By M M Zuhair
Veteran journalist, the celebrated British war correspondent Robert Fisk is no more. A man whose columns and reports from the war zones were widely read and readily accepted, passed away on 30th October 2020, at the age of 74, in a hospital in Dublin, Ireland, at a time when the world was engrossed in the US presidential elections.
This piece is penned in appreciation of this ‘vigilante’ sort of scribe, for frisking the likes of us to see the victims’ side of the numerous wars that were covered at tremendous personal risk by this committed correspondent, whose reports we will no longer see. The ‘New York Times’ described Fisk as “probably the most famous foreign correspondent in Britain”.
Leer en Espanol, staffer at the UK’s ‘The Independent’ wrote: “Fisk was renowned for his courage in questioning official narratives from governments and publishing what he uncovered in frequently brilliant prose.” Christian Broughton, Managing Director of the ‘The Independent’ described Fisk as, “Fearless, uncompromising, determined and utterly committed to uncovering the truth and reality at all costs. Robert Fisk was the greatest journalist of his generation. The fire he lit at ‘The Independent’ will burn on”.
Robert Fisk’s reporting from major conflict zones showed he was not one of those ‘embedded’ with the forces telling the world what the forces probably wanted journalists to tell. He did not indulge in what he called ‘hotel journalism’ either, reporting from hotel rooms without risking a visit to the attack site. His reports were testimony to his courage of visiting invariably deadly sites often under continuous attacks and reporting what he saw and what he heard from the victims.
Fisk was at times criticised for portraying the victims’ side as not being ‘independent’. Such criticisms though not entirely unfair also came from persons who did not dare the risks that Fisk never hesitated to take. The criticisms however invariably recognised that there was always a victim’s side and obviously an attacker’s side. Fisk saw the aggressor’s excuses for war, happening to be very well reported, while the war itself was severely under-reported.
By reporting from the perspectives of the victims, Fisk probably tried to correct an imbalance that the world of western journalism had created. He was indeed a heroic independent journalist. This is evident from the exclusive quality of the reports filed by Fisk from 1989 for ‘The Independent’, which were picked up by the electronic media in most parts of the world and I for one never wanted to miss!
Fisk knew Arabic. He covered the wars in Lebanon, Algeria, Syria, Iran-Iraq conflict, wars in Bosnia and Kosovo, Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the US invasion of Afghanistan, the US invasion of Iraq, the Arab Spring and the wars in Syria. He was physically present at the receiving end of the onslaughts.
He was reportedly the first Western journalist to visit the bombed Palestinian refugee camps, Sabra and Shattila in Lebanon. He filed heart-rendering reports of what he saw of the Israeli massacre of refugees. Wikipedia in its first paragraph on Robert Fisk said that Fisk was “especially critical of United States foreign policy in the Middle-East and the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians”.
Sean O’ Grady, an Associate Editor at ‘The Independent’, a day after Fisk’s death, said, “For anyone at The Independent or indeed in journalism anywhere, Robert Fisk was a hero… When Fisk nailed NATO for killing civilians during the civil war in the former Yugoslavia, he took the trouble to go and find the remains of the missiles and discovered charred componentry that could be traced back to the American manufacturers. The Indy’s subs gave him a great headline for the story too: ‘The atrocity is still a mystery to NATO. Perhaps I can help…’. That was smart journalism, and it got him an award, one of very many…. As a personal memory too I admired his championing of the cause of the Armenian people, victims of the first Holocaust, as Fisk insisted it be capitalised.”
Fisk worked at the powerful media giant Rupert Murdoch’s ‘The Times’, briefly but soon walked out as he thought his reports were being tailored to suit Murdoch’s taste! He moved onto ‘The Independent’ in 1989 from where he served the world for over 30 years with first hand reports that exposed the horrors of war, much to the dislike of many in the Western war lobbies. The US and NATO graciously gave Fisk enough wars to report about. For more on wars by the present writer, you may read The Island 14/11/2020, “Trump quotes President Eisenhower’s 1961 farewell speech: Nothing has been done to break the US military from the arms industrial complex”. True to form he was an independent journalist for which he is widely respected across the world.
I had the privilege of meeting him once in Tehran on 30th August 2012 at the 16th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Iran. It was attended by over 20 presidents, a number of prime ministers, four dozen foreign ministers and three kings. He was there to cover it. President Mahinda Rajapaksa represented Sri Lanka and I was there as my country’s Ambassador. I spotted Fisk in the media block. As much as his name, his face was also globally known. I had seen Robert Fisk in action via the electronic media in war zones that seemed to me then ‘suicidal’ for anyone to be in.
From where I was, I had already crossed over to the media block, shook hands and said I was a regular follower of his reports in the media and conveyed my appreciation for his bold reporting from the war zones. After the preliminaries, he asked me whether I had read his interviews of Osama bin Laden. I said yes; you had wanted to know more from Bin Laden about how the US armed this millionaire Saudi construction contractor to help Afghans to throw out the Soviet ‘invaders’ from Afghanistan.
