A Rare Discovery: Lankan Diplomat Emerges Using Strategic Communication

By Daya Gamage – Asian Tribune Media NoteWashington, D.C. 17 May (Asiantribune.com):

A  rare discovery: Lankan diplomat emerges using strategic communication

Sri Lanka’s ambassador to Belgium, Luxembourg and the European Union P.M. Amza displayed a very rare quality most of his nation’s foreign diplomatic corps members and the officials who handle ‘external affairs’ have so far failed to display awarding, since the Eelam War ended in May 2009, great advantage to pro-separatist Tamil Diaspora to define the character of this South Asian nation before the International Community.

The result: Sri Lanka is currently facing undue scrutiny and an image issue utterly failing to combat the misinterpretation, diabolical falsehood and half-truths very strategically and politically motivated by the section and somewhat influential Tamil Diaspora.

Ambassador Amza displayed a very rare prowess that handlers of Sri Lanka’s ‘external affairs’ does not have and never had since the annihilation of the terrorist Tamil Tigers.

During his intervention at the end of a panel discussion that followed the screening of the film “No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka”, held at the premises of the European Parliament on Tuesday, 14 May, which was jointly organized by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and International Crisis Group, Ambassador P.M. Amza very eloquently described using his Tamil language skills the serious mistakes the producers of the documentary made by misinterpreting what the witnesses have said in Tamil, to suit the Channel 4 agenda.

The cogent interpretation that Mr. Anza, a veteran career diplomat, presented, to the knowledge of the Asian Tribune which constantly monitor Sri Lanka’s failure in public affairs, public diplomacy and strategic communication in battling the onslaught to her image, has not seen coming from the handlers of ‘external affairs’ in this South Asian nation.

Ambassador Amza elaborated that when a question was posed in English to an unidentified victim regarding an alleged attack on a hospital by asking “do you think this was an accident?” the answer from the victim in Tamil was, “Athavathu aspaththirikku aim panniththan adichchiruppinam” which literally means “they may have aimed and attacked the hospital”.

The Ambassador contended the Channel-4 of translating it as “the hospital was targeted”, giving implication to the viewers that it was done by the Sri Lanka Army. In this context, the Ambassador questioned the Director/Producer, Callum Macrae who was present as one of the Panelists, on what basis he gave an interpretation to what the witness referred to as “they”, to indicate that it was the Sri Lanka Army.

Pointing out to a similar mistake in the subsequent Channel-4 Documentary, “Sri Lanka Killing Fields: War Crime Unpunished”, during which an unidentified witness makes a statement in Tamil saying “Enkalidamirunthu 150 meeter irukkum 15 perukku melai kayakkarnkal ippadi bankarukkulliruntha ellorayum veliyil iluththu iluthu pottu suttukkondu waran”which provides literal translation as “the distance may be about 150 meters from us. More than 15 injured civilians were inside the bunker when they pulled them out one by one and fired”.

Mr. Amza said the Channel-4 took the liberty of translating it to mean “as I got up from the bunker, about 150 meters away from where I saw a group of Army soldiers pulling out over 15 civilians staying in a bunker and spraying bullets on them at close range”.

The Ambassador emphasized that at no stage, the witness stated that it was Sri Lankan Army that was pulling the civilians out from the bunkers and killing them. The Ambassador also pointed out that anyone with a sound knowledge of the Tamil language would identify them as serious mistakes and misinterpretations and manipulations done to suit the Channel-4 agenda. As the civilians’ statements constitute important evidence in any conflict, tampering them to give a completely false view, is a matter of serious concern, he said.

Until Ambassador Amza used his analytical skills to interpret very cogently the ‘grave mistakes’ the documentary committed – which had targeted motive – one cannot remember anyone with equal talent explaining the documentary to US State Department officials and its diplomatic corps based in Colombo.
This writer had had up close and personal knowledge how the Colombo Mission would go into detailed scrutiny when issues are brought before them.

For the International Community – meaning the leading western nations – to go this far talking of Sri Lanka’s ‘accountability’ in international forums, one gets the impression that such an argument and analyses were not presented the manner in which Ambassador Amza forwarded to the European Union on May 14.

At international forums Amza-type analyses was necessary while declaring that an investigation was underway to probe the allegations.

