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Press Complaints Commission : Buddhism Bashing in Newspapers in Sri Lanka

Shenali D Waduge

The Chairman

Press Complaints Commission of Sri Lanka

Re. Buddhism Bashing in Newspapers in Sri Lanka  

I am writing to draw the attention of the Press Complaints Commission in the light of its own declared Code of Professional Practice for Sri Lankan media. A content analysis will reveal the derogatory nature of efforts to subterfuge the Buddhist foundation and identity of Sri Lanka and dilute its influence amongst policy and governance. In reading various print and online publications with media being used as a vehicle for this derogatory exercise it compels me to bring this to the attention of the Commission to investigate.

As example of the argument being made I wish to draw attention to 2 articles appearing in the Sunday Island of 26th April 2014 and 3rd May 2014 carrying the title ‘Saving Sri Lanka from the Monkish Terror’ and ‘Why Gnanasara has to be dealt with’ both written under the name ‘political watch’.

Links to both articles

www.island.lk

www.island.lk

The 1st article held no punches and the bashing of Buddhist monks with name calling was shocking to say the least. Buddhist monks were referred to as ‘mob of monks’, ‘marauding monks’, ‘monkish terror’ ‘monkish violence….represents evil incarnate’… ‘thug monks’, ‘these are the modern day Devadattas and Buddarakkithas who are out to destroy Buddhism’….‘delegation of saffron robed horrors’ ‘most revolting of all is the capitulation of the Mahanayake of the Malwatte chapter in the face of this unprecedented monkish thuggery’, ‘saffron robed barbarians’. The Malwatte Mahanayake is accused of ‘limp acquiescence’ and accused of turning himself ‘into a cipher’, ‘bhikku death squads’ ‘monkish anarchy’ and alleging that these Kudahapola balakaya have now become chief monks of their temples in an effort to align the monks being accused of ‘horrors’ as those that took part during JVP uprising. Does this not connote to inciting hate speech or is it only Buddhists who are to be guilty of hate speech?

While this is not the only article that has shown scant regard for the sensitivities of Buddhists, it made me to wonder whether Vatican City would allow the Pope to be accused of ‘limp acquiescence’ or found guilty of turning himself ‘into a cipher’. Would any Muslim country allow a single print or online publication to refer to the Prophet by any such names? Would these writers dare to use derogatory terms writing in these countries?

Suppression of Buddhist opinion and denial of right of reply to Buddhists

Buddhist opinion is generally suppressed in mainstream English language newspapers. Buddhists are not allowed to become opinion makers on critical political or economic issues. There is a disproportionate influence wielded by non – Buddhists in opinion making via the courtesy of the local mass media. This is in contrast to the position prevailing in European or Muslim countries where non – Christians or non – Muslims respectively will not be allowed to become opinion makers or be recognised as public intellectuals.

In the few occasions Buddhist views are published, the Buddhist writers have always stuck to the core issues while not name calling but the response has always been to evade responding to allegations by resorting to name calling as is currently happening. Newspapers are reluctant to give Buddhists a right of reply thus denying them the chance to respond to the accusations and denigrations being made.

Therefore, my question to the Press Complaints Commission is what is its stand on the threesome – the editor, newspaper owner and the journalist who play a key role in determining what the reader perceives given that back to back articles against Buddhism has found new scope wherein even authorities are reluctant to take a stand because these new incursions are silenced by other means and a Government grappling to survive does not know which way to turn.

My question to the Sri Lankan Government is what is its position when it is Constitutionally beholden to Protect and Foster Buddhism by virtue of Article 9 of the Constitution giving Buddhism a place above all other religions in Sri Lanka whilst not discriminating other religions.

No one can argue against the fact that the civilization of Sri Lanka was built by the sweat of largely Sinhala Buddhists and other ethnic groups/religions came far later. Simply because the populace of Sri Lanka is today ‘multi-ethnic’ Sri Lanka cannot be asked to turn its back on its historical past, feel proud of that past or make references to that past.

Many Buddhists, myself included by virtue of Buddhist teachings are taught to think for themselves. Our religion does not indoctrinate us and brainwash our minds into thinking on one aspect alone. We do not submit ourselves blindly.

As for the behavior of the said monk there may be a point that he should be advised to improve upon, however the content of what he says is what has opened the minds of many. There are issues he brought out that people did not know about and people have begun to look at these issued. People want to know what is going on in Wilpattu, why new components such as Halal, Shariah etc should suddenly become applicable to all, people are wondering who is sponsoring poor and middle class Muslims to wear the black hijab, who are sponsoring the madrassas and mosques  that are increasing by the day and with it the screaming sounds of the Mosque loudspeakers calling Muslims to prayer oblivious to the disturbance caused to the non- Muslims, and why loudspeakers are still being allowed to be used at Mosques despite a Supreme Court ruling severely restricting their use and Government going out of the way to allow the broadcast of the Azan on national radio channels thus inconveniencing non – Muslim listeners, and why Muslims after self-segregating themselves complain that they are being isolated.

