PA’s letter to Daily News Editor regarding the headline story on the CPA poll – 21st March 2004

21st March, 2004

Geoff
Wijesinghe
Editor
Daily News
Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd.
Lake House
Colombo 10

Dear
Sir,

IMPRESSIVE
FREEDOM ALLIANCE LEAD IN INDEPENDENT OPINION POLL DAILY NEWS. SATURDAY
MARCH 20, 2004

I am
writing in response to your headline story as titled above, which
appeared in your issue of Saturday 20 March 2004 with the strip
headline:

52%
per cent say President Kumaratunga more honest, Prime Minister
Wickremesinghe 33%

The
headline story states that it is based on the results of a “snap
poll” taken by the Centre for Policy Alternatives. The entire
article i.e the headline story as well as its continuation on page
15 is purportedly based on the poll conducted by the Centre for
Policy Alternatives.

As
the Executive Director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA)
it is my duty to point out to you that this article not only contains
major distortions of the results of the survey “THE
SRI LANKAN VOTER AND THE APRIL 2004 ELECTIONS”
conducted
by Social Indicator, the Polling Unit of CPA which was released
to you on Friday 19 March 2004, but gross fabrication of survey
results as well. Please see the attached Schedule for details of
the distortions and fabrication.

In
particular, I would like to draw your attention to the strip headline
referred to above, the entire section of the article under the sub-title
Phase 2” on page 15 of this issue
of your newspaper and the first three paragraphs under the sub –title
All Island” on the same page.

These
sections of the article refer to

a)
questions relating to the honesty of the current President and
the Prime Minister,
b) “…… a general feeling that Sinhala buddhists
(sic) are under threat from the church and donor nations -65%”,
c) “…..a feeling that some external powers are diluting
the culture of Sinhalese – 69%” (sic) and
d) “ the chances of donor nations pushing their culture
is very high –64%” .

Even
a very cursory perusal of the survey document sent to you –
another copy of which is attached for your convenience – will
reveal that the survey did not question respondents on the
honesty of any political leaders, leave aside the current President
and Prime Minister, nor did it contain questions on cultural dilution,
a “threat” from the Church and donor countries or as
to whether the latter were “pushing” their culture.

The
inclusion of such material and the presentation of it as being part
of the CPA survey is contemptible and unpardonable. It smacks of
the worst forms of shoddy journalism. It leads me to the conclusion
that these fabricated survey results were inserted into the article
for cheap and narrow partisan advantage, aimed at misleading the
voting public. Furthermore, given the serious nature of the fabricated
data, these insertions have the potential of inflaming sections
of public opinion and poisoning relationships between the peoples
of different religious faiths who inhabit Sri Lanka. This is a serious
breach of media ethics and responsibility, by any standard.

The
Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) is an independent, public policy
institute that focuses on questions of democratic peace and governance
through programmes of research and advocacy. The work of CPA has
received critical appreciation locally and internationally and from
both local and international media institutions as well. Your article
purportedly on a survey done by CPA’s Polling Unit, threatens
to impugn the integrity of CPA and its programming in the crucial
areas of democratic peace and governance.

Accordingly, I am writing to ask you to publish a correction of
this article and given the gravity of the issues raised, to accord
the correction the same prominence given to the original offending
article. The appended Schedule has been attached to assist you in
this.

I am
releasing this letter to the local and international print and electronic
media and copying it to the list of persons identified below.

Thank
you.


Yours sincerely,


Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu
Executive Director
Centre for Policy Alternatives

CC.
HE the President
Hon Prime Minister
Commissioner of Elections
Chairman – Press Complaints Commission
Hon Lakshman Kadirgamar
European Union Election Monitoring Committee
Commonwealth Secretariat
PAFFREL
HE The Ambassador – Embassy of the USA
HE The High Commissioner – British High Commission
HE The Ambassador – Royal Norwegian Embassy
HE The High Commissioner – Canadian High Commission
HE The High Commissioner – Australian High Commission
HE The Ambassador – Royal Netherlands Embassy
HE The Ambassador – German Embassy
HE The High Commissioner – Indian High Commission
HE The Ambassador – Japanese Embassy
HE The Ambassador – Swedish Embassy
HE The Ambassador – Embassy of Switzerland
HE The Ambassador – Delegation of the EU
All Print & Electronic Media Institutions
Members of the Board of Directors of CPA


SCHEDULE
OF CORRECTIONS TO DAILY NEWS HEAD LINE ARTICLE OF FRIDAY 20 MARCH,
2004, TITLED “Impressive Freedom Alliance lead in independent
opinion poll”

The
following reported in the above article as the results of a poll
carried out by the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) have been
fabricated. They are purported answers to questions that were never
asked in the CPA poll.

1)
The strip headline on the honesty of the President and Prime Minister
respectively is a fabrication. No such question was asked.

2) No question was asked on which party “has more chances
to come to power”.

3) No question was asked on the ability of either the President
or Prime Minister to “handle the peace process effectively”.

4) No question was asked on whether people felt that the “problems”
associated with the dissolution of Parliament “should have
been sorted out”.

5) No question was asked on whether the President or the Prime Minister
respectively, would “compromise the country’s interest,
while negotiating peace”.

6) On page 15, the first paragraph of the continuation of the headline
story, does not bear any relation to the CPA survey apart from the
statement that the survey is independent and not connected to any
political party.

7) The second paragraph on page 15 bears no relation to the CPA
survey.

8) The third paragraph on page 15 bears no relation to the CPA survey.

9) In the fourth paragraph on page 15, no question was asked on
the President and/or Prime Minister’s handling of the peace
process “effectively”. The figures with regard to the
dissolution of parliament distort the figures in the CPA survey
re those who disagreed. No district wise figures were given.

10) Everything in the section subtitled “Phase 2” is
a fabrication.

11) Likewise, the first three single sentence paragraphs under the
subtitle “ All Island”.

Centre for Policy Alternatives

The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) was formed in 1996 in the firm belief that there is an urgent need to strengthen institution- and capacity-building for good governance and conflict transformation in Sri Lanka and that non-partisan civil society groups have an important and constructive contribution to make to this process. Focusing primarily on issues of governance and conflict resolution, CPA is committed to programmes of research and advocacy through which public policy is critiqued, alternatives identified and disseminated.