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[The Sunday Leader.lk, Sunday, 26 June 2011 08:02 No Comment]

Channel 4’s Ben de Pear Growing international concern at what exactly went on during the closing stages of the war against the LTTE, was brought sharply into focus by Britain’s Channel 4 TV network. Since 2009 Channel 4 has covered the war situation in Sri Lanka’s north and matters came to a head with the broadcasting of the film, “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields” on June 14th.

The Sri Lankan government has roundly condemned the footage contained in the “Killing Fields” film as well as other footage shown on the British TV channel in the past. Many have called into question the ‘independence’ of the TV network which has developed an almost cult like following for reporting the most sought after news from around the world including spectacular coverage of the events in Zimbabwe when farmland owned by European settlers was overrun by Zimbabwe’s indigenous population at the behest of its strong man, President Robert Mugabe.

The Sunday Leader spoke to the Head of Foreign News for Channel 4 News, Ben De Pear and asked him to comment on how independent Channel 4 really is.

The Government of Sri Lanka is reportedly considering suing Channel 4 for what they say is a false and misleading programme. What would your response be to that?

The Government of Sri Lanka has taken action against Channel 4 news through the regulator OFCOM three times since 2009. The complaints have been rejected on all three occasions. Any other legal actions will be dealt with by the Channel’s lawyers in the normal way but we stand by all of our reporting on Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lankan government has not yet taken any legal or regulatory action against the United Nations, Human Rights Watch, the International Crisis Group, the British Foreign Office, the European Union, or the US State Department, whose own reports say much the same as our own, but often in much greater depth and detail. The Sri Lankan government should perhaps use its legal powers and energies in pursuing the perpetrators of the serious crimes depicted in the reports and film on Channel 4, and ensuring fully independent and objective investigations into all of the allegations of wrongdoing, as well as granting free access to journalists and independent investigators from the United Nations and media organisations around the world.

Is Channel 4 News and Channel 4 the TV Channel two separate and distinct organisations? What is the relationship between the two?

Channel 4 News is produced by ITN – Independent Television News, which provides it to Channel 4. Whilst they are two distinct organisations we have close relations, as Channel 4 commissions ITN to provide the news on a customer-client basis. We enjoy close and convivial relations, whilst remaining separate and independent organisations.

How does Channel 4 commission or decide upon creating a documentary such as the various reports on Sri Lanka and the Sri Lanka Killing Fields Video?

After so many reports on Sri Lanka and after receiving so many videos, and given the overwhelming number and extremely distressing nature of the footage, and the absence of international or independent investigations into the crimes they portrayed, the Channel commissioned ITN’s production arm, ITN Productions, to make a one hour film, documenting the last months of the war using footage shot by all sides, including the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defence.

The news reports which had been broadcast over the preceeding 2 years came about whenever there was a journalistic reason or news reason to broadcast them; often when new footage came to light, or when that footage was authenticated by the United Nations.

Who was responsible for the making of the Sri Lanka Killing Fields video? was it ‘in-house’ or was an outside production company used? How does it get funded?

Responsibility for the production was ITN as the commissioned production company, and Channel 4 as the commissioner. Channel 4 paid ITN to produce the documentary and no money came from anywhere or anyone else.

If an outside production house was used, are you in a position to confirm that there was no undue pressure on that company by parties representing the various Tamil Diaspora organizations? As part of your routine background checks would you ordinarily check on this aspect?

No outside production house was used, and there was absolutely no outside pressure on ITN or Channel 4 by parties representing the various Tamil Diaspora organisations. We are extremely scrupulous in maintaining editorial independence; independence which is monitored by the statutory regulation of ITN by the regulatory body OFCOM whose investigations and findings have confirmed that all of our reporting on this matter has been “fair and balanced”. The United Nations’ two investigations into the footage of the executions has also found that it is authentic.

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