Belated response from “anti-colonial” Mr. Reddy – Sarcasm the way out

We reproduce the first 07 pages of the 15 – A4 page long reply Mr. M. Reddy has sent us 2 weeks after he said he would reply. We were compelled to drop the 8 page post-script part Mr. Reddy had included with different excerpts from “The Hindu” as proof of his unbiased reporting. We invite readers to visit The Hindu online and check on the archives if they are interested to have proof of Mr. Reddy’s journalistic ethics and morals.

What we carry below from his reply, we believe, is what relates to our very critical review of his journalism.

Dear Editor Sir,

thehindu_newspaper BannerBeg your Pardon for mistaking (for a few seconds) your web site as United States `South Asian Democrats’ thanks to the unnamed author who penned two successive `Mid-week Note’ on The Hindu in particular and its Colombo correspondent in general. The reason is simple. In your `about us note’ you claim, “This effort therefore is to help create a new awareness and a social mind set, a new dialogue and a discussion forum in establishing a futuristic SA society”. Yet the anonymous writer chooses to cast aspersions on The Hindu and its Sri Lanka Correspondent on the coverage of the visit of the US Assistant Secretary of State for Refugees, Eric P. Schwartz, to Sri Lanka on Sunday 26th July by contrasting in the July 29 `Mid-week Note’ on the basis of the reports by two western media outlets and not compare The Hindu report with any news agency or paper in South Asia. Only explanation could be the author not only lives in GMT mind-set but suffers from serious `colonial hangover’.

Just to refresh the memory the entry had castigated The Hindu coverage by contrasting three following headlines.01. “US concerned over Sri Lankan camps” By Krishan Francis (AP) 02. “Sri Lanka Must Ensure Swift Return of Tamil Refugees, U.S. Says” By Paul Tighe (Bloomberg) 03. “U.S. hails efforts for war displaced” by B. Muralidhar Reddy (The Hindu). Reuters and Bloomberg might be Bible in the perception of the author and surely you agree there are many out in the globe who begs to differ.

A few bare and verifiable facts on the visit and press interaction of July 26 of Eric P. Schwartz at the end of his Sri Lanka visit. It is the privilege of US mission on who they invite and The Hindu was not invited for the presser. Please direct any queries on why the mission did not deem it necessary to invite The Hindu to the event to the American mission in Colombo. It is common and stranded practice in the diplomatic world for the host country to put out a press release/statement on visit of a foreign visitor.

Sri Lanka foreign Ministry put out a press statement around the same time Eric P. Schwartz held his press conference at Sri Lanka Standard Time 6.30 pm at a local five star hotel. To the best of the knowledge of The Hindu the version of the visit as put out by the Sri Lanka Foreign Ministry has not been disputed by Washington. The sum and substance of his visit was announcement of a U.S. contribution of eight million dollars in support of return, recovery and the resumption of a normal and more productive life for the many tens of thousands who were forced to flee their homes. “As is the case with all such assistance we provide, we will seek to encourage the involvement of local communities in the design and implementation of projects”, were the exact words of US envoy.

For the information of the author of July 29 note on August 10 the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced a new donation of $15 million (Rs. 1.724 billion) of food aid to support the early return of people displaced by the conflict in the North. As per USAID, “Consisting of wheat, lentils and vegetable oil, USAID’s second shipment of vital food aid this year will be consigned to the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) and will fulfil the essential food needs of 300,000 people for four months”.

Now on to the `substantive’ elements of the July 29 note. “A lesson on “stooge reporting” and “The Hindu” denying information to “Readers” In India, during the SL war “The Hindu” news paper was very vocal against the LTTE and was providing plenty of coverage for the official version of the war that was waged. It was a period the emotions were charged and also divided and thus had less time for monitoring the role of media behaviour. Yet there was anxiety and concern in many circles over how the correspondent of “The Hindu” in Colombo filed news stories and of the editorial responsibility of the news paper”.

