Saturday, February 03, 2007

citizen journalism or trampling on citizens; examples of censorship at groundviews blog

this is going to be a very long and boring post even more so than my usual posts, since it will detail (and i mean detail) the censorship taking place at groundview blog. it is also meant to serve as a reference for future. so be warned.

when groundviews blog was launched by the ngos infoshare and centre for policy alternatives (cpa), several articles and posts were published in several media outlets online and offline claiming the virtues and benefits of citizen journalism it was supposed feature. daily mirror article and post on madrid11 blog are good examples). similar sentiments were expressed in faq (rather misleadingly so called), and site guidelines pages at groundviews.

these articles and pages included the following quotations
" Often, this new age of citizen journalism lacks the grammar of age-old diplomacy and socio-political norms - the conversation is raw, visceral, impatient, irreverent, pithy, provocative. In Sri Lanka, it is a conversation that's largely still in English, and also limited to urban centres.
The potential of citizen journalism, however, is its ability to provide a forum for all citizens - male and female, of all ethnicities, castes, classes and religions - to express themselves freely, society will better accommodate ideas and measures that engender peace."
"An open and participatory space

Anyone, from anywhere in Sri Lanka, with access to an internet-connected computer, can submit their thoughts in Sinhala, Tamil or English to the website. Groundviews is also a tool to report on Sri Lanka's democratic deficit, the culture of impunity and the flagrant violations of human rights through simple, compelling stories that seek to humanise the ongoing violence.

Different perspectives lead to a fuller understanding of why we are once again at war"

"Other submissions explore the many contradictions between the words and deeds of the government, the LTTE and other armed groups; flesh out issues related to the economy; and celebrate community-level dispute resolution mechanisms, which are flourishing in some parts of the country."

"Groundviews is already an arena for the thrust and parry of debate that is sorely lacking in mainstream media, and is crumbling in mainstream polity and society."

"We welcome submissions of a personal nature, pithy, provocative, bear witness to the denial of justice and human rights violations and essentially humanizes and critiques conflict & peace through alternative cultural, social, economic and political perspectives
in reality these claims have turned out to be misleading statements because if my experience is to go by, large portion of comments were censored.

almost all of these articles (in fact i think all of them) were written by sanjana hattotuwa head of ict and peacebuilding of infoshare. he also held several positions and is now a senior researcher at peacenik ngo cpa. (some of the articles curiously lacked any mention of these connections). infoshare and sanjana hattotuwa played a major part in establishing the now defunct moju blog. their spoofing antics there aimed at me for exposing the cpa's bias and plagiarism in a so called fact finding mission to trinco are detailed here ( if moju links do not work now you may find the pages through various internet cache sites such as google cache). infoshare and cpa is/was (as you can see here in documents unearthed by norwegians against terrorism) at least partly funded by the same norweigian money that funded the terrorist front tamil rehabilitation organization. tellingly groundviews only mention canadian international development agency (cida) and ausaid as donars

why grondviews censorship should be commented on and exposed

here i would like to explain my attitude to blog censorship. i consider each blog the private property of blog owner and as such they are free to delete anything that appears there if they want to. i would not be making this post if this censorship took place in a private blog (say in any one of the large number of cross linking, i suppose for search engine optimization purposes, blogs maintained by sanjana hattotuwa). but as the above quotations make clear groundviews pretended to be different. censorship there should be exposed precisely because its founders made and still make the above claims while censoring comments such as the ones below.

groundview has comment moderation so all comments are passed by admin before they are published. it also has a submission guideline policy. poster can observe whether the comments are still pending moderation through the wordpress back end accessible to registered users. i consider a comment censored when it is not published after a reasonable time has elapsed, other comments posted later have been published, and pending moderation queue is empty.

my comments
since my return to blogging last week i registered at groundviews and posted several comments. most of my comments (though not all) took the form of pointing out of factual and other errors in the posts in the groundviews. some were expressions of opinions relevant to the post concerned.

