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Greg Sheridan defends Sri Lankan junket — and glowing coverage

The Sri Lankan government’s human rights record is under attack, but not by The Australian’s Greg Sheridan. He travelled to the country last month on a government-funded trip.

The Australian’s foreign editor Greg Sheridan has defended accepting the Sri Lankan government’s offer of paid travel and accommodation to report on the state of the country four years after the end of a brutal civil war.

The Australian Tamil Congress has described Sheridan’s series on Sri Lanka — which painted a glowing picture of the country’s progress — as an “advertisement” for the government that ignored the continuing oppression of the country’s Tamil minority.

Sheridan produced four stories totalling 5000 words from the trip, which was the brainchild of the Sri Lankan government. These included “Sri Lanka holds back the tide” (which argued Sri Lanka is Australia’s best friend on tackling people smuggling) “Sri Lanka: a nation at peace” (in which Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa accused the Tamil diaspora of bribing Western politicians) and last Friday’s “Sri Lanka’s path to peace”.

Sheridan’s pieces carried a declaration saying he travelled as a guest of the Sri Lankan government.

Sheridan’s trip coincided with a week-long visit by Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, who said:

I am deeply concerned that Sri Lanka, despite the opportunity provided by the end of the war to construct a new vibrant, all-embracing state, is showing signs of heading in an increasingly authoritarian direction … It is important everyone realises that, although the fighting is over, the suffering is not.”

Pillay’s comments were not reported in The Australian and received little attention from other Australian media outlets.

Sam Pari, spokesperson for the Australian Tamil Congress, told Crikey: “The government is still conducting horrendous structural genocide against the Tamil people. It’s immoral and unethical for a senior journalist to be writing articles just based on one side when it’s clear that side has a vested interest. It’s embarrassing because they [the Sri Lankan government] are using an Australian media outlet to do their propaganda for them.

It’s basically a free advertisement in the paper; instead of paying money to advertise Sri Lanka, they spend money on a journalist to advertise Sri Lanka.”

But Sheridan, who has long taken aim at the Tamil Tigers in his columns, told Crikey accepting sponsored travel did not affect his independence. ”I’m a very opinionated writer,” he said. “I certainly try to inform opinions partly through travel. I don’t think they have ever been influenced improperly by sponsorship.

I’d say there are two obligations when taking a trip funded by a foreign government: the first is disclosure; the second is not to be intellectually corrupted by the sponsorship, that is, not to form a judgement, or write anything, which is contradictory to what you would have written had it not been for the sponsorship.”

Sheridan says it is common for governments to fund trips by journalists — including the Australian government, which brings reporters to Australia under the Special Visitors Program. Earlier this year, Sheridan visited China as a guest of Chinese telco giant Huawei.

Human Rights Watch last year claimed the Sri Lankan government has:

… continued its assault on democratic space and failed to take any meaningful steps towards providing accountability for war crimes committed by either side during the internal armed conflict that ended in 2009. The government targeted civil society through threats, surveillance and clampdowns on activities and free speech.”

Earlier this year Reporters Without Borders placed Sri Lanka 162nd out of 179 nations in a press freedom index.

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  • 1
    MJPC
    Posted Tuesday, 17 September 2013 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    Cash for comments?

  • 2
    Colin Fenwick
    Posted Tuesday, 17 September 2013 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    Thank goodness someone has taken Sheridan up on this. I read one of those pieces and apart from anything else, it was completely about the past. About 85 per cent was taken up with description of the Tamil Tiger’s approach to a war that has been over for some time. Absolutely no mention of current circumstances with the challenges to governance and the rule of law. Did anyone mention CHOGM, by the way?

  • 3
    klewso
    Posted Tuesday, 17 September 2013 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    The best impartial opinion money and duchessing can buy.

  • 4
    cairns50
    Posted Tuesday, 17 September 2013 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    any reasonable person who has ever read any of his opinion columns over the years knows what greg sheridan is and what he stands for

    he is nothing more than a right wing redneck opinionated hack for murdoch and his many papers

  • 5
    klewso
    Posted Tuesday, 17 September 2013 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    He’s so shill in his observations.

  • 6
    Bob the builder
    Posted Tuesday, 17 September 2013 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    Thanks crikey for having the forbearance to continue pointing out this tired hack’s partisan reporting. Tiresome work, but good that someone’s noting it.

    What a disgraceful joke Sheridan is.

  • 7
    JamesH
    Posted Tuesday, 17 September 2013 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    Did Sherry ever get a paid tour of East Timor, or did he promote Indonesia there as an act of charity?

  • 8
    john willoughby
    Posted Tuesday, 17 September 2013 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    Bishop and Morrison were in Sri Lanka and also waxed about how well the place was going and how it was fine to send refugees “home”…. this after meeting with a Tamil who later said that he had been afraid to talk freely as they had turned up with a convoy of Sri Lankan Soldiers… and that he had intimated as much to them… it borders on evil really..

  • 9
    Bob the builder
    Posted Tuesday, 17 September 2013 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    .

