The Wacky World of Citizen Journalism - An Eyewitness Account

While I do not intend to engage on Colombo Telegraph on its site – the comments section is a cesspool of bile by those hiding behind veils of anonymity -  Sanjana Hattotuwa.

There is a priceless article on Groundviews by Sanjana Hattotuwa. At the time I am writing this, there have only been four comments. I would like to raise the profile of Sanjana’s article and thereby add to the gaiety of nations.

http://groundviews.org/2014/06/03/response-to-article-in-colombo-telegraph/

Sanjana is the scourge of corruption, triumphalism, Buddhist thugs and Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism in general. So, what new crime is he exposing in this article?

The article is about a meal at the Gallery Café in 2009, the cost of which Sanjana allegedly claimed from the Centre for Policy Alternatives. Colombo Telegraph sees this as indulgence in lavish living. "Certain prominent Colombo-based ‘human rights professionals’ are making merry, wining and dining in upmarket restaurants, hoodwinking donors by filing expenses under ‘safe’ cost columns." Our intrepid muckraker, Sanjana, is miffed because that other intrepid muckraker, Uvindu Kurukulasuriya, is turning his muckraking laser on Sanjana himself. This will not stand!

Sanjana complains: “This hasn’t been the first article on that site which has targeted me personally and Groundviews as a platform.” Ah, bless! “It is however the most serious in a series I expect to continue into the future.” I look forward to that with my breath suitably bated. Can you imagine him puffing himself up for the fray?

I will leave it to Asian Mirror readers to decide whether the amount involved is “lavish”. It is Rs 20,865 ($160, £95), according to Colombo Telegraph. CT helpfully provides a copy of the bill. CT’s article claims that they asked CPA’s Executive Director if it was standard practice to use project funds for activities not related to relevant projects. According to the CT article, Dr Saravanamuttu said it was not.

There is clearly bad blood between Sanjana Hattotuwa, editor of Groundviews, and Uvindu Kurukulusuriya, editor of Colombo Telegraph. I wonder what lies behind this? I am loath to bring up my own history with these two gentlemen. It seems a long time ago that I was on the receiving end, but, when I checked, I realised it was less than a year ago. They are battling with each other over events of five years ago.

My Experience with Colombo Telegraph

On 13 April 2012,  I reminded Colombo Telegraph of their own comments policy. I pointed out that they had allowed ‘Erwin’ to write this: “Oh no, here comes the schizophrenic Mango who writes about poop on his worthless blog. And his Caucasian boyfriend, the pedophile tourist Padraig Colman, whose father washed boots for the British Army. No doubt Mango’s mother is also sucking Arab dick in Saudi as I write this. Go to Negombo Beach at 4:30 am sharp. Pedophile tourist Padraig Colman will lick your toes, if he’s not busy sucking off his boyfriend Mango.”

CT responded:  “We were in an experiment to find out whether people comment responsibly or not. We now understand they are not. Since your complaint we decided to moderate comments, that mean no one will be able to put comments strait away from this morning.” “Removed, We are sorry.” “See; There lot which we did not approved. We are not tolerate those kind of malpractices , but what we have done before was an open comment policy . Once we've seen something against our comment policy we always removed it.”

My Experience with Groundviews

I first published an article on Groundviews on March 17 2012.

http://groundviews.org/2012/03/17/martyrology-martyrdom-rebellion-terrorism/

It got a good response – over 5,000 viewings and 114 comments. Some comments were from the usual trolls but there was also a stimulating debate with contributions from all over the world.

Things went sour when I posted an article on July 15 2013 about citizen journalism. The first comment was from Colombo Telegraph and Sanjana allowed that to derail the conversation.

http://groundviews.org/2013/07/15/citizen-journalism-and-the-numbers-game/

With that article, I had hoped to start a discussion on the nature of participatory journalism in Sri Lanka. That proved impossible because Sanjana allowed the “discussion” to degenerate into a ridiculous gallimaufry about the fact that I write under a pseudonym.