soon i began to notice some of my comments were being censored ( in fact i believe none of my first few comment were published). while i do not have copies of early comments i posted, i tried to keep a copy of later comments. i give below some of the comments that were censored, with a link to the relevant post, and a short explanation if required. you may judge for yourself whether they were relevant to the post, spam, abusive, personal attacks, or ignored the posting guidelines.

all censorship is arbitrary
you may even ask (as i still do) why these particular comments were censored while other comments posted by me were published. only explanation i can give to this puzzle is that all censorship everywhere is highly arbitrary and subjective by nature. here the inconsistency may have depended on particular admins on duty, their prejudices, their dislike (or otherwise) of the particular poster and subject.

excuses offered
it is enlightening to study the explanations and excuses given by the groundviews admin when asked about the censorship. these evolved from,

1/ complete denial that censorship is taking place
"Your claims of censorship are unwarranted and baseless."

2/ that it was the due to normal delay in moderation
"This means that a comment, once posted by you, may take a while to appear, depending on how often the moderator checks the comment queue."
in fact in this particular case the comment was not published even after 12 hours, two comments by others submitted much later were published in two separate occasions( one of the comments being a reply to the other) and moderation queue indicated there was no comment awaiting moderation.

3/ that they were censored because i was too impatient for them to be published and submitted the same comment three times.
"They jumped the queue because it is not stated anywhere on this blog that comments appear in the order in which they are posted / submitted. The reason we used your last comments (out of the 3 similar ones we received) was that your impatience to see them online was a clear indication of your inability to comprehend the Guidelines to which we have referred to earlier"
in other words i was censored because i pointed out i was censored.
btw in none of the cases have i posted the same comment more than once, though i posted a similar comment with different text once, after assuring myself through above mentioned methods that the earlier comment was censored.

4/ finally in a comment by sanjana hattotuwa i was accused of posting comments there to get greater exposure to my views.
" you continue to visit and comment, perhaps realising that your tedious rhetoric invariably gains more visibility in a site that attracts more visitors in a week than your blog does in a year."
i certainly post comments in lot of other blogs to express my views about the views expressed there. for instance it is most effective to challenge the falseness fmm's claim of internet blocking in the place where that claim was published (with additions), rather than here. on the other hand most of my posts here are my own opinions.
btw i am not in some sort of a blog popularity contest and any comparison between visitors to this blog which is silent for months at a time (though never dead) with visitors to a group blog like groundview that has several posts a day is ridiculous. i am quite satisfied, even surprised, with the fairly good ranking of this blog from objective sources like search engines.

finally the censored comments (let the reading citizens judge)

poll: is the international community partial to the ltte?
"there is no such thing called 'the' international community. they are individual countries or groups of countries with their own interests. they, as is correct, will decide which side to back according to their selfish interests.
sooner we realize that and use them for our interests the better."
minister of what?????
"so you agree that this was a logical move in the real world of politics, that by giving lot of ministries to lot of ppl ( who thereby are able project an image of dispensers of patronage ) the government is strengthened. "
cutting off telecoms in sri lanka redux…
censorship of the following comment was the reason why excuses 1, 2, and 3 were put forward by admin when challenged. they published a similar comment with my questions about censorship 12 hours after the original was submitted. as i said above i did not submit the second comment until 12 hours have passed, two comments by others submitted much later were published, and after making sure that moderation queue was empty.

"this post is extremely unclear
what exactly is meant by blocking internet access in the statement?
are you saying that all slt land telephones do not work in jaffna? ( given that adsl was not deployed there anyway,) if telephones worked dial up connections should work. or is this only referring to leased lines etc.
if all land telephones don't work why does this concentrates only on internet access?

as for mobiles, the statement itself says "a number of citizens in Jaffna and journalists" were "contacted through mobile phones".

given the facts in the post itself, one can hardly come to the conclusion that "600,000 people today in Jaffna are denied the right to communicate with their fellow citizens and the rest of the world". unfounded exaggerations do not result in credibility. "

one or two further comments challenging the claims made by fmm in reply and by an admin pasted tamilnet report, (btw not one respectable media outlet backed the false claim of internet blocking ) giving details of telephone ranges that in fact worked, were also censored. so was the following comment