As the adage goes, facts are sacred and opinion is free. What is the connection between the coverage of the visit of the US envoy and the lecturing over The Hindu coverage of Lanka conflict?

“We now take this opportunity of an official visit by a US official to SL to project how “The Hindu” editorial consciously denies the public, the right for independent and unbiased information and adds to the misery of the displaced lives behind barbed wire”.

In this era of connected and inter-connected world, public can not be denied access to information by any one. If The Hindu is indeed doing, as is alleged, then it is not a unipolar but a multipolar world with The Hindu replacing the erstwhile Soviet Union. No one in The Hindu suffers from such delusions.

“The 03 news reports were captioned as follows and it is interesting to note the interpretation(s) in “The Hindu” report. 01. “US concerned over Sri Lankan camps” By Krishan Francis (AP) 02. “Sri Lanka Must Ensure Swift Return of Tamil Refugees, U.S. Says” By Paul Tighe (Bloomberg) 03. “U.S. hails efforts for war displaced” by B. Muralidhar Reddy (The Hindu)”.

The author of the note does not seem have the elementary knowledge about the headline and substance of the report. It is the jurisdiction of the news desk to give the headline and let any prove the headline is not based on statement made by the US envoy.

“Reading through these 03 news reports, it is extremely clear how the AP correspondent and the Bloomberg correspondent has taken efforts to present more detailed information to the reader in relation to what Eric Schwartz the US official had to say within his diplomatic mandate, by using previously quoted views and news as well, for their news reports. Ethical and professional they seem in their job”.

Sir, you are entitled to your faith and hope on the ethnical and professional conduct of AP and Bloomberg and their championing the causes of South Asia.

“But for “The Hindu” editorial there had been no such concerns expressed about the lives of the IDP’s in “military-run camps”.

Where does editorial come in a quote unquote report?

“The Hindu” has a totally different and contradictory news report for its readers, though from the same source. It says, “The Assistant Secretary describing his visit to the welfare villages in Vavuniya observed that the government had taken significant and substantial steps to improve the conditions and acknowledged the dedication of the officials who are involved in improving the lives of the displaced civilians.”

Don’t blame the messenger. The contradiction is in the tone, tenor and actions and reactions of the visiting US envoy and it would be downright unethical and unprofessional not to reflect the contradictions.

“This “The Hindu” correspondent by now should know that the “Menik farm Zone 0 and Zone 01 camps” are maintained with displaced people who crossed over to government controlled areas much before the final phase of the brutal assault, are comparatively less affected and thus used for guided tours when dignitaries visit SL. Or, he should find out all those details for himself, if he is still not aware of them, before indulging in his profession as a journalist of worth and above stooging”

Suffice it to say that The Hindu is the only paper to have given extensive coverage of the conditions in the camps, the views of the war displaced and their plight. Pasted down below are a small sample of reports carried by The Hindu and let the readers, if there is any of South Asia Speak’, make an assessment.

“The Hindu” from the very beginning of the SL war, dropped all journalistic ethics and morals to back the Rajapaksa regime, perhaps in satisfying its own ego of sitting with the head of State for dinner and calling direct on the mobile phone. “The Hindu” seems to take pride in having such privileged relationships and wants to flaunt them publicly, killing the responsibility and duty of professional journalism in providing the “Reader” with right and unbiased information.

Proof please. Adjectives are easy but verbs are the problem.

Its time “The Hindu” editorial is told that publishing a news paper does not merely mean satisfying egos and petty interests of its Editor/Publisher, but is a social responsibility that has to be honoured. Its time “The Hindu” editorial is told that like all other valued professions, the profession of journalism is also bound by ethics and morals.

Leave it to million odd subscribers of The Hindu to make an assessment.

 Now On to the Aug. 5 `Mid-week Note’ under the title `The run away Reddy and “The Hindu”’.

