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Sep 17, 2013

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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21 comments

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21 thoughts on “Greg Sheridan defends Sri Lankan junket — and glowing coverage

  1. Colin Fenwick

    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?

  2. klewso

    The best impartial opinion money and duchessing can buy.

  3. cairns50

    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

  4. klewso

    He’s so shill in his observations.

  5. Bob the builder

    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.

  6. JamesH

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

  7. john willoughby

    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..

  8. Kevin Herbert

    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.

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