Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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The Bluff on the ‘Net Terrorism’ Apology by Colombo's Island Daily

by Sachi Sri Kantha, May 26, 2008

(3) Any error can be quickly camouflaged, packaged and ‘sold’ under the ‘terrorism’ label, to fool the ...general public in Sri Lanka.


In its quarter century of existence, the Colombo Island daily has gained an ill repute among the Tamils as one of the ranting mouthpieces of brown-skinned Aryan Buddhists who spew political smut on Tamil nationalism. As I scanned the May 16, 2008 net version of this daily, I was somewhat intrigued to read the following tepid apology. I reproduce verbatim, what I read.

“The Island becomes a victim of net terrorism

We wish to bring to the notice of our readers that there has been a sinister attempt by an unknown group to disrupt the operations of this newspaper and to tarnish its image through electronic means. It all began in 2006, when a London-based correspondent warned us against such a move. Recently, another newspaper, too, became a victim of hackers who tampered with its website.

The e-mail accounts of the editor and the features editor of The Island are the targets through which they sought to disrupt our system by transmitting specially designed programmes. We adopted precautions but we now learn that on Tuesday, when we usually print the children’s section issued on Thursday, we got badly beaten.

An infected junk document ate into an innocent poem that a young contributor had sent in to share with others, after the proof reading stage. The ill effects of the attack were noticed yesterday as well in the main section of the paper but we managed to eliminate them in time for printing. We have initiated a thorough investigation into the incident and apologise to our readers, especially children, for the mishap.”

What really could have happened?

Initially, I was wondering what was the fuss? First, one should grasp the pejorative nuance of the phrase used - ‘net terrorism’ - which in the Island’s context is nothing but an euphemism for the Tamil Tigers or their fans. To satisfy my curiosity I googled the name Prabath Sahabandu, the current editor-in-chief of the Island daily, and was able to fit together the missing pieces of this apology story, from a blogger with a moniker Ravana []. To trace back the story, the blogger had noted, on May 15th, the posting of bawdy versions of five popularly known English nursery rhymes in the Island daily. These had been scanned and presented in the blog. These verses were, (1) Old king Cole was a merry old soul; (2) Round and round the garden; (3) Little Jack Horner sat in the corner; (4) Jack be nimble, Jack be quick; (5) Wee Willy Winkie running through the town; and (5) Mary, Mary quite contrary. To excerpt Ravana, the blogger:

“Dude. I thought I had heard everything when The Island published the words ‘pubic nuisance’ instead of ‘public nuisance’ a few months ago. Clearly, I was unhappily mistaken. In a bid to outdo themselves, perhaps in an attempt to set a Guinness World Record, The Island newspaper continues to astound. These poems appeared in the children’s supplement, The Happy Island, today. On the cover, we find a serene looking boy of about six years old dressed in white looking over a little golden child monk’s statue. It is a picture of serenity, in keeping with the beauty, religious piety and moral superiority we have come to expect from this peaceful island, reflected of course in the values of the newspaper in question. Love for his fellow men veritably drips from the pen of the editor.


… Don’t Sri Lankan editors check this stuff? I mean, someone should get fired for this, if not the newspaper being shut down. How many kids are going to read this and ask their mums, ‘Ammi, what’s a quick-fire dick?’ How many will insist on playing with the paedophile uncles with their teddy bears? A call to the managing editor of The Island resulted in the knowledge that they have been getting calls all day long and that they claim that ‘someone hacked into the computer system and replaced the copy’. Bull shit. He’s still accountable. This is the second absurd gaffe in the space of a few months. Someone needs to get fired.”

To this posting, there had appeared 20 follow-up comments, between May 15 and May 20. The 20th follow-up comment, by a correspondent ‘Jack Point’, skewered the quasi apology that the Island daily had printed on May 16, as a “victim of net terrorism”. To quote in full:

“This was not a question of hacking, that is just the excuse they have put forward for their sloppiness. To begin with, typesetting is done off line, not online. There is no need to have the computer connected to the internet. If the computer was connected online there needs to be some super intelligent virus that can read through nursery rhymes and then alter the rhymes while maintaining the rhyme, and do this all within the typeset box which is most unlikely. If not, then someone hacked in accessed the file and altered the text, remotely. Again, highly unlikely and even if done it should have been caught at proof reading.


The Island has a habit of cutting and pasting things from the internet, they even have a regular feature called ‘the best of email junk’. In all probability the entirety or most of the children section is cut and paste and no one bothers to check because its unimportant. I once saw some creationist propaganda, again in the children’s page of the paper, an article ostensibly on dog breeds, was pushing the line that they were created by god and that evolution was wrong. Chances are some hack did a search for nursery rhymes and pasted the first thing he found and now they are covering up.”

Cheers to the candor of correspondent ‘Jack Point’. The Island’s tepid apology note stated “An infected junk document ate into an innocent poem that a young contributor had sent in to share with others, after the proof reading stage.” But, a quick look at the bawdy versions of five nursery rhymes posted by blogger Ravana tells the difference. The purported “junk document” that “ate into an innocent poem” consists of five different nursery rhymes. The Island’s apologist couldn’t distinguish the “nursery rhymes” from a single “innocent poem”. Think about this; these dimwits, who regularly spew anti-Tamil venom in their newsreports, editorials and featured articles, couldn’t differentiate a nose from a knee! The apology note also conceded that “we got badly beaten”. That’s for sure – not by the “net terrorists” (an euphemism for Tamil Tiger enthusiasts), but by their own tunnel vision and by the inept standards of their English comprehension.

Some Candid Inferences

Here are some candid inferences that one cannot easily ignore.

(1) Candor and honesty in accepting a human error is not in the professional code book of the Island newspaper staff.

(2) Sloppy editorial standards maintained by foul-ups in proof-reading are usually condoned by the management of the Island daily.

(3) Any error can be quickly camouflaged, packaged and ‘sold’ under the ‘terrorism’ label, to fool the gullible patrons and general public in Sri Lanka.

(4) The quality (or the lack of) of the journalism that currently drives the Island daily became exposed by the ‘cut and paste’ antics of one of its yet unidentified, pea-brained pedophilic hacks.

(5) It has become a practice that, when the Colombo hacks face some trouble on the job front, the easy escape strategy from their agony has been to mock LTTE and Pirabhakaran in no uncertain terms.



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