Right of Reply


“CPA-LTTE-Trinco”: The questions and answers

You are not the spokesman
Ravi Chandralal who took part in the visit to the Manirasakulam camp as a representative of the CPA has issued a separate statement purportedly to be on behalf of the journalists who took part in the visit.

Mr. Chandralal who claims to be be a freelance journalist had represented the CPA at the event, but says that he has issued the statement on behalf of the journalists who took part in the event.

However The Sunday Times has verified with the journalists and found that no such authority has been given to Mr. Chandralal to issue a statement purpotedly on behalf of the journalists and therefore the statement cannot be published.

Dr. Paikiyasothy Saravanamuttu, Executive Director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) has responded to The Sunday Times Special Assignment last week with a four page letter where he has raised several issues.

Although he has now raised queries, Dr. Saravanamuttu was given an opportunity to respond even before our report appeared. His comments were duly published except that he opted to, on that occasion, pass the buck to Mr. Sunanda Deshapriya instead. It is only after our report appears that he requests from us, a response from him. Here are the new issues he has raised with answers to them from our reporter Chris Kamalendran.

Dr. Saravanamuttu: Your reporter states that CPA "... arranged a conducted tour for sections of the media to visit the controversial Manirasakuam (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, Batticoloa 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 Kurangupaanchean camp alone.

Mr. Kamalendran: The reference to other workshops is not relevant as no issue has been raised in the report with regard to them. Since the subject matter, as the CPA confirms, is "conflict sensitive journalism," the best judges to report on such issues would have been the journalists themselves. The difference here is the role played by those representing the CPA on an issue which they admit is sensitive. The Sunday Times verified the CPA claim about the workshop on 'conflict sensitive journalism' and learnt many of those who took part in the conducted tour to Manirasakulam (Kurangupaachan) had not taken part in the workshop.

Dr. Saravanamuttu: 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 the 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 sysstem, 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.
Mr. Kamalendran: This is an attempt at splitting hairs. The simple fact is that terminology "CPA-LTTE-Trinco" was used in CPA emails to newspaper offices. By his own admission this is how their "common digital archiving system" also used the title to describe the project. Must anything more be said?

Dr. Saravanamuttu: 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.

Mr. Kamalendran: Dr. Saravanamuttu's claim, to say the least, is irresponsible. How does he know "it is simply not true" and that "it is not correct to say that the questions were loaded". He was not among those who visited Manirasakulam (Kurangupaanchan). He is relying purely on the version of a third party if it all he is relying on anyone. I was present there. I reported what I saw. He (Dr. Saravanamuttu) is stating something he had been told by someone else. In all fairness to truth, I would ask Dr. Saravanamuttu to check with any one of the media representatives who went there.

I would ask why at all did any CPA representatives raise questions at a news conference on what the CPA calls a sensitive issue at the beginning or at the end ? Surely, would it not have been wiser to have allowed the media representatives to have raised all the questions and elicited all the answers? Why were those CPA "co-ordinators" as they called themselves sitting with the LTTE ? This in itself is dubious leave alone asking questions. The fact that the questions were 'loaded' needs no explanation.

Dr. Saravanamuthu: 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. Mr. Kamalendran: In respect of (I)The fact simply remains that Senthil Sivagnanam came to Manirasakulam (Kurngupaanchan) as a representative of the CPA. Dr. Saravamuth confirms that he is an "independent translator commissioned by the CPA." Well, if is to go by the defintion of labour laws, Dr. Saravanamuttu is right. Mr. Sivagnanam may not be an employee. But he sure was 'commissioned' (Dr. Saravanamuttu's words) employed by the CPA on the visit to the scene as a translator, is that not clear?

Dr. Saravanamuttu: 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.

Mr. Kamalendran: Regarding the identity The Sunday Times stands corrected, but Mr. Chandralal indeed works for the CPA. Mr Chandralal who called over at The Sunday Times office with a different statement on the same issue purportedly being issued on behalf of the journalists admitted that he works for the CPA as well. Director of the CPA Mr. Sunanda Deshapriya too last week admitted that Mr. Chandralal represented the CPA.

Dr. Saravanamuuttu: 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.
Mr. Kamalendran: Perhaps we owe Dr. Saravanamuthu a little space to make a commercial pitch to claim that the CPA is an independent public policy organisation with a proven track record and advocacy...... Their "independence, their policy, their proven track record, their advocacy" have all come into question now with what appears to be the hachet job for the LTTE

Dr.Saravanamuttu: "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.

Mr. Kamalendran: Now Dr. Saravanamuttu is admitting that CPA "employees did ask some questions during the discussions, but to say they asked most of the questions and not the media is grossly incorrect.", he says. Firstly, Dr. Saravanmuttu admits that the CPA men who were there were "employeess". Secondly, he admits they asked "some questions". How could the CPA employees ask questions at a news conference? Are they not playing the role of the media, even if one is to, for purposes of argument, agree only few questions were asked? Does this not bare there is something sinister? Why did the CPA "employees" as Dr. Saravanamuttu now admits raise questions at a news conference over what the CPA itself calls a sensitive issue. He is wrong to say only "some questions" were asked. he was not there. I was present and I can say most questions were asked by the men whom Dr. Saravanamuttu now admits are CPA "employees" .

Dr.Saravanamuthu: 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. Mr. Kamalendran: I guess we should not grudge a little free publicity for the CPA website. But asking one to refer to a CPA website or other briefing documents to find answers to CPA's intentions or hidden agenda is, hilarious if it is not ridiculous.

The questions over CPA's independence and even integrity have arisen over the conducted media tour of Manirasakulam. Posting lofty ideals on a website will not help. The intentions should be made clear through their transparent public conduct. Reference was made to the Ministry of Defence since their permission was obtained to visit Army and Navy establishments.

Dr.Saravanamuttu: A boxed secton of the article entitled "Balanced reporting starts at home", carries the following statement attributed to Mr. Sunanda Deshapriya, Director CPA and Head of 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.

Mr Kamalendran: I have checked with Mr. Iqbal Athas. He says no one from the CPA had made any contact with him over the CPA sponsored media visit to Manirasakulam. I would ask Dr. Saravanamuttu not to take umbrage under glorified terms like "conflict sensitive reporting" to hide from the simple truth. The CPA has failed to tell the truth. That is what raises more questions than they answer. In short , the CPA had no 'business' playing media with the LTTE in Manirasakulam.

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