"to summarize, following were observable about the fmm statement and the post here

1/ there wasn't any any large scale (or even small scale) blocking of slt telephones in jaffna as claimed by fmm. a simple check of dialing jaffna number and asking them to dial back will verify this, even for numbers later put forward by fmm

2/ there wasn't any 'internet blocking', in fact what fmm meant by this term is still a mystery. since internet in jaffna means dial up, jaffna users using slt lines had only to dial up any isp to connect as usual. (same as anybody else using dial up in sri lanka).

3/ slt is not the only isp in jaffna as claimed by fmm. if a phone has a dial tone the user can connect to any isp.

4/ slt deny allegations of any blocking of telephones or internet, as anyone can verify by calling slt. fmm is reduced to hiding behind an unverifiable 'unofficial' confirmation.

5/ no other respectable media outlet local or foreign has independently reported about such a block as claimed by fmm even though it was supposedly 3 days old. may be the fact that there was no such block has a lot to do with such non reporting.

6/ fmm forgets to note that mobiles, other fixed lines etc in jaffna were working perfectly as well during those three days.

7/ to claim "basic communications facilities to the Jaffna Peninsula have been blocked" as fmm did, just bc ltte propagandists claimed so, without checking facts is a deliberate falsehood unworthy of any self respecting journalist.

8/ poster's claim that "Either way, 600,000 people today in Jaffna are denied the right to communicate with their fellow citizens and the rest of the world" is a worse falsehood."
jaffna prices at mpcs now higher than when taxed
"anchor and nespray at the same price? both then and now? that is definitely false data by someone who has not shopped anywhere

as that fact makes clear, problem with this post is the unreliability of the prices given. "
denial and polarisation
i submitted a rather lengthy comment in reply to lengthy reply by sanjana to my comment in this thread. in light of its length i will post it as a comment to this post rather than here. in addition to substantive and relevant part of the comment which i addressed first unlike him, i replied to his rather irrelevant references to my blog etc. concluding with " lets hope this part of the comment is not used as grounds for not publishing this comment here since it is a direct result of your own references to my blog and motivation." but it was not published. it seems such irrelevance is allowed only to sanjana.

as i said they are free to censor but since they made the above claims about their blog, their censorship will be documented and published for the scrutiny of anyone interested.

if censoring continues in the future i will periodically post a summary of censored comments. if anyone else is subjected to censorship at groundviews, they can post a comment here or email me with the details so that i can include them in future posts.


sittingnut said...

this is the last of the censored comments referred to in the post. posted here bc of its length

my apologies for the length.

dear sanjana
i will deal with more substantive and relevant part of your comment first.

human rights violations-
i totally agree that government should investigate human rights violations whether they be committed by military, karuna, or ltte. and bring the perpetrators to justice (and take action to arrest and punish those who have been convicted of such violations and other crimes, like mass murder, according to law). this however should be done according to law. it is here your reason deserts you. judicial proof needs evidence not mere allegations. in fact any reasonable being will call for evidence. so the so called broken record asking for evidence has to be played again and again even though it displeases you. to convict without evidence as you call for, is itself a violation of human rights and to call military personnel guilty of crimes without evidence is calumny.

anti terror actions of government-
(btw national security really is under threat so there is no need to use quotation marks when referring to national security as you do.)
whether government should suspend actions to defend national security till 'debate' about 'rights we need to sacrifice in order to rid Sri Lanka of terrorism' is over as you demand is practicable is better be judged by public. however if the government or military exceed the present laws sanctioned by parliament ( and most of them renewed monthly after a debate by democratically elected representatives) they should be made answerable for their actions. if you think anti terror actions of government are unlawful by all means prove that with evidence. mere allegations however will not do.
if you think on the other hand that laws themselves are wrong you have to convince the public to change them. calling public ignorant etc. merely bc they do not agree with your position as you did in the post is hardly the right way to go about this. i will merely point out that they are not ignorant. if you can point to events relating to war that are/were not bought to the attention of public, public (even myself ) would be glad to hear them. but expect them to be challenged for substantiation and calls for fair space be given to other explanations and interpretations than yours. failure to believe in unsubstantiated stories and allegations and lending an ear to other side of the argument is not ignorance but common sense and justice.