“The Hindu”. Mr. Reddy was the correspondent for “The Hindu” during the earlier period when the war was being waged in its most brutal form and continues to date as “The Hindu” Special Correspondent based in Colombo”.

For information of the author Mr. Reddy has been working in conflict zone for over 9 years, 2 months and 30 days.

“As a policy and as our objective, we are driven to provoke social dialogue to the maximum possible limits of cyber capability and thus requested Mr. Reddy to send his response (e-mail numbered 02) promising that would also get posted for public reading, though he says in his accusative tone “I got your reply 24 hours later”. That in fact was just one day after we posted our “Mid-week Note” and was in no way an obstacle to send in his comments with his “truth”.

Unlike the author the primary responsibility of Mr. Reddy is reporting and not responding to pontificators.

“From this person who accused us we were 24 hours late in responding to his e-mail, and also accused us of being afraid of the “truth”, we had no response for 48 hours. Therefore on Saturday 01st August, we decided to remind him (e-mail numbered 03), that we are still waiting for his response to post it for public reading”.

The Hindu report appeared on July 27 and the so-called `Mid-week note’ appeared 48 hours later. Within 24 hours Mr. Reddy asked if there is provision for response. Reply came 24 hours later. The Hindu and its correspondent were overtaken by events in the island nation.

“We know he has not run away. He is still busy working for “The Hindu” in covering up the Rajapaksa regime”.

Here lands Mr. Reddy on the run-way.

Transcript of press conference by Eric P. Schwartz, Assistant Secretary of State for Refugees – Galadari Hotel, Colombo, July 27, 2009

I have just completed a short visit to Sri Lanka in which I visited Manik Farm in Vavuniya, where over 200,000 of the 280,000 persons recently displaced in Sri Lanka are now located, and met with President Rajapaksa, as well as Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Senior Presidential Advisor Basil Rajapaksa, Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama, Justice Minister Milinda Moragoda and other senior officials. 

I first want to thank officials of the Government of Sri Lanka for their hospitality, and their generous efforts to facilitate my visit to Manik Farm. 

 The United States has provided over fifty million dollars for humanitarian assistance in Sri Lanka in 2009, and I was here to observe the state of the humanitarian effort, as well as to examine ways to further support effective relief and equitable and sustainable recovery.

Working in collaboration with local and international partners, the Sri Lankan authorities face the formidable task of providing food, shelter, and healthcare to some 280,000 displaced persons, while at the same time facilitating returns in conditions of safety and dignity.  And the United States welcomes the sustained efforts of relief providers, both from the Sri Lankan government and from local and international organizations, to address the critical needs of this very large community.  For example, in recent days and weeks, serious efforts have been made to decongest the sites and improve sanitary conditions. 

At the same time, the United States remains deeply concerned about a range of issues where further progress is essential.  In particular, the vast majority of displaced persons remain confined to camps, and my visit to Manik Farm – and my conversations with displaced persons – underscored for me the hardships they are enduring.  Moreover, there remain burdensome limitations on access to those camps for those international humanitarian organizations and others who are in a position to ameliorate the conditions faced by these victims of conflict.     

 I had long discussions on these issues with all my interlocutors, and I was encouraged to learn that significant and substantial returns will take place over the next month, in the districts of Mannar, Vavuniya, parts of Kilinochchi, as well as other parts of Sri Lanka.  Moreover, officials told me they are determined to strongly support development and the overall well-being of the populations in all the affected areas.  The United States of America welcomes these commitments, and I appreciated the Sri Lankan government’s invitation to me to return shortly to observe the process of return and recovery, which I fully intend to do.  

The Government of the United States believes the focus now must be on the prompt return of the displaced in safety and dignity, and we want to support and accelerate this process.  To this end, I am pleased to announce a U.S. contribution of eight million dollars in support of return, recovery and the resumption of a normal and more productive life for the many tens of thousands who were forced to flee their homes.  As is the case with all such assistance we provide, we will seek to encourage the involvement of local communities in the design and implementation of projects.

