The Cameron “Walk Out”: The refusal to speak as political action

The refusal to interact should not be marked as a simple act of “cowardice”. This would be the misreading of a self-congratulatory Sri Lankan press and polity; for David Cameron and the UK — unlike what Muttiah Muralitharan claims — have NOT “misread” the ground situation in Sri Lanka. Cameron had a right not to co-operate to a journalistic lobby. It is a choice granted to him by the democratic codes that govern social play. The watchdogs of the (sic) “nation” who ram Cameron for his “walk out” are merely “upset” that their stocked vent was not spent. It should not be mistaken with “absence of democracy” on Cameron’s part.

In assessing the David Cameron “walk out” on a section of the mainstream Sri Lankan media at his final press briefing at the conclusion of the CHOGM, 2013 we shouldn’t disregard the role of the “press” from which he walked out, specially in the context of the immediate week of CHOGM activity. Where the pro-Rajapakshic mainstream media bloats Cameron’s “selective” answering of questions – mainly in his selection of “British journalists” who (as some media quoted) were Pro-Cameron – to exploit an anti-Cameron and anti-British tune, the British Premier is gunned down for breaching the “spirit of democracy” by snubbing the Sri Lankan journalists in that media lobby.

In my view, David Cameron is not obliged to answer a throng of journalists, simply because they are there – and by deduction, if they are to represent the spirit which the pro-regimental mainstream media of Sri Lanka has been showing throughout that week. In my view, in Cameron’s walking out on the local media he socialized a very strong political message; and it is this “political act” which the government friendly journos, again, have turned to their end by calling Cameron a “coward” and his boycott an “act of cowardice”. Given the rough and untactful handling of Cameron throughout that week and the role of some of the Sri Lankan journalists’ lobby, whether Cameron had anything further to share is a question on which Cameron alone has the right to decide on.

If in Cameron’s snubbing of the local media a progressive journalist missed the opportunity of asking a “relevant” question from the British premier, that loss is hers/his because of the precedent set by the pro-governmental journos that week. Newspapers such as Dinamina, The Daily News and TV channels in the line of Rupavahini – for the week – were on a Cameron-feast and I don’t think this came as unexpected. The hunting party, however, was only muscled by Swarnavahini and Derana-likes; specially, the latter, who seemed to have converted her 8 O’clock news bulletin to a running film titled “CHOGM”, starring Mahinda Rajapakshe. The antagonists’ roles were firmly set on Cameron and Channel 4. Rajpal Abeynayake – who had the opportunity of playing a small cameo in Channel 4’s second documentary – was seen in the journalists’ lobby and Rajpal’s queries would have been suspended midair by Cameron’s hurried exit. Malinda Seneviratne – another Rajapakshe hardcore – was quick to publicize through his blog a curry-flavoured diarrhoea, on the “colonial” Cameron. As much as CHOGM 2013 has given Channel 4 sufficient material for another decade and sound back up for their work of the past five years, those who “missed” Cameron at his “non-cooperative exit” may have him — and at leisure, too — as bunny for the next month to come.

David Cameron was a badly handled egg. (What is generally felt to be) Government-orchestrated “protests” against Cameron didn’t help and were altogether a big farce; and irrelevant to the nation’s cause. Specially, given Cameron’s pre-CHOGM stance on Sri Lanka’s human rights record and given the pressures that weighed on him as he confirmed his participation in Sri Lanka, Cameron’s visit would have been neatly planned out with identified spots and identified “missions”. One should spare Cameron if his agenda didn’t include some space for an intake of journalistic barrage from a cohort who wouldn’t add meaning to Cameron’s stay; or would carry the meaning of his visit to his voter base in the UK. Given the mollycoddling tendency of the pro-regimental media (of which some are frequently said to wine and dine at Temple Trees) – something that was repeatedly seen in the week’s events, where the fluff, pomposity and the glamour that was highlighted left no critical space to engage and reflect on the actual seriousness of the issues at hand – Cameron would have answered the journalists that mattered to be answered. One has to make a cost-benefit analysis and even if Cameron hadn’t spoken, the address of the mainstream Sri Lankan media would not have lost anything, as – as they had proven throughout the week – Cameron had already been deemed as “enemy”.

Indeed, the puppies and punies of the Sri Lankan media have made fat babies out of their politicians. For one, the media never grills a politician – unless it is a vulnerable politician who is not known to have in his garage a white van or two – and dares not question or cross-question beyond the safety line drawn by the rogue politico. As a result, when an investigative team such as Channel 4 hits the road everything they do – from descending on a scene where an Oppositional protest is being thug-handled by the Bodhu bala Sena, or the abrupt confronting of the President, caught off his guard – appears “abnormal” and “out of script”. Years ago, in a Journalism classroom presided by a gangly Dalton De Alwis – not a “reckless” gentleman at all – we were told that a journalist’s prime concern should be is to “question and question till the truth is uncovered” and that one should essentially “think out of the box”. In a regimented set up where the “sanctioned” and the “easy” journalism is the pro-governmental yarn, news policy and the stance of the press room is determined and decided “higher up”. Through overt or covert mangling the mainstream media of Sri Lanka has been tamed to such a point that not a single news investigation seemed to probe into the many questionable questions of CHOGM-preparation and CHOGM-parading. In any case, no questions were asked by a single news room (except for papers such as “Raavaya” and other non-mainstream publications). What added wisdom could Cameron give an “opinion-wanking” stooge?

The pampering and poodling of the politicos was reflected more than clearly when the President was grilled by the international press. Lack of practice and aghast was seen every time when he was questioned back on an eely response and when pinned down with questions which, on another day, the President would have easily negotiated with a block of added kiribath on the journalist’s plate. Being confronted by Channel 4, the President showed an unpreparedness and a hesitation which more than amplified the national first citizen’s “vulnerability” at being accosted by a “journalist on the hunt”. The Sri Lankan press should grill their statesmen more and more; and the statesmen, too, should allow themselves to be embarrassed by their local hood journos. While a vibrant, question-asking, investigative journalism will keep the checks and balances of society in place, it would also give some “match practice” for the political VIPs, who otherwise have to chew their cud when the cards are laid on the table by hardline journalists.


Vihanga Perera is a poet, prose writer and blogger. This article originally appeared on his blog 'In Love With a Whale'.


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