( April 28,2017, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Tamil print Media is widely polarized in line with minority politics, ethnicity and religion. With very few exceptions, it has certainly failed to evolve as a successful enterprise too. No doubt it has an extensive history and potential in shaping perspectives and informing its readers. However, compared to its lengthy history, the contribution of Tamil media to the broader development of Sri Lankan Media as a whole, can be considered insufficient. The industry has produced extremely capable journalists and editors. However, there is great poverty for media scholars who could actively support the ongoing media reform movement, in Sri Lanka.
It is in such a context, I am trying to introduce A. P. Mathan’s Tamil publication – Tanikkai Thaharkum Thanikkai – Beyond censorship – my translation may not best fit, a collection of 100 editorials that he wrote between 1st of January 2016 to 20th of February 2017 for Tamil Mirror. Each one of the hundred editorials begin with an introductory paragraph, specifying the need and drive for the editor to choose a theme for his writing. All the editorials are supported with cartoons and accompanied by a brief news item.
Initially, I wanted to write a critic on this publication. However, after carefully reading the 100 editorials, I convinced myself not to do that, for a worthy cause. There is no fixed formula to measure the effectiveness of an editorial. However, it is often expected to be unique in its vibrancy and structure. An editorial is simply an opinion maker that leads to action. Not just opinion alone, but an analysis built on perspectives, supported by evidences, logically constructed arguments with a balanced and fair view on a timely concern. Editorial would reflect the wisdom of an editor on broader issues. Media scholars consider it as a great yardstick to measure investigative and research skills of an editor and his/her commitment to raise voice on anything that matters for readers. Essentially, it is the heart of a new paper, and there has been several evidences where effective editorials are often referred by various people to make judgment of socio-political and economical context of a country. Having firmly articulated my understanding of an editorial, I acknowledge that I purposely avoided writing a critic but an introductory review. Purpose of this short introductory review is to recognize the efforts of Mathan not only to add value to his professional journey, but also to Tamil Media scholarship.
It should be noted that Mathan has been instrumental in making notable changes in layouts of traditional Tamil Media during his time at various newspapers. The graphical nature that he brought to Tamil Mirror made him comfortably accommodate more numbers of small news items. Keeping it short and strong has been his passion. Mathan’s editorials reflect his passion to keep content shorter, but also reader-friendly and easy to understand. The publication comprises 286 pages with an introductory remarks written by Vithyatharan, Chief Editor – Kalaikadir, which is published daily from Jaffna.
Having read all the 100 editorials, it is observed that Mathan has given prominence to selected number of themes such as Tamil politics and political parties, transitional issues, reintegration of war affected community and post war life of Northern people – specifically northern Tamils, national security, status of good governance, Rajapaksha’s hypocrisy politics, influence of international diplomacy on local politics, instability of upcountry political parties in meetings people need, etc., in his editorials.
Majority of the editorials are addressing issues around Northern politics – struggle of TNA in fulfilling people’s aspirations and its promises, emerging interparty conflicts within TNA, upraising of alternative political leadership in the North, Tamil political leaders and problems in their move and collective challenges of Tamil politics. (Editorials 2, 3, 7, 8, 18, 20, 21, 23, 25, 40, 51, 56, 59,60, 83, 84, 87, 97, 98, 100). It is very explicit that Mathan is advocating for political cohesion and a responsible political system that is accountable and beneficial for people and not for political parties or politicians.
It is noteworthy that he has begun his intro with thoughts about political parties. “Every political party would have a goal driven by people’s welfare. When political parties are deviating from their goals, they need to face attacks of criticism. (p.xi)”.
This publication makes him a political critic and activist who envisions at a culture of responsibility within politics. “In many cases, the promises of politicians are valid only for elections. Except for very few, majority of the politicians never fulfil their promises. When those broken promises are captured in publications like this, it become a potential history for the next generation. I have compiled my editorials in support of next generations (P.xii)” – such note from Mathan makes it very clear that he has more faith in the “political system’ to bring changes.
At the same time, he has shown ample attention to address transitional issues – achieving justice, exploring truth, accepting right to memorialization, addressing key drivers of conflict, and restoring normalcy too (Editorials 11, 14, 19, 39, 43, 62, 64 and 79). Equally, rights of Tamil community, issues of reintegration of war affected people, social status of rehabilitated former LTTE cadres, emerging violence in the North and sexual abuse, tension amongst university students in Jaffna are included in his editorials too.
Significant number of editorials deal with the inability of upcountry politics in resolving basic livelihood concerns of the plantation community. Mathan has put it very strongly that upcountry politics is driven by personal gains and agendas, not necessarily for the benefit of people. He brings it to light that some politicians do cheat people to gain political benefits. (Editorials 17, 26, 67, 69 and 71). When it comes to international diplomacy and its impact on local politics, Mathan hasn’t failed to raise his concerns over South Indian politics and its influence in Sri Lanka and Tamil community (5, 44, 46, 53, 63, 68) while also observing how U. S. Foreign mediation (9 and 10) intervenes with Sri Lankan local politics.
The Editor has noted the importance of maintaining Tamil political representation in the Western province, while he has openly criticized about the hypocrisy behind Rajapaksha’s family politics. As an editor he has alerted government higher officials – Central Bank Governor, Inspector General of Police etc., on the responsibility, challenges and expectations ahead of them. The overall opinion of the editor about the present government and the President is broadly hopeless and slightly hopeful. While he is criticizing the present government for its inability to deliver its promises he has concentrated in writing about some common issues related to health, national security, reconciliation, natural disaster, students right to protest and education as well.