Returning to the article, it is aiming to portray a scenario that the minorities are living in fear. Being a member of the majority populace and the ground realities that prevails when even the Chief Minister of the North declares Sinhalese are not welcome the contention that minorities are targeted is a bit farfetched especially when Buddhists are minorities in the capital Colombo and economically too majority Buddhists are comparatively less privileged than the minorities. Nevertheless, the mischief such notions cause lead to de-stabilization of society and in turn help the scheming external forces fishing for trouble to strike gold and with money ready to be poured in towards any initiative. What needs to be reiterated is that the newspapers have become part of the problem in pitching communities against the other by virtue of what they report and the manner that newspapers make sure only one point of view is relayed thus denying the other side of the story.

It is unfair to place ONLY Buddhists on the dock, and point the fault ONLY at Buddhists. Buddhists bashing has reached a level beyond tolerance, it is now time that those tasked to take action look at issue in a pragmatic way. Buddhists always welcome discourse and it may be a good start to perhaps first answer some of the existential fears that are affecting the Sinhalese Buddhists. Why has the newspapers not given publicity to a single Buddhist grievance?

The country was built up by the toil of their ancestors, they fought and died to save their nation, that feat was repeated throughout the LTTE terror reign. What everyone misses at all junctures is that the Sri Lanka Armed Forces that saved the country and the Buddhist monks (whether people like it or not) are a key part of the identity of Sri Lanka and all come from the same mostly rural stock and find their roots to Buddhist families and it was the same two entities that stood up to the colonial invaders, fought and gave up their lives to fight for the country while a handful of treacherous elements among the Sinhalese and Tamils chose to change their religion for mostly pecuniary benefits and fight along side the foreign invaders and country’s enemies against their own people. These modern – day lascoreens, also called Rice Christians in former times ( and identified as ‘Quislings’ in Europe), are the locals now tapped to carry out the division and dissent amongst the communities through various programs being sponsored and manipulated from overseas, and write articles denigrating Buddhism, Buddhists and Sri Lanka, using the hackneyed rhetoric of ‘ Human Rights’ and ‘Rule of Law’.

How far will a proposal to the Government to ‘crackdown on these madmen’ ‘rampaging monks’ ‘monkish fanatics’ ‘crackdown on religious extremism’ be entertained if the argument is that ONLY BUDDHISTS ARE EXTREMISTS and the others are not?.

It is unfortunate that Buddhist clergy find themselves fallen into the trap in their own quest to bring some home truths to the people because the easy way to evade discussion of substantial issues has been to quickly build up a social media propaganda denigrating the Buddhists so that the voices from all corners will silence the Government into inaction and help divide the Buddhist votes at election.

Buddhists have limited funds to project their grievances

Politicians are numbed into inaction because minorities are able to source money from their religious head offices overseas and foreign governments while Buddhists have only the Buddhist expats to reach out to. Buddhist nations have yet to develop an effective mechanism to help save a Buddhist nation or Buddhist communities in danger.

The findings of the Press Commission Report of 1964 under Justice K.D. de Silva that the mainstream press constantly attacked Buddhists will undoubtedly be proved when the Press Complaints Commission carries out an impartial, unbiased content analysis of opinion generated in the media relating to Buddhism and the conduct of Buddhists including monks.

What role does the Press Complaints Commission of Sri Lanka play?

The Code of Professional Practice is binding on newspapers, publishing companies, editors and their journalists and contributors both in print format and online. The Sri Lankan Press can be free only if it is also responsible and sensitive to the readers – this is what the preamble of the Code declares.

In the above article in question the argument rests on how far ‘due consideration’ has been given to the views of others to reflect social responsibility? The examples of name calling used in the article are such that it has hurt almost 2/3 of the Sri Lankan population.

The continued bashing of Buddhists i.e. both laymen and monks is emotionally painful and the sensitivity of the continued usage of terminologies often used against terrorists has been completely ignored especially by the editor who has approved it for print and publication as a key article.

The Buddhists can for themselves decide who they respect and who they do not. Does this not violate the 6.3 of the code : a journalist shall not knowingly or willfully promote communal or religious discord or violence. The conclusion of the article declares ‘As of now, the Bodu Bala Sena is killing the govt. with small incremental doses of arsenic. We saw them carrying out three operations in quick succession last week. Now they will stop for a while so that the government will hope that the spate of incidents has died down. The government will refrain from prosecuting the BBS for the earlier incidents in the belief that prosecution will cause unnecessary ‘provocation’ and they will adopt a policy of letting sleeping dogs sleep. After getting off scot free for offenses committed earlier, the BBS will then start again. Thus the impression in the country that the government has lost control of things will be reinforced. The danger is that the BBS could be aiming for something really big, like provoking a fight between Buddhist monks and Muslims so that the whole country goes up in smoke in a Sinhala-Muslim riot. This is why the govt. must not hesitate to crack down on these madmen now.’

The newspaper is also violating 6.4 of the Code : The Press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to a person’s race, color, religion, sex or to any physical or mental illness or disability’. The Buddhist bashing theme across tri-lingual newspapers needs to stop.

The public interest nature of the article in question and the proposal being made requires the Press Complaints Commission to conduct an immediate inquiry and take appropriate action without delay for denigrating and ridiculing Buddhism and the Buddha Sasana in Sri Lanka, and in turn violating the Code of Professional Practice for Sri Lankan media.



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