The arrest of the ‘blogger’ in Sri Lanka: Crowd-sourcing trumps traditional media follow up

Ayubowan, a blog I didn’t know of before, helpfully posted a screen grab of a post from Gossip Lanka, a blog I also didn’t know of before, on the recent arrest of a ‘blogger’ in Sri Lanka that had many concerned. Gossip Lanka’s post is in Sinhala and doesn’t render at all on my Mac, which is why Ayubowan’s screen grab is helpful. The post avers in Sinhala that,

A few days ago, a derogatory email, also containing five nude photos, were sent to the Secretary of Defense and the President. Resulting CID investigations probed the IP address to ascertain the sender. It was discovered that the email was sent from a cybercafe in Matale. Based upon further investigations, the Police were able to apprehend the individual who was a regular customer of the cybercafe and owned the account used to send the email. However, the suspect vehemently denied he had sent the email in question. “This must have been done by someone to set me up” he said. The Police then asked who this could be. It was then the suspect said that his password was with his former girlfriend, who was not on good terms with him.

The Police then questioned the suspect’s girlfriend, who let known in her fear that she had given the password to her new boyfriend. She also told Police that her new boyfriend had set out to teach her old boyfriend a lesson.

Gayan Rajapakse is the name of her new boyfriend, and he admitted that he had sent the email. He will be in remand till the 6th under the instructions of the Matale District Courts.

This version is corroborated, also in Sinhala, by Web Alochana, an identity I read and trust. As Web Alochana notes, it is still not clear what the exact nature of the threat to the Defense Secretary and the President was.

It is not yet confirmed whether Gayan Rajapakse is a blogger, though he could still turn out to be one. His actions deservedly put him in the hands of the law and cannot be condoned. However, sending an email is emphatically not the same as publishing “offensive and defamatory comments regarding the President and the Secretary of Defense through a website he was operating”, which is what the Daily Mirror first reported and in turn gave rise to fears that a blogger had been arrested in the context of Sri Lanka’s atrocious media freedom. The Daily Mirror’s follow up story the day after also failed to mention that the suspect had been arrested over an email.

There has been to my knowledge no further reporting by the Daily Mirror on this incident. Leading Sri Lankan bloggers, justifiably alarmed, wrote a number of posts such as this one by Indi Samarajiva to find out more information on the incident that were also picked up by Global Voices Online. And it’s on comment threads on these posts, and on the blogosphere, that the incident was probed deeper and a more comprehensive account determined.

It’s an interesting model of crowd-sourcing a story, and one that the Daily Mirror and other traditional print media are well advised to study. The Guardian in England has already shown how this works to hold government accountable.

Are we all writers now?

Image from Agile Thoughts
Image from Agile Thoughts

I post this in response to an interesting essay published recently on the More Intelligent Life website by the Economist group. In We are all writers now, Anne Trubek avers,

Yes, we need to darken the line between what is verifiable and what is hearsay. The financial downturn and its disastrous impact on print publishing has led some to think we can do without trained reporters and editors–professionals who know how to check facts and strip the gloss off hasty pronouncements. We need this work, perhaps now more than ever. But not at the expense of silencing the new voices–an exciting new crop of self-possessed scribes–ringing all over our screens. There may be too much, but that does not mean it is unworthy.

Many would agree with me that content aggregated on Kottu today, while more varied than two to three years ago, is qualitatively poorer. Some of it is rank drivel, suggesting that the democratisation of publishing is also, too often, the production of content of very limited value at best. Well written esoteria have their niche audiences, but the proliferation of bad writing questions Trubeck’s assertion that “it is easier to cultivate a wide audience for tossed off thoughts has meant a superfluity of mundane musings, to be sure. But it has also generated a democracy of ideas and quite a few rising stars, whose work we might never have been exposed to were we limited to conventional publishing channels.”

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Web media readership in Sri Lanka

Perhaps one reason allegations of web censorship are growing in Sri Lanka is because purely web based media shows a very high readership when compared to traditional (English) print media published on the web. 

Taken from Alexa.com, this graph (click on image for larger version) clearly shows that over the past six months, Lankaenews is the most popular amongst other well recognised Sri Lankan web media. None of these websites is a broadsheet or has a print media presence in Sri Lanka. Lankaenews gets significant higher pageviews than Infolanka, which in second place is in turn well above the rest. Lanka Dissent in third place seems to be tied with Tamilcanadian. In fact, Lankaenews gets even more pageviews that the Daily Mirror website, which I found very surprising (click image below to enlarge).

This is no mean feat, since the Daily Mirror website has a commanding lead over all other well read English news dailies in Sri Lanka (click image below to enlarge).

What would be interesting to gauge, impossible using Alexa, is the breakdown between domestic and international traffic on both Lankaenews and the Daily Mirror. I have a hunch that it may be in the case of both around a 60 / 40 split, with 60 percent coming from abroad and 40 percent local. 

In any case, what this clearly demonstrates is that in terms of readership, purely web based media can and do compete well with the traditional print media presence on the web. With its influence, reach and readership growing, small wonder that a repressive regime is getting worried about that which is published online.

With the Daily Mirror introducing citizen journalism aspects to its reporting and a revamped website along the lines of a blog, it’s quite clear that traditional media is learning from new media upstarts on the web. 

Where do you think this will all lead in Sri Lanka?

Blogs and media censorship – Iran and Sri Lanka

“Given the repressive media environment in Iran today, blogs may represent the most open public communications platform for political discourse. The peer-to-peer architecture of the blogosphere is more resistant to capture or control by the state than the older, hub and spoke architecture of the mass media model.”

The very same could be said of the blogoshere in Sri Lanka today.

Read the fascinating study, Mapping Iran’s Online Public: Politics and Culture in the Persian Blogosphere, conducted by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society here.  

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