The Ambassador also refuted allegations on the killing of a 12 year old boy identified as the son of the LTTE leader. Mr. Amza, while casting doubts on Channel-4 making sweeping conclusions based on few pictures depicting a man clad in a uniform similar to Sri Lanka Army personnel, a clean and neat bunker, a man in slippers, and an ‘expert opinion’ based on the pictures given to him that the boy was captured by the Army who then fed him a snack then killed him at point blank range, questioned as to why the ‘expert opinion’ disregarded the possibility of him being killed by his own bodyguards, to avoid being captured by the Sri Lankan Armed forces.

The Ambassador added that, as a native Tamil speaker, he could provide ample evidence to prove that Channel-4 indeed had a sinister motive to discredit Sri Lanka with the connivance of the pro-LTTE Diaspora organizations, and further alluded that it was ironical to see how one time ardent supporters of the LTTE and its killing spree through funding and other propaganda activities are now projecting themselves as independent human rights activists, having been oblivious to the countless human rights violations carried out by the LTTE”.

This writer who has associated himself with public diplomacy and strategic communication was delighted the manner in which Ambassador Anza analyzed the documentary using one of the indigenous Sri Lankan dialect – Tamil – as the basis of the science of communication.

Strategic Communication: The Case for a New Vision

While “all politics is local”, all communication is now global. Gaps between what Sri Lanka says and does – and gaps between what it says and what others hear – have strategic consequences. These “say-do” and “say-hear” gaps affect Sri Lanka’s interests in ways that can be measured in lives, foreign assistance, goodwill and lost opportunities. And if Sri Lanka, as a nation, continues to underestimate them it is obviously for its disadvantage.

The Defense Science Board Task Force of the U.S. Department of Defense describes strategic communication as a vital element to America’s national security and foreign policy.

The developed principles can be used by a country like Sri Lanka which faces an influential, well funded and well motivated secessionist elements among the Tamil Diaspora threatening its very existence as a unitary state can be adapted to its own national security and foreign policy.

Although recent attention to its value is driven by the terrorist attacks of 9/11, strategic communication describes a variety of instruments used by governments for generations to understand global attitudes and cultures, engage in a dialogue of ideas between people and institutions, advise policymakers, diplomats, and military leaders on the public opinion implications of policy choices, and influence attitudes and behavior through communications strategies.

Strategic communication can help to shape context and build relationships that enhance the achievement of political, economic, and military objectives. It can be used to mobilize publics in support of major policy initiatives – and to support objectives before, during, and after a conflict. In fact, Sri Lanka is now entered a stage of safeguarding its sovereignty, integrity and the unitary nature of the state not forgetting its global image. To be effective, strategic communicators must understand attitudes and cultures, respect the importance of ideas, adopt advanced information technologies, and employ sophisticated communication skills and strategies. To be persuasive, they must be credible.

Policies, diplomacy, military operations, and strategic communication should not be managed separately. Good strategic communication cannot build support for policies viewed unfavorably by large populations. Nor can the most carefully crafted messages, themes, and words persuade when the messenger lacks credibility and underlying message authority.

Strategic communication can be understood to embrace the following core instruments described by the United States.

Public diplomacy seeks through the exchange of people and ideas to build lasting relationships and receptivity to a nation’s culture, values, and policies. It seeks also to influence attitudes and mobilize publics in ways that support policies and interests. Its time horizons are decades and news cycles. Public diplomacy is distinguished from traditional diplomatic interactions between governments. In an age of global media, the Internet revolution, and powerful non state actors — an age in which almost everything governments do and say is understood through the mediating filters of news frames, culture, memory, and language — no major strategy, policy, or diplomatic initiative can succeed without public support.

Public affairs is used by the Departments of State and Defense to depict communication activities intended primarily to inform and influence U.S. media and the American people. The White House, the NSC, departments and agencies, and military commands all have public affairs staffs. They focus on domestic media, but their advocacy activities reach allies and adversaries around the world. Distinctions between public affairs and public diplomacy continue to shape doctrine, resource allocations, and organization charts. But public diplomacy and public affairs practitioners employ similar tools and methods; their audiences are global and local. This conceptual distinction is losing validity in the world of global media, global audiences, and porous borders.

It is not difficult to adopt some of the above principles to fit in to Sri Lanka’s overall strategy at a time when it globally faces a enormous task of safeguarding its image, neutralizing the onslaughts of power centers and exploring ways to bring an end to the cohabitation of the pro-separatist Tamil Diaspora from the global centers of power.

Strategic Communication has been developed and described as the orchestration and/or synchronization of actions, images, and words to achieve a desired effect.

Ambassador Amza took a giant step forward on May 14 at the European Union forum toward that end.

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