and btw if you think same happens in usa and rest of the world as hear by all means convince the public and legislators there.

your point
your main point in post was that "Sri Lankan identity, is founded on respect for human rights, fostered through democratic means, sustained through non-military measures and made possible by meaningful power-sharing along federal lines". main confusion here arise from the nature of that political settlement you chose to tag to first part of sentence. i (given the rest of your post and your opposition to military action) correctly assumed in my reply, that you were referring to a settlement that involve power sharing with ltte.
majority of sri lankans do believe that it is the government’s responsibility to protect human rights and they also believe(unlike you) that government is right in its present course of action in order to achieve that and for getting rid of terrorism. they do believe in a political settlement but ( again unlike you) not with terrorists whose existence stems from violation of human rights and suppression of democracy. they have given expression to those beliefs through elections.

my blog
since you refer to this though i don't see the relevance, i will say i am not in a blog popularity contest and am the first to admit my personal blog which goes through months of total silence do fall short ( but not by the numbers you mention) when it comes to visitors compared to a group blog like groundview with several posts a day. i for instance do not have a single blog entry in popular blog aggregator kottu main page at this time while grondview has seven. more apt comparison will be with any one of your own numerous 'personal' blogs. judged as a personnel blog i am more than statisfied ( in fact surprised) at the rankings recived by my blog from more objective sources.

nor do i see the relevance of my alleged motivation in commenting here if the comments are relevant to the post, though you are of course perfectly free to speculate about my motivtion even it is irrelevent if admin here (your colleague) allows. lets hope this part of the comment is not used as grounds for not publishing this comment here since it is a direct result of your own references to my blog and motivation.

Anonymous said...

Sittingnut!v.nice to see you again

Sanjana keep launching new blogs because he be getting so many $$$ for every blog he making!! (don't think he doing this for the help you and I)

If groundview goes boom, it not being problem as he can launching skyview and make even more $$$$$$

next time you emailing him why not ask how much $$ he and infoshare are being paid for groundview also what paid, for moju and other blogs he made? After all as a stal-wart pillar of honesty and transparency in NGHO community i think he should be willing to tell you?

also telling him that as a citizen you wish to inspect Infoshare's accounts. Again I don't think he can deny this reasonable request no?

Licoln said...

Excellent post sittingnut! I too have been the victim of groundview's dictatorial policy of censoring everything that either challenges them or points out flaws in any of the posted articles. It is amazing how these NGOs scream about freedom and then go around and deny it to others. Sanjana Hattotuwa, as we all know, is a hack who only believes that his point of view is correct. He is the sort of person who pretends to be nice in public, but in private will act like a complete asshole as can be seen in his replies to you. Thank you for being the voice of do doubt numerous people who have been censored by the odorous folks at!

Anonymous said...

Sorry to divert from the subject, but did hear about the US budget? I think we need to brace ourselves. If they come tumbling down, so will a lot of us.

niro said...

Hey, sittingnut

accidently left a comment on your Jan 31st post. Pardon this Newbie. sorry for that.


Ala said...

Sittingnut, Sanjana = Groundviews

The 2 users "Sanjana" and "Groundviews" are the same person. Both of them are Sanjana Hatthotuwa. Most of the censoring and deleting is carried out by Sanjana himself. As you may already know, he is a very vicious person.

sittingnut said...

anon at 2/03/2007 4:56 pm
good to be back :-)
its a good point you make about the lack of transparency in ngos in general and the specific ngos mentioned here. ngos that seek to influence policy in a democratic country should be especially transparent. otherwise they have only themselves to blame if public become suspicious.

appreciate your comment
their fundamental positions based on the myth that ltte is somehow the legitimate representative of tamils, are hypocritical and based on denial of reality. that they will extend that to blog censorship is not surprising. this would not matter much but for their media claims to be otherwise. that is why the will be exposed for what they are.

anon at 2/06/2007 5:18 am
i don't think u.s. 'budget' has much of impact on u.s. economy. and i don't think u.s. economy is tumbling down. however if there is a slowdown there it will to extent affect sri lankan economy, probably more than the war.

no problem about the comment no need for apologies. i did not reply bc i was busy.

thanks for the comment
vicious or not all censors fail.

