Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Repetition I know but still valuable advice


I am reminded again this morning by the big run given to Rohan Gunaratna in The Australian of how helpful it is to give yourself a grand title if you want to be quoted as an expert on something. In Mr Gunaratna’s case he is “of the Singapore-based International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research” which sounds much better than being a “former student in Finland, claiming to be a recipient of an untraceable Australian-Europe award to study American-Australia diplomatic and security co-operation” as he was described in Crikeyearlier this week by the maverick former Aussie diplomat Bruce Haigh.
The good doctor feeds the insatiable appetite of journalists for so-called experts whenever there is a terrorist or security crisis. He keeps bobbing up on all kinds of media  — he is clearly an ABC favourite  — because the first thing a reporter does when covering a new story is look up the press cuttings or Google references to see who has given a view on a subject before. Thus in The Oz today Rohan Gunaratna, talking as “a leading terrorism expert”, was allowed to authoritatively reveal that a “small number” of Tamil Tigers are in immigration detention in Indonesia having been intercepted on their way to Australia.
What was not disclosed was that the Professor, himself a Sinhalese Sri Lankan, previously was employed by his government. That knowledge might have helped readers understand what was meant by his comment that “I am unable to disclose (how many) because it is now a matter of investigation. But certainly you can ask the Australian authorities because they’re also aware of those investigations.” The comment certainly made him sound like a real insider unable to disclose everything he knows about the murky world of Tamil Tigers.
For an assessment other than Bruce Haigh’s on Prof Gunaratna’s academic abilities you might care to start with a look at some views expressed on the blog site of Michael K Connors of the City University in Hong Kong.
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