The naked and the nude

Place: Sri Lanka | Courtesy: Weekend Express
| Date: 20000803

The government is yet to give a convincing answer to this question. With elections round the corner, the public are eagerly waiting for an explanation. Never in our history have we gone to the polls with a censorship in force - war or no war.

The argument for enforcing it on military news on the grounds of keeping the troops' morale intact sounds ludicrous if not funny.

Editors discussed this matter with Information Director Ariya Rubasinghe for the second time on July 24. At their first meeting with Mr. Rubasinghe - shortly after the judgment on 'The Sunday Leader' case - one journalist raised the question whether it would be bad for the trooper's morale if he comes to know that his wife has run away with another man while he (the soldier) was at the battle front.

Mr. Rubasinghe responded by saying it would. Then the issue is whether the soldier should be kept in the dark for the sake of victory in war.

Though the question was apparently raised in a lighter vein it recalls a pithy Sinhala saying: "Heluwa Athin Wahanawa" (covering one's nudity with one's hand). It is exactly what the censor is trying to do with Regulation 14 (1) of the Emergency regulations in the face of a massive global information technology onslaught.

Protecting soldier's morale is an extremely vague term that can easily hide a multitude of sins - from military blunders and human rights violations to army desertions and crooked arms deals at the expense of public funds.

If any panjandrum thinks that a cover-up of such issues would help to boost the morale of soldiers or civilians, he is suffering from acute self-delusion.

The government has still not offered any plausible explanation as to why it lost Elephant Pass - why a 45,000 - strong army has not been able so far to effectively push back a rebel force of less than half that size (and with no airforce), for the past several years and why so many soldiers are deserting the army.

As for the decision to put the country on a so-called war-footing plus the renewed appeals to young people to join the defence forces and appeals to the public for Austerity and sacrifices, it appears as if the government has suddenly woken up from a deep slumber to find that an armed conflict has been going on in this land for 17 years!

More than censorship itself, what has irked journalists is the manner in which it is imposed. If any secrecy has to be maintained on military matters it should pertain to confidential details of an on-going/planned operation against the enemy. It is also the responsibility of the top brass to take stringent measures to prevent leakage of such information. This covers the publication/broadcasting of any news that would render soldiers or civilians vulnerable to enemy attacks.

In World War II - when there were no satellite TV, fax, e-mail or Internet - Prime Minister Winston Churchill did not hide from the British public that their troops had lost Dunkirk to the Germans and that England was fighting with its back to the wall.

So the attempts made recently to hide from the Sri Lankan public the loss of Elephant Pass to the LTTE are nothing but comical, and exposes the nakedness and nudity of government censorship.

Saturday, July 29 - Sunday, July 30, 2000