Rajpal Abeynaike and the Lakbima Fiasco

My apologies for giving in and covering a topic that has had enough coverage in Kottu. This is a long post so please bear with me.

Since the shit hit the fan on Monday, I’ve been commenting on various blogs and sharing my personal experience with the Abeynaike Brigade. At various points, Rajpal or some of his cohorts have branded me a moron too self-important and obnoxious to realize that the great man had, in his infinite generosity, given us bloggers “a break”, and an opportunity to bring the blogosphere into the mainstream. I hope to clarify my position with this post.

First, some context needs to be established.

Exactly a year ago, I wrote this article titled, ‘Ethnicity, Empathy and Education’ on my blog. I wrote it because I wanted to capture my position on the “ethnic problem” and a possible idea that, I reasoned, would (or should) form part of the solution needed to resolve the ethnic issue.

For long, I’ve been accused of having an idealistic view on the issue, saying that it was one that was too diluted with naïve, hippy-ish notions of communal harmony and peace. Those who disagreed with my political views told me that in time, my politics would change; that the idealist in me would die only to be replaced by a cynic who sees no hope. They spoke from experience.

By writing the article and publishing it on my blog, I wanted to put those notions to a test: Would I, in time, change my political beliefs? By publishing it on my blog, it allowed me a chance to revisit the article now anywhere, any time and, possibly, reassess my position. The article was published on Blogcritics and Desicritics as well, in the hope that I would get international perspectives on my views. I am happy to say that I remain a idealistic hippy.

However, I digress….

I did not intend to have the article published in a newspaper, but if an editor had asked, I would have certainly considered it. Only if the editor(s) were representing the Sunday Observer or the Daily Noise would I have flatly refused. I refuse to take either publication seriously – though the Observer, I have to admit, was a great companion when I was unemployed – and would not agree to them publishing anything I write. If that makes me pretentious and self-absorbed then so be it. Even if Rajpal had, at that time, made an attempt to get in touch with me and asked permission to publish the said article, I would have politely declined.

A friend called me one day, a week or so after I had published the article on my blog and Blogcritics, and commended me for the article. I was curious and asked him how he came to read it – he wasn’t too fond of computers and the internet and had no idea about my blog. Imagine my surprise when he said that he had seen it on the Sunday Observer (dated July 23, 2006). I was stunned, particularly so because Rajpal had made minor changes to my article. By this time, I also was beginning to see a trend: blogger Cynically Yours had, only a month before, complained that her opinion piece on the film ‘Water’ was taken without permission and published on the Sunday Observer under ‘Movie Review’.

I called up the Sunday Observer and asked for an explanation. Rajpal wasn’t there at that point, but his (I think) assistant Prasad Gunawardene heard my complaint and hung up. I called again and Prasad defended the actions of his superior. When I said that I’d look into legal routes, he called me a bastard and asked me to fuck off. I looked into my legal options soon after and was told that the Intellectual Property laws in Sri Lanka were ill-defined, especially in terms of content from the internet. I let the matter rest convinced that Rajpal was a bastard.

When the news first leaked of a new publication, the Lakbima, publishing content from blogs without seeking the writers’ permission, I wondered who the editor was. A discussion in Cerno’s blog provided me with the answer: it was Rajpal again.

Following the initial furore, seeming calm came about when an anonymous commenter, claiming to represent the Lakbima editorial staff, posted an excuse in Rhythmic’s and Cerno’s blog. In it, the person said that they had made all attempts at contacting the owners of the respective blogs, but only when that proved in vain had they proceeded with publishing the piece (Evidently, they hadn’t heard of the concept of commenting on blogs then). Cerno and Rhythmic, being the decent gents that they are, were prepared to give Lakbima the benefit of the doubt and let it rest. Others followed suit albeit begrudgingly.

