Monday 18 May 2009

Without Foreign Coverage, We Miss More Than News

This is a piece I originally wrote for my blog at Reuters AlertNet under the title, "Welcome to a World without Foreign Correspondents" on 21 April 2009. It was then republished in a slightly expanded form by the Christian Science Monitor on 18 May 2009.


For years now, those of us working in and around international media have grown used to hearing about slashed foreign news budgets - an overseas bureau cut here, yet another correspondent post dropped there.

The shrinking of news from the far reaches of the globe is a problem only partially addressed by a few financially constrained news agencies and a couple of hopeful media upstarts with untried business models or limited audiences.

We do not need to wait for something more to hit us over the head to understand the implications of these changes. Two recent situations show us exactly what the world will be like when there are no regular foreign correspondents left.

Monday 11 May 2009

Sri Lanka's 50,000 Hostages

This article appeared in the The Guardian on 11 May 2009.


The police have the building surrounded. Inside, a dangerous gunman holds five hostages. The authorities have to decide how to free the innocent safely when those lives are at the mercy of a desperate and violent criminal.

Multiply by about 10,000, and you have the situation in north-east Sri Lanka today.

For months, the Sri Lankan army has been tightening the noose around the remaining forces of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), pushing them into an ever smaller space. Some 250,000 civilians were initially in that same zone of operations.

But instead of playing the role of professional police trying to save the lives of those trapped in the building, the Sri Lankan authorities have let the LTTE draw them into a civilian slaughter that allows the rebels to act the martyr. Government troops have been shelling civilian areas and are even using air strikes in areas where the Tamil Tigers are holding their hostages, using equally lethal force when they have tried to escape.

Tuesday 5 May 2009

Sri Lanka's Plight Highlighted at World Press Freedom Day

Attending the World Press Freedom Day conference in 2009, I was inspired by one speech in particular, and I was glad to get permission to be the first to publish it. The following appeared on my Reuters AlertNet blog on 5 May 2009.


I just returned from the World Press Freedom Day conference in Doha, Qatar. It was a fairly typical affair as these sorts of conferences go -- until the final award ceremony, when murdered Sri Lankan journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge was posthumously given the World Press Freedom Prize 2009.

His niece, Natalie Samarasinghe, read out a statement from his widow, Sonali Samarasinghe Wickrematunge, which was so forceful and so impressive, I feel it deserves a much wider audience than the few hundred people who gave it a standing ovation in the room on Sunday. With permission, I am publishing it in full below.