony, first published in the Tamil language print media, was translated and published on the site. No other mainstream media in the country reported on these contested, yet very disturbing submissions in full. And these are just a few highlights from content published on the site over 2010.

At the beginning of this year I noted that over 2010, “My work will focus on the meaningful application of technology to strengthen democracy, justice and human rights. Through this work, and sober reflection on the challenges to peacebuilding post-war, I hope to inspire conversations, content and action that will help my country heal, remember, seek justice, forgive, hold accountable and envision a peace more meaningful than the mere absence of war.”

Groundviews remains central to my firm belief that new media used within a principled, civil, courageous and humane discursive framework can aid a just peace and reconciliation.

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