In the mean time, Confab at Baila Beat, had attempted to get in touch with Rajpal to ask for an explanation. Confab, though, was calling on behalf of his friend. Initially, Confab had talked to Rajpal’s colleague at Lakbima who was sarcastic before asking Confab to “fuck off”. A few hours later, the man himself had challenged Confab to try suing him before the almost obligatory ‘fuck off’. I texted Confab, advised him to try talking to the Press Complaints Commission of Sri Lanka (PCCSL) and told him that I’d be happy to help in strengthening his case.

Then, earlier today, I read an eloquent piece by Sanjana Hattotuwa on Groundviews where he hit the nail on the head:

“The issue seems to be on the one hand significant pressure to source content to a new newspaper given the paucity of good writing and writers. The Editor of Lakbima must surely face the unenviable task of filling his pages at a time when most (good) columnists already publish in other newspapers, online or a combination of both. Exclusivity and binding contracts to publish in only one location are increasingly difficult to establish and effectuate in our digital age. On the other hand, the plagiarism of online content flags the need to revisit media professionalism and ethics in light of the growth of blogs and citizen journalism”.

The author himself commented soon after saying that he had emailed Rajpal asking for his comments on the issue. At this point, Rhythmic and I discussed the issue at length. He thought that some of us were over-reacting, but understood our reasoning.

At the same time, he mentioned that Rajpal had got in touch with him via email and explained his side of the story. He had been courteous and, in Rhythmic’s words, “genuine”. Rhythmic and I both wondered how this man who had seemingly dismissed valid complaints with disdain and liberal usage of the “fuck off” phrase could do a complete U-turn. Maybe he finally understood the gravity of the situation?

As it turns out, that is not the case. In an extraordinary outburst via email to Sanjana, Rajpal dismisses the accusation of plagiarism before descending into mere name calling.

Earlier, after reading Sanjana’s post, I called the PCCSL and talked to one of their officers. The person and I discussed the case at length – luckily for me, the person was well aware of the details of the situation – but as I feared, the issue rested on ill-defined legal and ethical turf. The person though assured me that the case was being looked into. My contact details were taken with a promise to update me on how they were proceeding. I let some of the other bloggers know of the development and urged them to call the PCCSL as well.

At around four O’ clock today, I received a call from my contact at the PCCSL. They said that they were investigating the matter and would like to discuss the issue with the bloggers in question. The meeting would most probably be set for the third or fourth week of this month.

Do I think the meeting will happen? Is it a false promise to put an end to this furore so that, when the time comes, we’d have all but forgotten about it and gone back to discussing drums, rugby matches, cricket, heavy metal, pouring scorn on peaceniks and war-mongers alike, and making fun at the expense of Mervyn Silva and his son? You know, the usual stuff?

I honestly don’t know, but the person did sound genuine. I’ll keep you updated on how things work out.

If anyone is interested in attending this discussion, should it come about, please say so in the comments field. I’ll get in touch with you via email in due time.

If you are an editor, or publisher, interested in publishing content from this blog on print, please contact me via email – poetlost@gmail.com – or at the very least comment on this blog expressing interest. I do check both everyday and I will make every effort to get back to you as soon as possible.

To my fellow bloggers, I urge you to publish guidelines for potential publishers to follow if they are interested in showcasing your work in print.

Finally, a message to Rajpal who I hope is reading this:

Your supporters call you “a gentleman” and one of the best journalists in the country. You lack the courtesy, the manners and humility to be called the former. You lack the professional and ethical discretion to be called a journalist. In short, you are a disgrace.

In your email to Sanjana, you said “If any blogista out there doesn’t like his blogs or bogs on our pages, just write and say so”.

Here it is, then, in writing from a “blogista”: Do not publish content from my blog. Do not even bother asking me for permission.

13 Comments

Filed under 2007, Articles, Issues, media, Sri Lanka

13 responses to “Rajpal Abeynaike and the Lakbima Fiasco

  1. Nishan

    Theena, and anyone else reading this who has made a complaint to the Press Complaints commission of Sri Lanka, would you be so kind as to let me know how that complaint progressed, and if it succeeded or failed?

