15th October, 2003
Mr. Sinha Ratnatunga
The Sunday Times
08, Hunupitiya Cross Road
Dear Mr Ratnatunga,
ASSIGNMENT: ‘CPA-LTTE-Trinco’ by Chris Kamalendran
The Sunday Times, Sunday 12th October 2003
I am writing with reference to the above article which appeared in your edition of Sunday 12th October 2003. The article contains
a series of factual inaccuracies and mischievous speculation regarding the work of the Centre for Policy Alternatives. Accordingly, the
publication of this response in full with the same prominence accorded to the article above is greatly appreciated. To facilitate clarity
and brevity, I have quoted below the relevant sections from your article, followed by my corrections in point form.
- Your reporter states that CPA “…arranged a conducted tour for sections of the media to visit the controversial Manirasakulam
(Kurangupaanchan) guerrilla camp in the Trincomalee district.”This visit to Trincomalee constituted the field work component
of the fourth workshop in a programme of workshops on conflict-sensitive journalism for journalists. Other workshops have focused on the issues of Tamil- Muslim relations in the east and on High Security Zones in the Jaffna peninsula. They have included field visits
to Muttur, Batticaloa and Jaffna. The visit of the group of journalists to Trincomalee facilitated by CPA included meetings with the armed force commanders in Trincomalee and was not for the exclusive purpose of visiting the LTTE Kurangupaanchan camp alone.
- Your reporter states that “CPA-LTTE-Trinco was what they themselves termed the project in their e-mail to the newspaper
offices.”This is incorrect. The e-mail your reporter is referring to is the one containing pictures sent by CPA to newspapers on Saturday,
11th October, after the event. “CPA-LTTE-Trinco” is the title of the set of photographs according to the common digital archiving system, which sets out the name of the commissioning person / organisation, the groups involved in the event, and the
venue / location, followed by a serial number. The caption is for systematic archiving only and does not describe the project.
- He also states that “CPA representatives were on hand to play the role for the media, in raising loaded questions and
trying to elicit loaded answers from political and military wing leaders of the LTTE, who were on hand.”This is simply not true. Journalists were free to ask any questions from the LTTE representatives. It is absurd to state that the role of the media was played by CPA representatives!! Whilst a member of the CPA staff asked a question at the end of this particular meeting and participated in the discussion, it is incorrect to say that the questions were loaded or that particular answers were anticipated.
- Your reporter further states that “Three people first introduced themselves as from the CPA. They were ‘co-ordinators’ Lionel
Guruge, Vijaya Shanthan and a Tamil translator Senthil Sivagnanam. The first question at the open air news conference came from Lionel. He produced a copy of the Sunday Times (Situation Report of August 3) where a map marking LTTE camps in the Trincomalee district was published. He said, ‘a leading newspaper in Colombo’ (that was how he referred to The Sunday Times) had published details of LTTE camps established reportedly after the Ceasefire Agreement was signed between the Government and the LTTE. Lionel wanted to know whether this was true.” There are several factual inaccuracies and distortions here: 1. Senthil Sivagnanam is not an employee of CPA. He is an independent translator commissioned by CPA for this specific programme.2. Lionel Guruge, who coordinates CPA outreach activities, coordinated the programme. The first question was not raised by Lionel Guruge, and he did not produce a copy of any newspaper. The first question in fact was raised by Ravi Chandralal, a freelance journalist. It was he who produced The Sunday Times. The Tamil Net picture reproduced in The Sunday Times report clearly shows this. Your reporter is clearly labouring under a misconception as to Lionel Guruge’s identity, confusing him with Ravi Chandralal. This
is borne out by other observations in the report where he makes the same mistake, attributing words and actions of Ravi Chandralal
to Lionel Guruge. Consequently, the report is based on a serious case of mistaken identity.
3. As part of the programme of conflict-sensitive journalism, newspaper reportage in all three languages, and not just The Sunday
Times Situation Report, was distributed to the invited journalists as well as to other participants such as military officers, the
LTTE and civil society groups.
- Your reporter goes on to say that “[Thilak, the LTTE’s political wing leader in Trincomalee] kept repeating that there
were no new camps in the Trincomalee district – a statement that was echoed in unison by both Lionel (CPA) and Vijaya Shanthan (CPA). They were duly translated by Senthil (CPA).”CPA is an independent public policy organisation with a proven record of non-partisan research and advocacy in the areas of governance and peace. CPA representatives did not and had no interest in echoing
the sentiments of the LTTE spokesperson.
- “One striking observation I made during the nearly hour-long CPA-LTTE press conference, was that most of the questions were
asked by CPA representatives and not the media.”This is simply untrue. The invited participants from the media in the programme were expected to, and did, drive the question and answer session. As stated earlier, CPA employees did ask some
questions during the discussion, but to say that they asked most of the questions and not the media is grossly incorrect.
- Your reporter concludes that “As we left the area many of the media personnel including myself had more questions than answers when we came to the controversial camp. One such question was – what is the CPA’s agenda? Is it to cover up
the truth to help the LTTE, or is there some other game plan? Even the Ministry of Defence that gave permission for the media to
travel to these areas may not know the answers.”The mandate and mission of the Centre for Policy Alternatives is clearly
set out on its web site – www.cpalanka.org. The web site also hosts a wealth of information including public statements,
research papers and briefing documents on the work of CPA in respect of governance and peace in Sri Lanka. The questions raised above by your reporter can be fully answered by perusing the CPA website.
- A boxed section of the article entitled “Balanced reporting starts at home”, carries the following statement attributed
to Mr. Sunanda Deshapriya, Director CPA and Head of the Media Unit: “He admitted that he had failed to contact journalists in The Sunday Times…”Mr. Deshapriya did inform The Sunday Times that CPA had contacted the Sunday Times, but were unable to speak to Mr Iqbal Athas. On the same occasion, Mr. Deshapriya also explained to The Sunday Times the nature and purpose of the programme on conflict-sensitive reporting, and this information has not been taken into consideration by your reporter.
I look forward to the publication of this response in full with the same prominence accorded to the original article.
Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu
Centre for Policy Alternatives