The government is blowing hot and cold about censorship on military news. It has cancelled an extraordinary gazette notification announcing censorship since either wiser counsel prevailed at last or it got cold feet. However, the problem is not yet over. That gazette has all the trappings of a trial balloon. It might make a comeback sooner or later. Such vacillation is typical of all SLFP-led governments which signal left and turn right and vice versa. They are not capable of making decisions and carrying them out. Instead, they make hasty decisions and go back on them with equal haste leaving the people in utter confusion. They don`t think before leaping. They begin to think only after a stupid plunge into something like the recent forcible eviction of Tamils from Colombo lodges.
Why should the government think of censorship at this juncture? Is it because of the recent LTTE attack on the Anuradhapura base? But, the Anuradhapura attack has come and gone like all other debacles of yore, such as disasters at Pooneryn, Mullativu, Elephant Pass and Katunayake. Prabhakaran`s timing of the Anuradhapura attack was very bad. He should have gone through the TV schedules (which are dished almost daily) before ordering the raid. Had he done so, he would have launched it after the Super Star contest, which eclipsed the fallout of the attack within days in the southern parts of the country where he, no doubt, wanted his daring attack to take its impact. We are a nation like the dog in the smithy (kammale balla) as a local saying goes: That animal is so accustomed to sound that it doesn`t give two hoots about even thunder. Prabhakaran has made the mistake of teaching Sri Lanka the art of living with terrorism. What has actually stood in his way is not so much the military might of the state but the resilience of the people. Moreover, the Air Force is back in business and the Tigers are running for cover. So, why should the government be so rattled?
On the other hand, censorship hardly helps cover up military blunders. Some nincompoops turned government propaganda monkeys may claim that censorship is the means with which `leaks of vital military information` through the media could be effectively blocked. That is nothing but claptrap. The discerning cannot be jived so easily. Prabhakaran doesn`t plan operations after reading newspapers or watching television, though he has, of late, come to look a couch potato. (We hear he only watches westerns and war movies. That may be the reason why he has grown up to be a naughty boy.) If Prabhakaran is so dependent on the media for information for his war, then why should he spend so much on his intelligence network? He can jolly well subscribe to all the newspapers and watch or listen to the electronic media by way of intelligence gathering. The whole operation won`t cost him more than a few hundred rupees a day!
Even if the vast majority of the media organisations were to bat for the LTTE full time?some of them already stand accused of doing so? it wouldn`t still be able to win the war, if what we saw at the last presidential election is any indication. At that election, almost all the media institutions threw in their lot with President Rajapaksa`s rival UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. Some of them went to the extent of conducting SMS surveys and doctoring them in support of their blue eyed boy but in vain. So, how can they who couldn`t even enable the strong UNP to win against a trouble-torn SLFP, which usually doesn`t know whether it is coming or going, help the LTTE win the war, a feat which it has failed to achieve for nearly two and a half decades?
If the government is confident of its capability, or at least believes in its own rhetoric, it need not worry about what the media says about its war effort. Simply because the media says something, the discerning public won`t fall for it hook, line and sinker, if their intelligent responses are anything to go by. We have nothing but utmost respect and admiration for the reading public who are streets ahead of the media pundits.
Governments usually try to cover up corrupt defence deals and other forms of malpractice and malfeasance through censorship. But, that, to say the least, is an exercise in futility. We have undergone censorship under different regimes and seen how pathetically they failed to achieve their objectives. They only played into the hands of their political rivals who made the best use of the traditional information super highway or the grapevine. As a shortage of licit liquor leads to increasing dependence of dipsomaniacs on the rot-gut, so does censorship give a boost to the rumour mill. The predilection of our people for exaggeration is a genetic factor and they are quite adept at making mountains out of molehills. Such rumour mongering Hanumans are capable of setting the country ablaze in no time. Look at the way they sound false tsunami warnings and make people run kilometres in vain. That is why the wise old folk say, `A fence may be put up around the country but the mouth cannot be fenced in.`
What the government should be busy doing at this juncture is not to waste its time and energy on planning how to gag the press but to engage in self criticism and resolve not to repeat its mistakes.
President Rajapaksa shouldn`t be tilting at windmills. The real enemy is in the Wanni and not in the newsrooms of Colombo.