    My story with regard to a problem with another editor and the initial attempts to alert the Press Complaints Commission, were published by http://www.groundviews.org and can be found at this link: http://www.groundviews.org/2007/07/01/the-pretense-of-professionalism-the-flipside-of-media-freedom-in-sri-lanka

    As some of you may know, the PCC is a self regulatory body and in a sense directly and indirectly run by the very people against whom the complaints are made. Therefore, it is also important to scrutinize the effectiveness of the PCC and hold it to account.

    The fact that the PCC code is vague on ethical questions about using material from the internet etc. is part of the problem, and it should certainly not be the end of the discussion.

    I look forward to hearing from you so that we can promote the better functioning of the PCC and suggest useful changes to its code which is meant to be reviewed once a year.

  2. Nishan

    I think that my comment above does not give my email address for anyone to contact me. So, let me write it down here:

    If I might add a p.s. the complaints to the PCC need be not only about the initial ethics of using material from the internet, but also of the ethics involved in the sort of replies that were made to those who complained.

  3. Nishan,

    I shall certainly do so.

    I am well aware about the PCCSL’s structure which is why I mentioned that I am not too hopeful of this supposed meeting from happening. If it does, and something constructive is reached, I’ll make it a point to notify you.

  4. N

    Good work Theena! Looks like Rajpal finally overstepped his boundaries…still beggars belief how he uses the word ‘bugger’ in professional correspondence and expects to get away with it! Good luck with the initiative.

    P.S. Any idea what a blogista is? Me thinks a blogger who works at Barista (I know, bad joke:))

  5. “Any idea what a blogista is? Me thinks a blogger who works at Barista (I know, bad joke:))”

    I have no idea. I did a Google search fully expecting it to suggest an alternative spelling. But no! The word exists.

    Clearly, ol’ Rajpal knows something we don’t!

  6. hey theena, this “blogista” is with you..the pompous asshole, does he think he can actually get away wit calling so many people names??!! isn’t tht defamation?
    i was going to let it go simply because i couldn’t be bothered fighting, but now it’s different..”blogista”s and their “bogs” is it? well, let’s see the amount of bog the pompous, self-righteous asshole will get on his head..

  7. N

    hahaha….looks like Rajpal’s really stepped in the bog..sorry couldn’t resist….

  8. Well.. thats the same stand I took!

    http://chaarmax.blogspot.com/2007/07/charrmax-on-lakbimanews-courtesy-of.html

    We shouldn’t give just because he decides to take ppl “on-board”.. and “pay-handsomely”..

    But then I doubt it was actually Rajpal that communicated to Sanjana at Ground-Views. There official email is news@lakbima.lk.

    I think some sick minded bugger is taking you/us for another ride. :)

  9. Hi Theena,
    This discussion is a very constructive move, I think. I too am willing to participate. I don’t think the discussion should be limited to the victims of plagiarism.
    anandawardhana at gmail dot com

    btw, you said:
    “I looked into my legal options soon after and was told that the Intellectual Property laws in Sri Lanka were ill-defined, especially in terms of content from the internet.”

    In this particular case, there is no actual need of making separate laws for copyrighting internet content. I think present intellectual property law has given us enough protection. Even before the act, we had the protection under the Berne convention, I think. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

  10. Took your advice and posted some rules on my blog. If that doesn’t work, I’ve got black masks and baseball bats in the back. I keep them handy, just in case. Peace bro.

  11. Ni

    Look, I don’t know much about ethics and all, but I can smell a fight brewing a mile away (must be my over-sized, over-sensitive nose), so if you are ever in need of some old-fashioned bloodshed a la “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”, please feel free to give me the time and the place. If it’s convenient for me, I’d be there. I haven’t seriously hurt anyone in a long time, and a good fight is waaaay overdue. To BornYesterday: Who needs masks and baseball bats, when you can easily split a person’s nose in two using a meat cleaver while they scream? It’s much better to use a sharp weapon than a blunt one. (Err I guess that debate belongs somewhere else)

  12. Pingback: Lakbimanews - a sneeze from the past « Cerno

  13. Pingback: Mainstream bloggers? « ICT for Peacebuilding (ICT4Peace)

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