I asked Sanjana on 17 July 2013,”What do you have to say about my identity being revealed?” He responded: “I cannot recall when you asked me to keep it secret?”

This is my position. I make no secret of the fact that the name on my birth certificate and bank account is Michael Patrick O’Leary and that I write under the name Padraig Colman.

http://pcolman.wordpress.com/about/

The issue is that Sanjana comments stating that I am perpetrating some kind of fraud by using a pseudonym. The vast majority of commenters on GV use pseudonyms, which prevent their trollish activities being connected to a breathing human being. Sanjana’s failing was that he allowed discussion of my names to take over from discussion of my article.

Suppression of Comments

I told Sanjana that I was “finished” with GV. However, another comment came in which I felt required a response from me. Sanjana would not allow this. “You unilaterally and unequivocally said you are finished with Groundviews. The matter ends there for me. The web's an open place - and you can follow the example of so many others over 7 years and choose to raise your concerns in other web fora and channels. Good night and good luck.”

Fair enough, you might say. However, there is a big difference, in freedom of expression terms, between me saying, “petulantly” according to Sanjana, that I am not going to play with him anymore and him prohibiting me from defending myself.

It came to my attention that he was also preventing others from defending me. I received two messages.  The first one from “Navin” said:

“I left a comment on GV asking why these people commenting under pseudonyms want you shut out from GV ... However, the comment got moderated out! Seems Sanjana Hattotuwa doesn’t want me questioning the hypocrisy and intolerance of “Dev”, “J Fernando”, “Pubudu”, “Inoka Karu” etc. My comment was not slander, not racist, not irrelevant and so on. It was just 2 sentences of very good English! Anyways, I have little trust in men like Sanjana and Uvindu. I don’t think they practice the ideals they preach. I think they too seek power but not for the people they claim to speak for but for themselves. Please do keep writing.”

The second one was from Amar Gunatilleka of the Marga Institute: “The splitting of hairs is probably due to general upbringing and the insecurity of people. Out of 29 comments, maybe there were just couple regarding the subject and the rest was on Padraig Colman or Michael. So Padraig is Michael, big deal. Bob Dylan is actually Robert Zimmerman and Elton John is actually Reginald Kenneth Dwight. So let’s not listen to their songs anymore ...Sanjana, bad show my friend. This could have been managed far better.”

Sanjana’s defence:  “As for comments that have ostensibly not gone on, they are only for two reasons - 1. they do not conform to content submission guidelines 2. they are held up by Wordpress's Spam filter plugin (called Akismet). Given the sheer amount of comment spam the site gets daily (a common problem on the web, and unrelated to any specific individual), I cannot and do not check the Spam folder anymore.” Ho hum!

 A Plague on Both your Houses

I do not see any where a denial of the charge about the expenses claim. Sanjana merely argues about the dates. He does not address Uvindu’s other charge. Kurukulasuriya also stated that Hattotuwa should clear his name on whether or not he "verbally abused" a female co-worker at the CPA. "Also, he is yet to answer this allegation and prove us wrong."

Sanjana is distressed and disappointed by CT: “It is the original content produced by the site (not generally what is sent in or republished) and the commentary to all the content published in general, that I find atrocious. CT can be so much more.”

I am disappointed in GV.  There is much good stuff there. It could be so much more. Take Sanjana’s recent article as an example. There are only four  comments. One of them takes the opportunity to take a swipe at Dayan Jayatilleka and Rajiva Wijesinha. What relevance does that have to dinner at the Gallery Café?

GV would be so much better if it abided by its own principles.  GV tells potential contributors: “Please treat others with respect. Flaming and trolling will not be accepted on Groundviews. Attack the issue, not the person. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved. Comments that seek to inflame tensions on the ground, or are of a defamatory nature, will not be approved, or will be taken off the website as soon as possible.”

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