is disturbing to see The New York Times double standard and the neglect of journalistic ethics in the investigative article, “How China got Lanka to cough up Hambanthota.” Clearly, by using a journalist who is a part of Sri Lankan government-run media arm Sunday Observer as one of the main contributors for this article, The New York Times not only failed to abide by their U.S journalistic standards but also have discredited an otherwise brilliant piece of investigative journalism.
She is not to blame, but the Times is. If Dharisha Bastians’s political writings hold a note of bitterness, who could blame her? As a journalist who must function in a political sphere that has a very low tolerance for quality journalism, admittedly, she must walk a fine line. However, when you hire a journalist who is also the editor of a state-owned and government-controlled newspaper Sunday Observer, to investigate an opposition leader and a predicted favorite to win the next election, then that becomes part of the problem.
Most Sri Lankans believe that to get ahead in government-controlled jobs; one must first do the biddings of the government officials and be a part of the state propaganda. Regardless of the accuracy of this belief, in an article such as this, shared beliefs and gaining the trust of the people matters. It is vital to be able to verify the independence of the journalist before people will start listening to the facts. That is where The New York Times fails.
Coveted The New York Times overlooks Dharisha’s journalistic background and decides to hire her for the job. She may have been the most convenient choice since the Times, and Dharisha already had a relationship. But, that choice was the wrong one! Consequently, the Times ignores the ethical standards that they so proudly claim to uphold in the U.S, while unwittingly discrediting a remarkable bit of investigative journalism in the eyes of the majority of Sri Lankans.
The article is detailed and seems credible. I am confident that the authors and the contributors spent days/weeks, if not months, fact-checking and re-checking. However, the readily available nature of the documents and easy access gives me pause.
As the Guardian Columnist Rajan Philips points out, “This is interesting not only because of NYT’s seemingly open access to government records, but also, and more so, because it raises the question as to why the government itself did not make this information public through formal statements in parliament. Put another way, has the ‘Wickremesinghe government’ outsourced the exposure of Rajapaksa misdemeanors to the New York Times?”
Journalism 101: Don’t become the story. Dharisha Bastians has become the story, giving Rajapakse family much room for a strategic maneuver. The Times is busy defending the journalist, while the story falls flat by the wayside. Not only that, by deciding to hire (for this article) and support a journalist who works for a government propaganda arm such as Sunday Observer, the Times has aided Rajapaksa’s claims of victimization by western propaganda, and is unwittingly contributing to the increase of Rajapaksha’s popularity and the election momentum. A “witch-hunt by the opposition,” a term we are all too familiar with these days here in the U.S, will no doubt be making repeated rounds in political stages across Sri Lanka in coming days. If the results we see in the United States is an indication, it should not come as a surprise to see Rajapaksa family riding the popularity wave all the way through to the election next year.
Still not convinced? Imagine hiring Sean Hannity for an investigative piece on Hillary Clinton. “No Way!” You’d say! “Why not,” may I ask? Isn’t it almost the same as hiring the editor of a government-controlled newspaper to investigate a former president whom she has opposed? Is it hard to pinpoint her political views? Not sure where she stands? All you must do is a google search her past articles, and you will notice a clear pattern emerging. As an example, in the article, Old habits die hard for Mahinda” [dated:Friday, 13 May 2016] Dharisha writes about an overseas trip that was taken by the former president Mahinda Rajapaksa to the inauguration of the Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni using Sri Lankan government money, even though he was no longer the sitting president at that time. The article solely focuses on blaming Rajapaksa for asking the government to fund this trip, instead of questioning why (if it is not allowed) the government partially (according to the article) supported it. And the article goes on to list Mahinda’s wrong-doings and associations/allies worldwide and paints a negative image. It is an interesting contrast because it is not a crime to ask for funding nor it is newsworthy [unless Darisha plans to accuse all nonprofit organizations and political campaigns of solicitation?], but it is [maybe] a crime and newsworthy to defy government regulations and grant the money to a former president. Why then Dharisha Bastians goes out of her way to blame Mahinda Rajapaksa, instead of the foreign ministry of the current government?
No, I am not interested in debating Darisha Bastians’s political alliances or journalistic responsibilities. But what I am interested in is The New York Times apparent double standard and lack of respect for journalistic ethics overseas. As a newly graduated journalism student in New York, I can imagine my Journalism professor, who spent days on end grilling us about journalistic ethics and also an avid admirer of The New York Times, marveling, “Not the Times, surely!”
Time to accept. You blew it, Times! Not only did you miss an opportunity to expose political corruption in Sri Lanka successfully, but also wasted valuable resources, time and money, all the while ignoring one critical fact. How would Dharisha’s involvement affect the outcome of a such a compelling story?!
Masha Wickramasinghe is a feminist, writer and a prospective law school student. she authors Op-ed articles and hard news stories.
In a former life, Masha has directed & produced television shows and special news segments on a variety of subjects for WCCA TV, yet always focusing on giving voice to those who aren’t able to do so themselves. Masha has covered stories ranging from “Invisible Children” in Northern Uganda to interviewing music guests such as Duran Duran for a nationally syndicated show “Video Jam.” One of her most memorable projects, “Mourning in Paradise,” highlighting Sri Lanka’s armed conflict and the peace process, was syndicated and shared globally.
The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Lanka Post.