I said, in the Western media Bin Laden was then a heroic freedom fighter! Yes – freedom fighter. But when Bin Laden, after 9/11 allegedly turned the Afghans against the invading American forces, how did he become a terrorist? He understood my query. Fisk was blunt. He said Robert Fisk, no! Rupert Murdoch, yes! I couldn’t figure out what Fisk was trying to say. He went on, ‘that man defines’, to the world! Depends on which side the fighter is! He then probed into Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa. After a while, he said, ‘Fisk has to file a report’ about (then Egyptian President) Morsi handing over NAM presidency to Ahmadinejad at the leaders meeting and he needed to pick up more and moved away.
This chat, later on, was however not in my mind. But I recalled this with some nostalgia when I read a recent media report by Borzou Daragahi “… the dangers of giving one family with an extremist agenda so much power…” where he referred to former Australian defense and energy secretary Paul Barratt’s response to a cheeky tweet. The query was why the United States, United Kingdom and Australia all found themselves “with lunatics and/or shysters” at the helm. Barratt tweeted, “Rupert Murdoch”!
The world owes much to Robert Fisk, this extraordinary journalist. He had a doctorate in political science earned in 1983. He could have lectured in a university. He could have lived a life of ease and comfort. Instead he roamed amidst falling missiles and firing ones! He lived on the threshold of death for most parts of his life uncovering the horrors of man-made wars and the miseries from inhuman massacres. He deserves the universal appreciation of all those who desire peace for mankind.
(The writer can be reached at email@example.com).
Save us from our govt.!
When watching daily news bulletins, on several local TV channels, one could observe two significant matters.
One is how Gotabaya Rajapaksa shamelessly meets foreign diplomats and officers of international organizations, who are well aware of the grave situation of the country, and also the prime reason for it.
Remember, as kids, how we hide from our parents, or teachers, when some small mistake happens – that is because we were ashamed, and afraid of punishment. And ther, too, it would have been only our own mistake, not by the whole family of ours!
Next is how the Police and armed forces are let loose on the men, women and children who have been waiting in queues for hours or days. The authorities are not finding ways to stop queuing or at least maintain some order at those places, but chastise the people, for electing as Basil Rajapaksa had said, a stupid, clueless president and an incompetent government.
The greatest disasters we have faced since Independence are the JVP insurrection, the LTTE war and the tsunami in 2004, and during those times the people were protected by then governments; now Sri Lankans have to struggle against the government, which is steadily throttling them to death.
Challenges, and need for an all-party govt.
Whoever wants to take charge, must first disclose how they are going to set about it. making statements that ‘WE WILL PUT IT INTO ORDER’ is not acceptable. Even SJB, the main Opposition party, hasn’t put forward at least an outline plan as to how they will set about it.
What did the current President promise? What did the current PM promise.? What are their results? Can the country afford more of such vague promises? Three months have gone and still there is no plan from any Party in Parliament. How can any country or institution assist one who has no plan?
Challenges are many and very unpopular decisions have to be made. Resistance from entrenched interests, such as trade Unions, including the GMOA, some corrupt business interests, political interests, mafias, monopolies, etc., has to be countered. Are they prepared to overcome them?
Why go far? Are they prepared to reduce the Parliamentary allocation substantially, and even reduce the number of MPS from 225 to about 150 – on par with countries of similar size, population, GDP, etc.
Parties trying to form a Govt. must first agree amongst them on their Plan, at least on the following:
(i) on their strategy to get Foreign Exchange to purchase limited quantities of fuel for essential services, food, medicines. and fertiliser for the next 6-9 months. Their strategy to increase exports, foreign employment and foreign investment so as to increase Foreign Exchange in the short and medium term. With current conditions it is futile to expect tourists to come to Sri Lanka.
(2) as to how to balance the budget. Are they unitedly prepared to close down or privatize CEB, CPC, AirLanka and Water Board, etc.? Budgetary Allocation for Defence is another, which has to be drastically reduced, the developed countries spend only 2 to 3 % of their GDP on Defence. What does SL do? Out of the Defence allocation, Navy must have the major component for they have to patrol the sea area, which is many times larger than SL land area. SL sea resources are at risk from illegal fishing, human smuggling and illegal dumping, etc.
(3) Are they prepared to close down unnecessary Ministries, Corporations, and Departments, most of which were created for the benefit of politicians, especially for Ministerial Positions.
(4) Staff levels in Ministries, Departments. Corporations that are to function, have to be drastically reduced, so that they could function efficiently and cost effectively. Reducing staff will also reduce the need for large office spaces, electricity, telephone cost etc.
(5) What are their plans to support and or rehabilitate the staff so retrenched.?
(6) Their plan for distribution of essentials? Rationing?
(9) Can they agree on a small, efficient and capable cabinet? Let not the country have too many Ministers and or Officials telling the country different versions, confusing the people as to which is correct, and that too hoping that at least one will be correct.
