Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Age-Australia இன் தலைப்பு

Insensitiveness in Reporting by The Age with a title, "Barber who became Tamil Tiger negotiator"

read more | digg story

Insensitiveness in Reporting

Sometimes the western media (or if we correctly put, the western reporters in the media) does not understand the sensitive issues of a society and it culture. The recent example for this sort of cavalier attitude can be seen in the title of Tom Farrell's obituary note on LTTE peace negotiator Mr. S. P. Thamilselvan's obituary note that appeared in The Age (of which contents were borrowed from The Guardian.)

The Guardian

Chief negotiator and international face of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam

Tom Farrell
Monday November 5, 2007

The Age

Barber who became Tamil Tiger negotiator

Tom Farrell
November 9, 2007
29-8-1967 - 2-11-2007

It should be noted that The Age (of Australia) got the obituary note from The Guardian (of UK). The title seems to be given by someone at The Age.

Mr. Farrell's note seems to be a compilation of his own account, DBS Jeyaraj's obituary piece on S. P. Thamilchelvan [“Brigadier” Thamilchelvan, The “Smiling” Face of LTTE, November 3rd, 2007] and few other sources.

The title provided for this piece in The Age, "Barber who became Tamil Tiger negotiator" is
1. Factually wrong, and
2. Insensitive to the Tamil (or to be more accurate, to the South Asian) society and its culture.

According to DBS Jeyaraj, Mr. Thamilchelvan was never been a professional barber, in spite of his birth into a "barber" community in the caste hierarchy induced society. For a western reporter like Mr. Farrell, 'barber ' might a word depicting the hair styling professional. However, in a South Asian context, it is a highly discriminating word that reminds and in times still enforces the social hierarchy by birth system in a feudal society.

From Mr. Jeyaraj's article:
In what seems a crude attempt to humiliate Thamilchelvan some government websites and state controlled media refer to Thamilchelvan being of the “ambattan” or barber caste and that he was a barber before joining the movement.

This reminds one of the “snide” methods used to ridicule Ranasinghe Premadasa on account of his caste.

Those who seek to demean a person on the basis of caste are only demeaning themselves. It also shows the “caste consciousness” in the corridors of power.

Yes, Thamilchelvan belonged to a traditional barber community regarded as “low” in the caste hierarchy of conservative Jaffna.His father ran a saloon in Chavakachcheri. But Thamilchelvan was a student when he joined the LTTE and did not work as a barber. There is no shame even if he did so but that did not happen.

Also it should be noted The Age's title to the piece indirectly tries to evoke an image through the typical western reporting style of degrading the opponents (mainly to negatively connotate with uncultured and unethical personality). For example, Hitler's SS follower, Heinrich Himmler is always introduced as a one-time poultry farmer. Even to evoke the negative image of a war criminal, such phrases like "Klaus Barbie, the Butcher of Lyons" are used in the western media. For a western reader, who has read such introductions and titles of the historical personalities with negative images, the factually wrong "Barber who became Tamil Tiger negotiator" can easily gives a wrong first impression about the person. On an eastern (South Asian) English educated middle class reader with a 'caste_awareness' in the hidden neurons of his or her mind, this phrase would remind the "social hierarchy in the society and Mr. Thamilchelvan's place in it."

At its worst, in a vehement anti-casteist point of view, this title, "Barber who became Tamil Tiger negotiator" can be seen as an equivalent to some irresponsible racist statements that can be seen in the history annals such as that of Mr. Don Imus made on college woman-basketball players and Sir. Ian Botham's few condemnable comments on Australia(ns).

Also, we have to mind it that the claim that Mr. Thamilchelvan worked as a barber itself was flatly wrong according a n native investigative journalist like Mr. Jeyaraj, who is consulted by number of western media including BBC on Sri Lankan Tamil politics. Even comparing Mr. Farrell's note shows it clear that he borrowed few information from Mr. Jeyaraj's note to compile his obituary note (Compare the information on Thamilchelvan's interpreter, George in both obituary pieces).

Mr Farrell's factual error is a not that much of important comparing his loaded title. Either providing the title purposely with the full understanding of its loaded terms or with an ignorant way without understanding the human nature of interpreting it, The Age has done a disservice to the media.

We are not much interested in Mr. Farrell's factual errors as it is purely journalistic nature and errors happen. However, in the context of using loaded phrases, we wish and hope The Age would understand a society and how his words would be read among the readers.