  • 10
    Kevin Herbert
    Posted Tuesday, 17 September 2013 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    Sheridan is a perennial right wing lightweight for hire who will no doubt be rewarded when the Oz closes with a grandly titled ‘fellowship’ by one of DC’s 200 or so right wing think tanks financed by Murdoch’s neocon sleazebag mates, who directly control the US Congress & the Presidency.

    His foreign affairs analysis is simply not worth reading in my experience as it arrives at exactly the same place every time i.e. the US & its allies are blameless in every geopolitical situation globally notwithstanding the availability of overwhelming, verifiable evidence to the contrary.

    His piece about the sterling future of the disastrous US F35 project would have even made the manufacturer cringe in embarrassment.

    Ironically, he’s a better than average features or color piece writer. His TV reviewing pieces are most readable.

  • 11
    cairns50
    Posted Tuesday, 17 September 2013 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    sri lanka will be saved any way

    they have just granted james packer a casino license there

    with the usual government subsidised tax breaks as well

    how disgusting is that?

  • 12
    shepherdmarilyn
    Posted Tuesday, 17 September 2013 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    Sheridan is the worst journo on foreign affairs in this country, no way he would get his hands dirty to do the work Paul McGeough and many others do for the Fairfax media and the ABC, Al Jazerra and SBS.

    He is a spiv. for Israel, can’t see Jakarta ever doing anything wrong and thought that the AWB stealing $300 million from starving Iraqis was just the way business was done.

    ONce upon a time though he did defend the rights of refugees.
    Greg Sheridan, writing in the November 8 Australian, summed up the mood among many conservatives: “You have a right to determine who comes into your home. But if there’s a car accident in your street in which the husband is killed and the wife, bleeding and injured, brings her three small daughters to your front door, in need of rudimentary but urgent medical attention and the use of a phone, what is your response? Legally you’re entitled to refuse her entry, no doubt. Morally, to do so would be evil, even grotesque.”

  • 13
    DiddyWrote
    Posted Tuesday, 17 September 2013 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    I think Sheridan sums up Murdochian journalism quite succinctly there;

    I’m a very opinionated writer” and I am available for hire by anyone who wants that opinion.

  • 14
    dazza
    Posted Tuesday, 17 September 2013 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    Greg Sheridan is well known for his comments against others. here’s a comment on his reporting style.
    http://loonpond.blogspot.com.au/2013/06/its-all-fear-and-loathing-unless-you.html#.Ujf_I8anp9U

  • 15
    friendly
    Posted Tuesday, 17 September 2013 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

    Robert Fisk is a credible, honest, real foreign correspondent who has during his career put his backside on the line time and time again. Greg Sheridan as a journalist is not in the same class, he is awful and the only risk he takes upon himself is having leather burns across his backside

  • 16
    Posted Tuesday, 17 September 2013 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    When did journalists get to write their own definition of the meaning of conflict of interest and how it should be applied to them? I think the full bodied concept of conflict of interest should apply to journalists as it does to politicians and other professionals like doctors and lawyers. Journalists get alot of power and credibility based on a range of qualifications - they get to sit in a special section of parliament, media room at ICAC, to take notes in Court (unlike the general public), and to front all kinds of people which might otherwise be thought of as crossing the line of privacy. Shouldn’t the same conflict of interest rules apply as generally? I love to hear a client’s opinion on getting a trip funded I think it ought to be way beyond disclosure, rather just like other professions one should not receive payment where it creates an actual or apparent conflict of interest. As I understand it there is almost no situation where getting paid is a neutral process. Even when it gets diverted to a charity, there is the opportunity for reputational leverage and access. That is social and political power from the money if not the spending power of the money.

  • 17
    klewso
    Posted Tuesday, 17 September 2013 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

    He’s not a “journalist” - he’s a one-eyed one note op-ed hack who works for Murdoch’s propaganda machine.

  • 18
    Liamj
    Posted Wednesday, 18 September 2013 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    Do News Corpse hacks have to get the nod from Rupert/management before selling their arses, or does the selling happen in bosses office and Sheridan just gets his orders and churns out the puffery piecework?
    I’d expect the former, but wont be reading the yanks other tabloids to look for the pattern.

  • 19
    klewso
    Posted Wednesday, 18 September 2013 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    See “Faust” for details on that contract …..?

  • 20
    John Taylor
    Posted Saturday, 21 September 2013 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    Greg Sheridan is a carpetbagger. Nothing more and nothing less.

  • 21
    Ward Geoffrey
    Posted Saturday, 21 September 2013 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    Greg Sheridan-just another Murdoch propagandist with zero credibility. Why anyone would take his tripe seriously is beyond me. As cairns 50 puts it Sheridan is “nothing more than a right-wing opinionated hack for Murdoch”. Sri Lanka is guilty of horrendous human rights abuses but to Sheridan the regime is a paragon of virtue. Try living there as a Tamil Greg. Not keen? No, too easy a life peddling third rate propaganda….

  • 22
    CliffG
    Posted Sunday, 22 September 2013 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    Sheridan is just the usual Murdoch trash.

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