Just Mal said...

Good post snut. That poll about the international community being partial was just absurd.

CPA being a peacenik NGO, there's no doubt that they intend to use Groundviews to further their agenda. Instead of lamenting about their bias and partiality, I think it'd be more productive to address the some of the major lies and fallacies propagated in Groundviews. Dissenting comments tend to get approved if you sugarcoat them carefully and use a bit of their own jargon.

It'd be more effective if you could stop making personal attacks on Sanjana and others and be a little less aggressive. I think there are lots of intelligent people out there who are getting increasingly disillusioned with the peace-at-any-cost crowd, yet end up taking their side when confronted by what they see as a warmonger or a chauvinist. Groundviews is a tremendous opportunity for people like you to reach out to these people. It's somewhat difficult for me to do that without compromising my Sinhalese nationalist credentials, but you don't have any such baggage to lug around. Moderation may restrict your freedom, but it also prevents Groundviews from becoming another Moju, which would make the whole thing pointless.

It's not that I agree with most your views. I just think your way of thinking is more balanced and honest than theirs.

Des said...

Hi Sittingnut, after reading your comments, which I liked reading,
my impression is the following:

Any personal comments or criticisms will give groundviews the right to not publish a comment.

In the comment below, while you were making substantial points,

"......i totally agree that government should investigate human rights violations whether they be committed by military, karuna, or ltte. and bring the perpetrators to justice (and take action to arrest and punish those who have been convicted of such violations and other crimes, like mass murder, according to law). this however should be done according to law. it is here your reason deserts you. judicial proof needs evidence not mere allegations...."

I believe there is growing acceptance in communication practice that its better to leave the "you" word out and instead talk about how one feels and needs. For instance saying "I think or feel" instead "you said".

best regds

shehal said...

comment moderation sux...

with every argument comes SOME personal remarks... like i have called VIC something and so has he :P hehhe... and just look at all the comments in blogs...

see.... before shit pops out... one would fart... and for groundviews to say "no farting... only shitting is allowed" is not cool...

and the fact that the very ppl who are standing by and defending media freedom moderating and censoring comments is just like how the govt is moderating and censoring the media...

so its kinda hypocrisy for groundviews to moderate comments...

we allow ppl to bitch about us... why? i guess 'cos we all like to fart before shit pops out...

unlike groundviews... their shit pops out without any farts... why??? 'cos they like to fart in public so much and their bowels are out of methane???

i'm not trying to be harsh or anything like that... i'm only trying to explain my point in a very simple manner

king said...

in NET ,Calls are calculated based on 1-minute increments. Any fraction of a minute will be rounded up to the next full minute.
All rates are deducted from your account balance according to the rates for the country you are calling

Danger Mouse said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Danger Mouse said...

Thanks for the reply to my post groundviews and censorship which discusses the exact same issues but almost a year later (bit late to the party I see). Nonetheless your posts relating to the matter have been excellent reading and a valuable update. It is encouraging to see that many people have/had the same concerns as I do. Now I also understand that this issue has been lingering with the groundviews site for a while.

I take a similar stance to you. I have no issue people running a mock with their own personal blogs. Freedom of expression! But when you portray yourself to be a collective citizen voice and publish articles from public, you have an onus to be fair and balanced – especially when you tag yourself with fmm. Which seems to be more and more lob sided at groundviews. This ultimately turns into subtle and sometimes audacious false/exaggerated propaganda. So it is good that we voice our concerns and keep an account of this.