Freedom of expression on Sri Lankan blogs

Freedom of expression is a threatened species in Sri Lanka at the moment and one can only hope for a change of scene, but the way things are at the moment we aren’t holding our breath…

That was Java Jones, and I couldn’t have said it better. Freedom of expression is largely seen as an unaffordable luxury by most of the intellectual crowd in Sri Lanka right now. Journalists are pretty much a oppressed group of people and now bloggers are slowly beginning to wake up to the danger on the horizon as well.

But how dangerous is speaking out in the blogsphere? Admittedly, the English blogosphere (symbolized by kottu, acchaaru etc.) does not cater or speak for the larger part of the Sri Lankan population; the language and technological barriers being too great to overcome for now. However, it does succeed in reaching a large part of the tech savvy intelligentsia both here and abroad. And thus it can be credited with the status of being a valuable niche player in Sri Lankan media as a whole, and an important one in its new media sphere.

Has the government wised up to whats going on? And if they have, how much longer can the blogosphere push its buttons before some serious action is taken? Bloggers increase in notoriety as the popularity and influence of the medium increases, and when more people look to blogs for information, oppressive and authoritarian governments usually take action. This is how it happened in China, Iran, Burma etc.

Most people seem to think, in hushed tones of thought, that Sri Lanka is heading for or is already in the grips of an authoritarian regime. The portrayal of the president more in the guise of a king as opposed to a democratic leader in propagandist media doesn’t leave any illusions as to what the marketing angle of the government is either. To my mind they’re playing up the deep seated fascination rural Sri Lankans have about the kings of old; the great Dutugemunus.

The problem with kings though, is that it’s their way or the highway, if you’re lucky. And that simply does not sit very well in a society craving for freedom. But i digress.

So is freedom of expression on Sri Lankan blogs under significant threat as yet? Or is it getting there?

  1. Sigma said:

    Recent events and the increasingly sad tendency of the GOSL to cultivate the likes of Myanmar are all indications of a government determined to tighten its grip on the country. While the blogsphere remains relatively untouched, so far, its only a matter of time before this too is policed – something that most bloggers are becoming aware of I think; over the last few months there has been a measurable drop in the number of commentaries on things in SL. GOSL is not one to tolerate any dissent in it’s determination to hold on to power at whatever cost, those that walk the corridors of power are have been seduced by the Dark Side in their pursuit of the material!Sad, for the rest of us, SL has all the potential to be the Emerald Isle it was once called, rather than the Banana Republic its becoming

    • Whacko said:

      well imo i think most of our politicians have been ‘seduced by the dark side’ post independence. but aren’t all politicians in it for some sort of personal gain? i guess in more developed nations they have some career goals in mind and at least a few ideals, and they see the futrther development of the country as something will increase their own personal lot. at least, thats one explanation floating around 😀 i may be wrong.

  2. DD said:

    Thought provoking post. I do belive that the bloggers from the ‘intelligentsia’ stay aware of what can be said and cannot. It’s disheartning to see some Sri Lankan bloggers creating dissonace just for the sake of it. I.e a recent post I saw on kottu depicting nudity at the Hikka fest.
    Is there already a SLgov watchdog on what bloggers say? I believe so. Has it reached a level where bloggers need to stay concerned? If you look at the more popular SL blogs from now to a year ago they do seem to be very aware of what to say or rather not since of recent.

  3. Anon said:

    I am not taking any chances.

    These guys monitor everything.

  4. I think we’ll eventually get there. The saddest part is we don’t have a strong opposition to stop or even slow this process down.

    • Whacko said:

      yeah, quite true. an opposition with some backbone is what we need

  5. DD said:

    What I fear TKP is that it may soon just become random.
    All of us or the majority of us I believe supported the war and the end of the LTTE even to the extent of the setting up of war camps to bleed out the hardcore LTTE members in hiding.
    But to randomly target anyone who disagrees with the family filial style to governing a country and wiping out any kind of political opposition or democratic movement?
    There lies the real problem to be feared.
    Originally the intelligentsia and the politically interested sought to understand the wheels within the wheels. Already they just don’t want to know.
    Agitate and die? No way?

  6. I tend to view this topic as an outsider, and while I understand and accept the plight faced by the intelligentsia, it has to be said that this is a tiny minority in the country…too tiny (in my opinion) to influence government policy, at least to a point where the majority of voters are affected.

    Assuming I’m wrong and the country’s heading steadily towards a familial dictatorship, I echo TKRP’s lament about the Opposition. I mean where is the Opposition? Aren’t they supposed to be nitpicking the ruling party’s policies and exposing them for being undemocratic and (presumably) therefore unhealthy for the country? Or is the Opposition as bothered about democracy as the government, i.e. not at all?

    • Whacko said:

      yeah it would seem that this particular crowd is but a few percent of the population. But as dissent gets more widespread and if the sinhalese speaking intelligentsia get going thru spreading the word thru blogs things may change.

      • Hmm fair enough…is this dissent constructive though? I guess I’m just not convinced it’ll achieve anything positive. That’s not to say something shouldn’t be done…but maybe there’s a more productive way to bring about lasting change?

    • Whacko said:

      like what? democracy?

      • Hehe I don’t mean as a ideology…I mean as a way of making the ruling party see the intelligentsia’s point of view.

        And as for democracy…or any ideology for that matter…it only works if the people know how to make it work. I’m not convinced that the majority of Sri Lankan voters do.

    • Whacko said:

      Thanks DD, thats quite a situation eh. But their right when they say bloggers’ popularity soars when they are arrested. and yes i’ve noticed fear drive down heated opposition to the powers that be in the Sri Lankan blogsphere as well. A few promonent bloggers have all but disappeared.

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