(10) How will they source the revenue? Are they prepared to increase the direct tax component to 60% or even 75 % for the present? The majority of the population have been badly affected due to the current crises. Their only crime being they misused their votes. They should not be burdened further with indirect taxes. To reduce their burden indirect taxes have to be the lesser component of the revenue, at least for the present.
(11) Can they do away with duty free cars, and all other special privileges given to some sections of the society. All Laws must be equally applicable to all. Other than the First citizen of the country, all others (be it state employees or Parliamentarians) must be taxed on the same basis as others.
All Parties joining must undertake that they will no longer do politics with these issues, nor will they withdraw from the interim govt when it undertakes unpopular decisions on above issues. They must all commit to swim or sink together.
None of those who served as Ministers in failed Governments, or who were Ministers in MR’s Govts which decided on vanity projects, should not be given Ministerial positions. Same should apply to those Parliamentarians who voted for the 17 ,18,19 and 20th amendments should be excluded, as it shows they neither have principles, nor care for the country. Corrupt and convicts too should be kept out. KNOWLEDGE AND CAPABILITY should be the criteria in the selection of the Ministers. Those who are unable to deliver within 3 months must be made to stand down.
To the party leaders who want to form the government, may I say, first divulge your plan to the country.
Please, do not tell the country that you have a better plan. You can afford to fail but not the country or its people at large!
Fuel tokens, a big farce
The Minister of Power and Energy who covers a very responsible Ministry, was selected by the President probably due to his membership of the ‘Viyath Maga’, has undoubtedly proved to be a very inefficient Power and Energy Minister, and a complete failure without any doubt.
He is very capable of giving false hopes always of fuel and gas laden ships arriving on Sri Lanka shores, which have proved to be absolutely wrong. One wonders whether it is a gimmick to keep the fuel and gas starved motorists happy, and avoid the unending queues at fuel stations. This has proved to be a wrong system.
In order to control the daily queues, and knowing there will be no fuel ships for some time, he introduced the fuel token system out of the blues, and with no proper organizational effort. The policy announced regarding the token system, was to enable vehicle drivers to enter the fuel stations on a pre-selected day of the week, allocated to him/her, and dependent on the last digit of the vehicle number plate. This was again to avoid the long queues, according to the Power and Energy Minister.
With the latest innovative fuel token system announced, I visited the petrol station, in close proximity to my home on Monday 27th June, with much hope, and was among the first hundred with the details of my address, profession, NIC Number and contact mobile number. The relevant officer, who recorded the details, informed me that this was a pilot project, from Ratmalana to Moratuwa, and that when the fuel arrives at the petrol station, I will receive an SMS requesting me to report at the petrol station, at the allocated time, once again to avoid queues. But I did not receive the fuel token as it was not available. I was told that there was no necessity to have the token, as I will receive the SMS on my mobile phone.
The following day I received news that the fuel tokens are being issued. When I visited the fuel station, to obtain the token, there were four different long queues, along the road registering three-wheelers, motorcycles, vehicles needing diesel, and cars needing petrol. I met the S LAF officer, registering the cars queued up on the Galle Road, and told him that I am already registered in the book he was entering details and requested the token, which was denied to me. As the queues were there during the next two days, I visited the fuel shed on day four (30th June) when the officer was registering a few people. When my turn came, I showed the serial number and my name registered therein. I was told to wait until the SMS was received. He said that my registration will be cancelled if the token was given at a later date! Then I met the SL Air Force official and explained my position. He then approved the issue of the token. The delay in obtaining the token was nearly 15 minutes. By this incident it was evident that the advice given to Air Force officers to register and issue tokens was not properly given.
I was surprised to receive the token which was a slip of paper, with dimensions only 10cm x 6 cm. Inside it there were printed, Name of the Fuel Station, Type of fuel, Contact Number, Name, NIC Number, Vehicle No, , Date , Time, Signature of authorized Officer and Signature of vehicle Owner. With a microscopic piece of paper, it was with great difficulty that the necessary details were entered.
However, congratulations to the Minister of Power and Energy for drying up all the CEYPETCO FUEL STATIONS in The Island, without fuel for another three weeks or more, without queues, due to lack of fuel. Also causing unending long queues by supporting the LANKA IOC Fuel Stations, to issue your Fuel without Tokens at a higher price.
I politely ask you, Minister Kanchana, is not this another gimmick of yours to handover the CEYPETCO fuel stations to LANKA I O C?
So, we now know the reason for the latest gimmick of the Minister of Power and Energy to issue fuel tokens.
Do you now realise in your conscience, the problems created by you, especially to three-wheeler drivers, who are dependent on a daily living for their families by earning from hires, and now completely out of any earnings to feed their children, to give even a single meal?
Without creating further problems please resign from your post as the Minister of Power and Energy.
Eng. B.R.O FERNANDO
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