I am asking Rebecca Cohn, the USAID Mission director, to say a few words about this assistance, and then I will be pleased to take your questions.

 Statement by Rebecca Cohn Director of USAID Sri Lanka

As the Assistant Secretary said, the U.S. government and USAID are committed to helping the people and communities of the North return to normalcy as quickly and safely as possible.  The funding we’ve announced this evening will support international organizations, such as UNHCR, as well as NGOs who are longstanding partners in Sri Lanka.  These projects will be designed with the feedback and participation of the communities they will serve, which will ensure the success of these efforts. 

 This new funding will support the early return of people to their original communities by improving their living conditions and helping to restore their livelihoods as soon as possible upon their return home.  We will help improve their living conditions by providing shelter materials so that families can build or rebuild their homes. 

We will also help clean and repair wells, and provide new water storage tanks so communities have clean, safe water to drink.

In order to restore livelihoods, the US Government will provide necessities such as nets and small boats for fishermen, and tools and seeds for farmers.  We will also give grants to help people start small businesses that will generate income and provide needed services for the community.

In addition to this new $8 million donation, USAID is also providing nearly thirty million dollars of food aid to the World Food Program this year alone.  This food can also support those people returning to their homes by providing them up to six months of dry rations.

I’ll now turn this back over to Assistant Secretary Schwartz for your questions.  Thank you.

Q&A

Now I will take questions.

MTV:  Sir, the United States Government did adopt a hard line position with regard to Sri Lanka’s human rights record in the past few months.  Has that position changed, sir?

A/S Schwartz:  I think the United States Government has substantial and sustained concerns about human rights issues in Sri Lanka and human rights and humanitarian issues, and those concerns are longstanding.  They are and will continue to be the subject of extensive dialogue between our governments and they are extremely important.  We also recognize that the way any government manages human rights and humanitarian issues has a profound impact on the prospects for reconciliation between communities.

 Unidentified:  I would like to know whether the unwillingness of the United States to approve the IMF loan to Sri Lanka during the past months had anything to do with the humanitarian concerns in Sri Lanka.

A/S Schwartz:  As you know, the United States abstained on that vote and this is really an issue for my colleagues in the Department of the Treasury, but let me do my best to fashion a response that is consistent with what I know our policy has been.  First, the United States has supported the efforts on economic reform by the Government of Sri Lanka. But I believe that the United States identified a range of implementation risks surrounding this proposal, which informed the decision for an abstention, but since this contribution is made in tranches, the issue will remain under observation on the part of the United States.  In relation to your specific question: any program of economic reform or any economic program of the government will include a substantial reconstruction component for the North, and the government’s capacity over time to sustain the engagement and support for that economic development activity from donors will be very much related to how the humanitarian situation is addressed.

Socialist Website:  What is your assessment about the conditions faced by people in IDP camps?  Are you satisfied with the present conditions they face?

A/S Schwartz:  I think that when dealing with refugee camps, under any circumstances, people are living in conditions that are not of their making and not of their choosing.  I think you come out of a camp and you identify ways that the care of the people in the camp can be improved.  I do believe that basic assistance is being provided by Sri Lankan authorities and international partners, and I think their efforts are serious and substantial.  At the same time, there are important areas on which progress can be made in the short-term and I think, as I said in my opening statement, there are a range of humanitarian assistance providers who would like to partner with the government in the camps and have had some difficulty on access, and I think the more those issues can be resolved, the better it will be for the people in the camps.  Secondly, there is a bit of a dearth of information in the camps, and I have discussed [this] with the government and they understood completely the concerns I raised about the ability of people in the camps to have some understanding of what’s happening.  People in those situations can endure a lot, but they can endure a lot more easily when they have some sense of what the end game is, and so we discussed better provision of information to people in the camps.  And then the other concern that I rose in my prepared remarks, the fact that the vast majority of people in the camps are confined to the camps.  I discussed that concern with the government and, as I say, I was encouraged to learn of plans for substantial, significant returns over the next month, and we all need to continue to be helpful on those issues.

