Here is a quick pointer to one of Sri Lanka’s few remaining independent media sources, Groundviews, which just posted a lengthy look at the president’s newfound interest in social media: “The Sri Lankan President’s Twitter archive and Propaganda 2.0: New challenges for online dissent.” In a country where there isn’t all that much to laugh about, Groundviews pokes some fun at President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s recently launched Twitter account, @PresRajapaksa.
The launch of the new presidential account last month prompted a flurry of snarky postings from other users under the hashtag #PresidentTweets. Praveen J, for instance, tweeted that the president had “unlocked the Executive Power Ranger badge, bravo, you sly devil you!” So far, the president’s own account is filled with bland official announcements and a chiding reminder to journalists:
We ask journalists to please double check facts w/multiple sources (& with prez spokesman for Presidential statements) before publishing.
— Mahinda Rajapaksa (@PresRajapaksa) February 5, 2013
While Groundviews has some fun, its posting raises serious issues as well: “Though there is no way whatsoever of accurately foretelling how and to what ends the government will leverage its increasingly sophisticated use of new media, several obvious challenges arise as a consequence for dissent groups and individuals, including independent Web-based media and journalists.” That term “independent Web-based media” pretty much describes what little is left of independent media in Sri Lanka–and those sites regularly come under physical and digital attack.
The not-so-funny point being made: “The landscape for online output of critical dissent is going to get more challenging than it has ever been in Sri Lanka.” CPJ shares that concern.
Still, Sri Lanka puts its international stature at risk with its hostility to independent viewpoints. Later this year, Sri Lanka is scheduled to host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. An editorial in Ceylon Today, a daily that strives to maintain its independence, pointed out that Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma is meeting with the government and looking at political conditions ahead the meeting. Some Commonwealth members have expressed growing unhappiness that CHOGM will meet in Sri Lanka, where, as Ceylon Today‘s lead editorial points out:
It will take a great deal of convincing by the government authorities to make Sharma believe that this paradise isle, one of the founding members of the Commonwealth, is still adhering to the shared values of the Commonwealth: Democracy, separation of power, human rights and the rule of law.
Sadly, the behavior of the government is shifting towards the polar opposite of those hallowed principles, which have been enshrined in the Commonwealth Declaration of 1949, and reaffirmed in subsequent declarations in Singapore in 1971 and Harare in 1991. The violation of those core values resulted in Zimbabwe, where the 1991 declaration was adopted, being suspended from the Commonwealth in 2002, after the Government of President Mugabe rigged the presidential election.