Terrorists, or freedom fighters?

Opinion  |  R Nadeswaran
Published:  |  Modified:

COMMENT | In the pre-computer era of the Eighties, the newsroom was never a quiet place to work. The clatter of typewriters -- the Olivettis, the Remingtons and the Underwoods usually drowned the voices of those who spoke in whispers. Elsewhere, a slew of neatly-cut newsprint carbon papers were strewn on tables and desks.

Add to this was the din from three teleprinter machines from Associated Press, Reuters and United Press International which would be providing feed on what was happening around the world, 24 hours a day.

When the editor-in-chief,a stern man of few words steps out of his glass-panelled room, it usually means trouble. He headed to the sub-editors’ desk and demanded: “Who’s the sub who let this through?” A fairly new journalist’s hand went up.

“You don’t refer to them as ‘PLO (Palestine Liberation Organisation) terrorists.’ They are freedom fighters,” the young sub was told. The message was clear. “Whenever you get wire copies, make the changes immediately,” he was told.

Three days later, the editor came out of his office waving a piece of paper. It was a letter from the Sri Lankan High Commissioner who had objected to members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE) being stated as “freedom fighters.”

The same young sub who was the “culprit” stood up and held his ground. “If PLO people can be referred to as freedom fighters, why not the Tigers be accorded the same status? he asked.

He was told: “This is the government’s stand and we follow it.” These two different references to groups fighting for the same cause was to be later included in the newspaper’s stylebook – a loose collection of pages which are updated whenever a crisis occurs.

These days in Penang, the LTTE or the Tamil Tigers of Tamil Eelam have become fodder for some who seek their five minutes of fame or want to be noticed by party stalwarts and warlords. It’s the same mob (photographs portray the same people) who make it part of their SOP to hold demonstrations after Friday prayers.

Their target this time was Penang Deputy Chief Minister II P Ramasamy on his alleged links with the LTTE. To the uninitiated, the former university professor is held in high esteem by the Tamil diaspora and peacekeepers as a middle-of-the-road ideologue...

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