Lanka Business Online:  According to UN figures there are approximately 660,000 refugees in Sri Lanka, going through the whole.  Is the US contemplating giving any development aid?  And if you are giving any development aid, will it come with strings attached? 

A/S Schwartz:  The focus of my announcement was really on recovery and assistance relating to returns.   I may ask Rebecca Cohn to talk very briefly about USAID programs, but let me say on your question about conditionality:  I think when we see conditionality in legislation—you may have different views about conditionality—but there can be no debate, in my view, over the fact that what it usually represents is concern by members of the US Congress about human rights and the humanitarian situation.  These are good faith concerns.  I think the way to address them is what we’ve done with this trip—that is, engage in a sustained and productive dialogue with government officials on moving forward on these sets of issues.  Becky, would you like to say a word about general USAID programs here? 

Cohn:  Sure.  I think people know that USAID has been in Sri Lanka for 50 years and we’ve had many success stories that we can take a lot of credit for—the stock exchange, the national agribusiness council, our work with the private sector.  Currently, we’re doing a lot of work in the East, trying to grow businesses so that people have income and their families are happy.  We’re working in dairy development.  We are doing quite a lot in the East.  In the North there are clearly many development challenges.  We would want to watch closely how the government facilitates the returns process, and we would want to consult closely to insure that what we do is consistent, working in partnership with the government.  At this point we have our own wish list but because the US government is a bureaucratic organization, it takes us a while to gear up.  I can assure you that we are thinking and looking forward and very much hoping that we can play a role in reconstructing the North. 

A/S Schwartz:  Let me just add one thing.  I sought to deliver this message in my prepared remarks, but I think it’s worth re-emphasizing.  We want to support the people of Sri Lanka, the Sri Lankans who are the displaced population, and we want to signal our support for the return process.  It seems to us that a concrete way to support and encourage the prompt return of displaced persons is through the measures we announced today.  What we can do as a government is say, “We’re there to help in this process of return.”

Swedish Broadcasting and Swedish National Radio:  There is an opportunity to improve the camps and thinking they might be permanent—is that something you have been discussing during your trip here? 

Schwartz:  I didn’t really have to discuss it so much because the government officials with whom we met insisted that these camps are not going to be permanent.  They voiced great sensitivity on this issue.  For example, if there was discussion on improvements in the camps, it was government officials and others who said they didn’t want to create the spectre of permanent camps.  For my purposes, that’s encouraging.  Because I don’t think anybody expects or would like to see these camps in any kind of permanent status.  And everything that I was told by officials during my visit was that it is absolutely their intention to ensure that these camps are temporary and the duration of the stay is limited.  As I have said, the government has invited me—and I’m very grateful—to come back and to continue to monitor this process of return and I think friends of Sri Lanka need to do that.  And I certainly will be back.

 The Bottom Line Newspaper:  The US has consistently backed a political solution to the ethnic crisis and I was just wondering if there were any discussions regarding fast-tracking this political solution and whether you voiced any concerns regarding it. 

A/S Schwartz:  The focus of my visit was primarily return, conditions in the camps, and the ability of people to get out of the camps.  The issue of reconciliation and broader political issues may have arisen in one or two meetings—I frankly don’t recall right now—but the focus was really on the humanitarian situation and return.  I will say that this issue of inclusive reconciliation is a constant and continuous component of the high-level bilateral dialogue between the government of the United States of America and the government of Sri Lanka.  This issue is important to all of Sri Lanka’s friends.

Socialist Web:  Did you raise the question of casualties during the war which was of great importance at one point in time?   

Schwartz:  The focus of my visit was very much on current humanitarian conditions.  But the issue of casualties has been of great importance to the United States of America, including to the President of the United States, who spoke about this issue last spring. 

