Letter to Ceylon Today on Right to Information interview

Sent the following to Editor and journalist, from Ceylon Today, who interviewed me.

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An interview with me conducted by Shaahidah on the Right to Information is published in CT today. I have only read the web version and assume the article is exactly the same in print in terms of substance.

Disappointment, dismay and ultimately, disgust come close to capturing my reaction at reading this article in the morning. I am disappointed because Shaahidah seemed to be, more than most, knowledgeable about the country’s tryst with RTI, leading up to the debate on the 23rd and 24th. I was dismayed by some of what was written around what I said, which was either totally inaccurate or misrepresented me to a degree that is unpardonable. I was disgusted, recognising this article reflects what is really a more endemic problem with mainstream media – which can be distilled to a lack of professionalism and professional standards.

The trouble starts with the bizarre choice of a headline, which doesn’t remotely approximate anything I said and indeed, runs completely counter to what I submitted and ended the interview on. It suggests a very negative outcome of RTI, which is completely opposite to what I believe and have worked towards.

There are sentences like “Thus the fanfare of instilling transparency and democracy in society by way of this Bill has led to significant concerns of many socio-political advocates within the civil society who feel that the government is not prepared to deliver what it promises through the Bill, albeit the Bill is well drafted” which are too numerous to mention, that are grammatically as confused as Gotabaya was around democratic governance back in the day. In sum, they should not have passed muster with any decent Copy or Sub Editor.

Sentences like “”Personally, I would like to see much more discussion of the RTI Bill which is actually a very strong document. In terms of technicality, there are many aspects which can be improved upon. Many of us including Transparency International, Centre for Law and Democracy, Canada, and CPA itself mentioned this to the government. Particularly in the mainstream media, especially in Sinhala, a public discussion of the RTI Bill is important.” place in the middle of one argument, which is around the lack of discussion of RTI, something entirely separate and distinct from it, which is around the technical aspects of the Bill. This ends up confusing the reader, and isn’t reflective of what I noted, or how I noted it.

Sentences like “The whistle-blower protection is weak, but it needs to be in the context of the Bill.” completely and utterly misrepresent what I said. I said that the whistleblower protection needs to be seen in context, and emphatically not that it needs to be weak in the context of the Bill. The two are very different things!

Sentences like “It’s like upgrading your operative system. You retain your data and documents but the whole thing involves significant backing of information.” are utterly meaningless. It bastardises what I said, and there is no such thing as an “operative system”, which means Shaahidah is also guilty of conjuring up terms that have no basis in fact.

Sentences like “It is important to ask questions. Jurisprudence of a country is made not because of a case is successful, but because it’s not successful” again completely misrepresents what I said. I emphatically did not say that jurisprudence is increased through only unsuccessful legal cases, which Shaahidah notes.

What is, to me, totally bizarre is that this interview was recorded. One would imagine this significantly increased the accuracy of sourcing and quoting, though in this case, it seemed to have had the opposite effect. I would have deeply appreciated Shaahidah running by me the quotes she intended to use. This was also not done.

I find it both so very disappointing and disturbing that a mainstream newspaper like CT can get away with such shoddy reporting. Be assured, I will not be speaking to any of your journalists in the future, and if invited, will only ever interact in the future through email in the belief, I hope very much is not entirely unfounded, that the comprehension of the written word at CT may be more than the spoken.

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