PRESS RELEASES

U.S. Government supports early return of displaced persons with another $15 million in emergency food aid Colombo – August 10, 2009: 

 The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has announced a new donation of $15 million (Rs. 1.724 billion) of food aid to support the early return of people displaced by the conflict in the North.  Consisting of wheat, lentils and vegetable oil, USAID’s second shipment of vital food aid this year will be consigned to the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) and will fulfil the essential food needs of 300,000 people for four months.

With this latest donation, USAID, the development agency of the U.S. Government, has provided nearly $59 million (Rs 6.78 billion) of food aid in 2008 and 2009.  Recognizing the U.S. Government’s significant support to assist displaced people, in July, the Hon. Basil Rajapaksa, M.P. and Special Advisor to the President, received a symbolic handing over of emergency food aid from U.S. Chargé d’Affaires James R. Moore and USAID Mission Director Rebecca Cohn.

“USAID supports WFP and the Government of Sri Lanka in their efforts to provide essential food aid to Sri Lankans who have been displaced by the conflict,” stated USAID Mission Director Rebecca Cohn.  “Our food donation will support the Government of Sri Lanka’s commitment to return displaced citizens to their homes quickly and safely.  As part of this support, our food will be used for the six-month ration that people receive once they return to their homes.  In addition, our food may be used for short-term, food-for-work activities to help the most vulnerable of these people restart their livelihoods,” she continued. 

Coordinating with the Government of Sri Lanka and working with non-governmental partners, WFP distributes food aid from USAID and other donors to people in temporary IDP camps and provides a six-month ration when IDPs return home.

“This very generous donation from the United States comes at a critical juncture,” said Adnan Khan, WFP Country Representative.  “It will allow WFP to continue providing much-needed food and nutritional support to the IDP population and increase their food security.  We are very grateful to the United States, WFP’s largest donor, for this latest contribution, which reaffirms a commitment to partnering with the Government of Sri Lanka and to the humanitarian community in peace building and reconstruction efforts.”

The American people, through the U.S. Agency for International Development, have provided development and humanitarian assistance in developing countries worldwide for nearly 50 years. Since 1956, USAID/Sri Lanka has invested nearly $2 billion to benefit all the people of Sri Lanka.

Editorial Note – While thanking Mr. Reddy for his effort, we find it unfortunate for him, his sarcasm and his legalistic arguments that run round words, does not convincingly answer the basic criticism of his journalism and The Hindu editorial policy that we made.

The responsibility of Mr. Reddy as a journalist does not end with dozens of other Indian journalists visiting SL. His claim that The Hindu has been extensively covering the SL conflict and the IDP issue is not what was challenged. It was how The Hindu does it and their perspective that was challenged.

Our criticism is that journalists should not restrict themselves to write down what the authorities say, but dig deep to get the story in detail, which The Hindu does not do as regards the SL issue. Mr. Reddy takes it as his pride that he is anti-West and thus implies we did not make comparison with South Asian media. A “colonial hang over” he says. We pity this liberated “anti-colonial” journalist who does not know that to make comparisons with the right type of journalism, there are no geographical demarcations available.

The Hindu Editor Ram who sat with SL President Rajapaksa for dinner and interviewed President R for two and a half hours while dining, did not ask the President R. how many camps are there, why media and aid agencies are not allowed, why a detailed relief and resettlement programme is not presented in parliament as a responsible government should do, what State agency is finally responsible in handling the resettlement programme, if the President already has a “home grown” solution, why wait till he is elected again, and many more issues the SL President left answered and contradicting himself.

This seasoned The Hindu Editor and boss was like a Hambantota district local scribe sitting scared next to President R asking questions with fright and was thus like a dummy bowler who is expected to bowl exactly the way the practising batsman at the nets want the ball to bounce for him to practice the “perfect cover drive”. That exposed The Hindu editorial stand on SL at its highest authority and without cover.

Editorial / southasiaspeaks

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